A Moment Over Overpriced Chinese Food

In life there are many glorious small moments. I’m very often blind to them, too busy, too tired, too overwhelmed by other things to notice them. But I had a moment recently & it was wonderful. One of those beautiful, simple, touching moments.

My 91 year old grandmother lives in the Blue Mountains – for you non-Sydney siders that’s about an hour and a half out of the city. This last weekend I visited her. I was traveling further up the mountains for a weekend retreat with some friends so I thought it best to go up a day early and pay G-Ma a visit. She called me a day early to lock in the shopping delivery list, and the next day I arrived on her door step with her juice, cereal and bread. (Not only am I a pretty great granddaughter – turns out I’m also a darn good milkman).

That wasn’t the moment though.

The moment came later when she was not so subtly hinting what she was wanting for dinner. Her beloved neighbour Walter (I like to think Walter is her secret retirement village lover who’s name you say as if you have a lisp because) had given her a menu of “the good place to get Chinese”, which I think in reality is the only place to get Chinese in Springwood.

We ordered it. I went to pick it up. And then it happened…

I arrived home to the table set, the china was out, good crystal wine glasses already poured with wine. Now my grandmother isn’t a big drinker, or really a drinker at all, so I was touched by the gesture.

The night was spent drinking, eating overpriced Chinese food, talking about the dances she attended as a vivacious 20-something, drinking that bottle of wine and her reminding me how she knew all along I should have never gone to Europe for ‘that boy’ – something she never fails to mention.

I love that woman.

I love how I can tell her anything and, though maybe judged, I’m unquestionably loved.

I love how I can make fun of her & she doesn’t care (or doesn’t hear).

I love that she’s invested in my life & thinks I deserve only the best.

I love my Grandma – as she would say – to bits!

And this little moment, eating overpriced Chinese, talking about shopping lists and boys, are memories I will cherish. And moments I will be sure to pay more attention to.

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Backpack life: Camino Packing List

It’s minimalism at it’s finest. Carrying your life on your back – snail style! When you’re walking the Camino de Santiago you are stripped down to just the essentials, and it’s glorious. But you want to make sure you have the right essentials.

One of the keys to preparing for your pilgrimage is having the right gear – Light, versatile, and (if at all possible) somewhat fashionable. You can read all of the blogs, all of the books and annoy all the Paddy Palin staff possible, and still find the question of ‘what to pack?’ a confronting one. So I have compiled a list of what I took. Some of it invaluable, and some of it I could have done without, and thankfully none of it useless. This is what worked for me but not everyone is the same, so do your research – it’s all part of the fun!

You can download a concise Camino packing list from Her Packing List by clicking >>HERE<<. I had a 7kg pack so I could make airline carry-on criteria, so I packed very lightly. Here is what I took along with me. I’ve also included some of my thoughts/recommendations/words of caution for you when you’re considering what to take.

My Backpack…

Keep it light, accessible, and comfortable! I took the Osprey Kyte 36 Womans and I never looked back. It’s comfortable, breathable, supportive and small enough to take carry-on when you fly – super handy if you plan on backpacking before/after your pilgrimage. Only critique was that the waist strap pockets were pretty darn useless. No biggie.

It’s crucial to get a pack that fits well. Have a chat to the shop assistant at your local store, and get them to fit it for you using weights. Also learn how to fit your own pack, as you will be doing this every morning – if not, your body will pay the price. Try on lots of packs, adjust them, have some fun with it. This is what carries your home after-all.

 

So what’s in the bag?

Golden rule: Keep your pack under 10% your body weight, or under 10kgs (pre-water).

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Cruz de Ferro Rock & Concha (Shell)

For me these were the most important items I carried. Representing my pilgrimmage and so much of why I was doing the Camino. I recommend taking the time before you leave and find yourself a rock that holds significance for you. Whether it’s from a certain place, or has a message written on it – carrying the rock from a place of meaning, holds great power when you place it at the Cruz. I got my shell from the pilgrims office in St Jean, marking the official beginning of my journey.

Pilgrims Passport

Whether you source yours from your local community, or obtain it at your starting point, along the way your Pilgrims Passport is your ticket to Albergues and your documentation for receiving your certificates once you reach Santiago. I got mine from the Pilgrims office in St Jean (same as my shell).

Camino Guide

Can’t look past John Brierleys guide. While some of the distances are questionable, the commentary and detail is wonderful.

Footwear

TRY ON ALL OF THE SHOES! Come back and try them on again. Go for a walk and try them again. Making sure you have the right fit for your foot for you is crucial and your toes, feet, knees and body will thank you. Believe me. I ended up with a broken foot (at no fault of my amazing shoes), and my boots were a lifesaver that got me over the line.

Per13415552_10154854117393056_6226838921744260293_osonal preference has to play a role in this. But be sure to consider water resistance/proofing, whether or not you need ankle support, sole support and/or toe support. This will dictate whether you go with a boot or runner. I went with the Scarpa Terra GTX and they were like walking on clouds. I also has a pair of Kali Lightfeet walking sandals which, when injured, I did the majority of my walking in. These also looked lovely and not like velcro monsters which was a plus.

Sleeping Bag

You will need a sleeping thing of sorts, and your thing will need to be bedbug proof. I went with a Sea to Summit silk liner with an additional thermolite liner inside – instant sleeping bag! I also treated these with Permethrin to bug proof them.

There’s so much debate online between liners and sleeping bags – and this freaked me out. So being me, I went out and bought a cheap Kmart sleeping bag the night before I left thinking I wouldn’t be warm enough and this just ended up being unnecessary. Your main considerations should be weight and warmth. Either a sleep sheet or lightweight compact sleeping bag would work. Just choose one and own your choice…You got this!

Trekking Poles

14242273_10155141274878056_6642459308906492230_oWell worth investing in! They reduce the weight you’re carrying, stabilise you, support you on steep inclines – LOVE THEM!!! I purchased mine really cheaply in St Jean as they are super expensive in Australia. I recommend getting ones with shock absorption and a wrist strap (be ready for an abstract hand tan though). I passed them on to another pilgrim starting her journey when I had finished as they are a pain to take carry on.

 

Clothing

Keep it minimal. You won’t change your look up much and that’s okay. So make sure your comfortable and the pieces you choose are versatile. Breathability is key. I took 4 tops, 2 bottoms, a dress, 2 pairs of socks and a 3-in-1 fleece and raincoat.

  • T-shirts – I took 2 Icebreaker shirts and they here were hella expensive but the quick-dry merino wool was fab. In hindsight I probably would have preferred a merino singlet top or a looser fitting t-shirt, but that’s purely a style thing. Merino is becoming more widely available. Aldi have a great line of merino clothing, particularly base layers, for a third of the price of some of the major labels.
  • Long sleeve top – A must have! I wore mine most mornings under my t-shirts for warmth. Also great to wear to bed. My CottonOn shirt had thumb holes which were a bonus, particularly when using poles.
  • Singlet – Bought mine in a last minute freak out from Kmart for $6 and surprisingly fantastic! I preferred the singlet overall,but thick straps were a must as your pack can rub and give you blisters if you’re not careful.
  • Convertable pants – Who doesn’t love pants that zip off to reveal half your untanned leg! While they look horrid they are handy. Shorts and Pants all in one! The Marmot Lobo Convertable pants were a good choice, but be careful with sizing. These stretch, and you lose weight as you walk, so make sure they are a very snug fit to begin. Mine were not and I ended up having to walk the majority of my Camino in tights. These pants did come in super handy for wet weather with my tights underneath.
  • Tights– I ended up walking the majority of my Camino in these. Make sure you have a durable and breathable pair as they will get a workout. Mine were from CottonOn and just great!
  • Dress – Best decision ever! Having something light, feminine and comfy to change into at the end of each day is wonderful. It switches you from walking mode to relax mode, and lets your skin breathe. I took a $10 Cotton On dress. Make sure it’s not a fabric that will wrinkle easily.
  • 3-in-1 jacket – This was a tricky buy and much debated as I wasn’t sure whether to go with a shell or full jacket. I went with the North Face 2-in-1 fleece and raincoat. Walking in May I found this a tad too heavy and ended up in my longsleeve top more often that not. The overcoat was double lined, so super comfortable. It acted as normal coat, a wind cheater and raincoat….so super versatile and looked fab! In a re-do I’d probably go with a lighter fleece and a similar, lined raincoat. This was the only purchase I was disappointed in.

 

Underwear

Comfy, odour reducing, and quick drying – a NECESSITY this department. I have never spent this much money on somewhat ugly undergarments in my life…and I have no regrets.

  • Underwear – I think 3 pairs is the magic number. I also has a mix of merino and synthetic pairs. Exefficio and Icebreaker are the go-to’s.
  • Bras – This is personal choice ladies. Some will want a lot of support and others will be happy with a crop top. Good things to remember is you don’t want any straps that will rub or cut in giving you blisters. Racerback bras I felt helped alleviate any rubbing. I had one underwired supportive bra I wore while hiking, and a comfy cheap crop top from Kmart to wear after showers and in bed.
  • Socks – BUY GOOD SOCKS! and wash them regularly… This will save your feet. I bought myself some fancy ass socks with foot allocation and everything. Again icebreaker height light crew were a good choice. Quick drying and comfy as heck. Other Pilgrims had 1000Mile socks and I only heard wonderful things.
  • Hat – Used it once. Burned it in our bonfire at Fisterra. Not worth it.

 

Toiletries

This is where minimalism becomes tricky, particularly if you’re a girl used to a specific beauty routine. For some it can be difficult – but I recommend using your pilgrimage as a time to step away from make-up and spend some time not giving a shit, or even if you do, not having the time to pay attention. You can always buy extra items along the way so don’t stress.

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  • Shampoo/Conditioner/Soap – Do yourself a favour and buy a LUSH Shampoo bar. These things are amazing, and I would have loved mine had I not left mine at Rossenvalles after my first day! They are compact, smell amazing, environmentally friendly. Note: Buy yourself the square storage tin, as it’s impossible to get the bar out of the circle one.
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste – Obviously
  • Razor – Not super necessary but, weight permitting, it’s nice to have.
  • Comb – Pretty self explanatory.
  • 3 hairties, 10ish bobby pins – I also packed argan oil because I happened to have a small sample. It was nice to have something to help tame dry hair though not necessary,
  • Nivea hydrating lipblam with SPF – Be wary of chapped, sunburnt and dry lips.
  • Pads & Tampons – Getting your period sucks enough as is, I didn’t want the hassle of trying to translate Spanish to find something comfortable to walk in each day. So I packed my usual from home, and was happy I did.
  • Sleeping Eye mask – Very helpful when you want to get off to bed before lights out.
  • Towel – A large travel towel will do the trick. Mine was an absolute gem from Aldi and super cheap!
  • Earplugs – To alleviate the annoyance of snore central. I lost mine all the time so pack a few sets.

 

First Aid

You can purchase a lot of this along the way, but prices are expensive depending where you’re buying them. This is also very specific to the person, and if you’re worried about certain ailments I suggest having a chat with your doctor before heading off on your adventure. There are a few basics though that will simplify life.

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  • Tape – Cotton strapping tape for your toes and hotspots works a treat.
  • Sewing kit – Not for mending clothes but for blister treatment. Will cover this in another blog – but I swear by this technique!
  • Vasoline – To keep your feet soft and blisters absent. Great to massage tight muscles as well.
  • Compeed – DON’T BOTHER! It’s a false prophet and money vacuum. So many people, myself included, ended up with worse blisters thanks to Compeed. I highly recommend threading blisters, and treating hot spots with simple cotton tape or moleskin (which is hard to find in Australia).
  • Ibuprofen – To reduce inflammation and kill pain. I also had some with additional codeine that helped manage pain in my fractured foot. Ibuprofen is relatively cheap and readily available in Spain.
  • Hydralyte – These little gems work wonders for hydration and for vino hangovers! The electrolyte effervescent tablet helps with hydration levels and keeps your electrolytes up – great travel buddy all round. I also recommend buying some Aquilea dissolving tablets as well. I would take one hydralyte in the morning, and then an Aquilea Calcium and Mangesuim for recovery once we had finished for the day. A friend put me onto them for muscle pain and they worked wonders. You can pick them up at any pharmacy along the way, and they are pretty cheap.
  • Sleeping tablets – Not necessary. If you’re anything like me you’ll be too exhausted from walking you will crash as soon as you lie down. Vino makes a good substitute though.
  • Ventolin puffer – I left Sydney with a chest infection and so my ventolin puffer was a life saver over the mountains, and on ascents where breathing was a struggle. If you have asthma have a chat to your doctor about your options.
  • Bandages – Handy to have one or two in your pack. You can easily grab these from any pharmacy as you go.
  • Voltarin Osteo Gel – Works wonders for achy muscles, though not that effective for deeper muscle injuries or bone injuries.

 

Extras & Luxury Items

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  • Diary & Pen – This is a must have. The Camino is a journey of discovery, and having a diary to note your thoughts, prayers, learnings, pilgrim encounters…even just what you see…is something that you will be able to look back on and learn from long after your Camino has ended. Choose one that is durable and will stand the test of time. My journal has become one of my most precious possessions filled with journal entries and quotes from people I met along the way. Such a treasure!
  • iPod & headphones – A good playlist will get you far on the Camino. I also used this to listen to podcasts which I highly recommend.
  • Mobile phone – Because let’s face it, phones are helpful even on sacred pilgrimage. Mine was switched off most of the time. I didn’t bother with an international sim as wifi is everywhere and free.
  • Adapter & chargers – Lightening chargers are your best bet here. I had a multi-accessory charger, but it was slow, clunky and annoying. If you have multiple electronics (I had a camera with me which needed regular charging), consider taking a portable charger. A little extra weight, but these come in handy!
  • Camera – Most people used their phones, but I knew I would be filming a lot so I went with my indestructible camera as I break things easily. Extra memory cards and batteries are a must!
  • Sunglasses – I churned through these on the Camino. Constantly breaking them, so maybe don’t pack your designer specs. There are plenty of places to stock up along the way.
  • Headband – I didn’t bother with a buff as they are really expensive, and my $4 Kmart cotton headband worked a treat! Just make sure it’s thick enough to cover your ears.
  • Pocket knife – One with a good knife and a corkscrew comes in very handy.
  • Light My Fire Spork – It’s cheap, light & durable.
  • Water bottle –  I took a 1ltr Nalgene bottle. I had never walked with a bladder before and as someone who drinks things rather quickly, I was advised that a water bottle helps regulate drinking as you intentionally need to stop to drink – Good advice I think!
  • Sea to Summit dry sacks – I had two of these and they made organising my pack so simple. One for clothes and another for electronics/valuables. They are super compact as well so they squish down to save space. I also stocked up on some cheap ass packing cubes for things I didn’t need to be water tight but wanted to keep together. These make packing each morning so much easier.
  • Handbag/shopping bag – Something small and compact for when you’re finished for the day and heading to the shops is really handy. I took a cheap Kmart handbag that folded up in the bottom of my bag. Other people had fancy lightweight backpacks which were also great.
  • Kindle – Didn’t use this a lot on the Camino, but I travelled for a number of months afterward and it was a helpful companion.
  • Lock – Not necessary for the Camino. Necessary for hostel travel. Choose one with a code not a key as keys go missing and noone needs that hassle.

 

For the frugal among us, of which I am one of you…

Be ready to spend money on your gear. Accept, embrace this, hand over your cash and walk away. But also – use the power of seasonal sales and online shopping to your advantage. Doing your research and knowing what you want means you can nab it when its 60% off and save yourself hundreds.

 

So there you go! Take and leave what you feel necessary, use this to guide the construction of your pack, and make sure you keep it light. This is a journey or letting go and learning to live simply. Embrace it. You’ll be surprised how little you need.

If you yourself have done the Camino, what were your must have items? What would you have left behind? Are you a Compeed lover?

I did something seriously cool…

Every time I watch this I feel like a kick-ass adventurer. Amateur, but kick-ass nevertheless!

I did something seriously cool.

I walked across an entire country.

…And I miss it like heck!!!

The Camino gets under your skin.
It courses through your veins.
It becomes part of you.

Despite starting on my lonesome, I finished with a Camino family of the most inspiring humans to grace this earth. We laughed, loved, danced, threw rocks, released burdens, cried, drank vino…so much vino…and for the first time in a long time I felt truly alive.

Struggling to find the words that adequately explain what the Camino meant to me – I hope this film captures at least some of the magic of the Way. I wanted to capture the fun, the light and the energy of the pilgrims. But I also wanted to capture the struggle of the journey. Conquering both physical and mental mountains this pilgrimage was the most transformative, challenging, beautiful and spiritual journey I have ever been on. These places and these people shaped me into a more open, confident, happy and free spirit – for that I am eternally grateful.

Oh Camino, you beautiful blessing!

Follow the yellow arrow…

When you walk the Camino de Santiago there are these little yellow arrows. Little signs of validation and hope. Look for the arrow and it leads you to where you need to be. Simple.

You learn to trust your instincts as you walk. When you haven’t seen an arrow for a while you trust that one will show up eventually. When it does you breathe a sigh of relief and keep walking.

All you have to do is show up, put one foot in front of the other, and eventually you will reach the end. Yes, you may be tired, aching, limping and cursing your stupidity for thinking you can walk 30km in a day – but arriving nevertheless.

What no one warns you about is the return. People leave out the part about stepping off the plane back into ‘reality’. What’s worse is that travel had become my reality. I was returning home to no job, no house, no boyfriend, and (almost) no money.

The Camino taught me a great deal about myself, and the subsequent months of travel challenged those lessons – The Camino was a wonderful classroom; and travel, the perfect playground.

But life beyond the Camino is a minefield of decisions with no little yellow beacons saying ‘this way’. No one path. No one way. How am I to know I’m on the right path when there’s no validation from a tiny spray-painted arrow on the side of a house?! Heck I don’t even know what path I want to be on, let alone if I’m walking in the right direction.

The beauty and terrifying fact of life is that no matter what path you take, you will end up somewhere. The mistake is thinking there is a right direction. If I don’t know where I want to go, I can’t be on the wrong path. Thank you Lewis Carroll and cue Alice in Wonderland quote…

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One thing I do know is you just have to keep walking.

There is one problem though…

…I’m afraid of swamps!

Stay with me through the metaphor. What if where I tread now is straight into a swamp? I have been there, literally – I have the video to prove it! Much of life, for so many people, feels like swamps and cliffs and the loneliness of the deserted Meseta. It’s draining and confronting…And it’s the reason many are on the Camino in the first place.

Nobody wants to ‘keep walking’ through swamps. Sometimes you want fields of wildflowers, mountaintop moments that leave you breathless and pilgrim Disney singalongs. We all want to feel content on our path for a while – These are the things that give us motivation to push through the mud.

I don’t want to walk into a swamp. So I look for arrows. But when they aren’t there fear stops me from taking a step forward; a step that could lead me into the wildflower fields. So I have to keep walking.

The return is about harnessing the trust you found­­­­–that at the end of the day you will be okay. True, I liked my little arrow saying “Go you, you’re on the right track”. On the Camino you didn’t have to worry about what to wear, how you looked (though I still did), or where you were going. But life isn’t that simple. And we need to let go and learn to trust whatever path you’re on. That’s the point of pilgrimage. To learn about yourself when life is stripped down, exposed…simplified. The Camino is a teacher, and the simplicity is purely it’s pedagogical method. It’s a lesson about life… not life itself!

In life our little yellow arrows are those divine moments when we smile, laugh, get lost in something. That’s the validation. Subtle reminders you’re on a good, right path. Or that the path just doesn’t matter. I now pay more attention to these arrows. It’s these arrows that lead me away from swamps and cliffs and mountains – and for a moment I can enjoy the wildflower view.

The end of the way.

I did it! I can now say I have walked across an entire country!

My Camino de Santiago is over. I walked St Jean to Santiago, then onto Finisterre and finished in Muxia. 916km in total. And holy shivers was that 916km a life changer. It has been confronting, challenging, cry inducing, painful, and some days just hard. It’s over, but in truth your Camino never really ends – We never fully find our way, just keep taking steps forward as we journey on our path…wherever that path leads.

The experience is one I struggle to understand, let alone put into words. I am still learning from those 6 weeks. I am still processing, and will be, into the weeks and months ahead.

I decided early on my way that I wouldn’t attempt to capture my thoughts in blog form because I didn’t want to step away from my experience, and there just wasn’t the time (nor energy). I have been thinking how best to capture and share my experience with people. Truth be told, it is difficult – particularly as I am still traveling and will be for some time.

So I thought I would share some of my initial reflections from the Camino. Then at some later date, when the dust has settled from my boots, my feet have recovered and my mind calmed – I will attempt to consolidate some of this experience to share with you. I want to share both the practical and the spiritual aspects of my journey. In the very least I have a somewhat ridiculous number of photos to share – so that’s something!

So here is some of what did I came to realise on my Camino…

  • Walking this far every day hurts – anyone that says otherwise is a liar, in denial or quite possibly Superman.
  • Compeed is a false prophet – needle and thread is your saviour!
  • Copious amounts of very cheap wine will be consumed. Embrace this fact and enjoy.
  • You will confront all of your insecurities and while you try to hide from them – you will eventually fail.
  • Baguette + Chorizo + Cheese = Every damn day.
  • Your badass body is capable of much more that you think. Mine walked over 900km and SURVIVED – despite blisters, a chest infection and a fractured foot!
  • Relationships will be spun into overdrive.
  • Collecting and throwing rocks is a powerful metaphor for letting go. Subsequently you will realise you have a stockpile of rocks in your pack.
  • Music increases your walking speed exponentially.
  • Always carry a block of chocolate in your pack.
  • Dancing with a backpack is fun and also conveniently provides comic entertainment for fellow pilgrims.
  • You will begin to adopt the accents of the pilgrims around you. One day I was Irish, the next Canadian.
  • “I will walk with you” is one of the most comforting things someone can say.
  • You will cry…on mountains, beside rivers, in the embrace of another pilgrim, in random fields, when having injuries treated, alone…you will cry a lot. Or maybe that’s just me.
  • You will laugh a lot!
  • Emotions, memories, feelings, smells, will come flooding back from times you never knew remained in your mind.
  • The experience of the every day is much more fulfilling when shared.
  • Café con Leche (aka crappy coffee with milk) will remain a morning ritual just like home.
  • Community, relationships and family – is a powerful thing.
  • Mayonnaise!
  • Life is a continual act of loving, forgiving and embracing yourself, embracing the moment, and knowing that everything will be okay – even when you think it won’t. This has to be intentional practice, and the Camino is a perfect classroom.
  • A good hug can fix anything!
  • I am a fighter. I push. I confront. I walk forward.
  • Gratitude will result from the simplest things – a comfy bed, a hot (private) shower, freshly washed clothes, SALAD!!!!
  • You will continually feel defeated. By your body, mind, relationships…but each day you will reach the end, rest, and do it all again tomorrow. You are not defeated!
  • A little mascara on a bad day can be a Godsend and make you feel human again.
  • Self-assertion is difficult when you don’t know what you want.
  • Having fast walking friends makes you walk faster – be aware of this!
  • Letting go and saying goodbye, while hard, is okay and a necessity in life.

Truth be told this is just a list I journalled in my second week…with many more insights circling in my brain as I write. So I’ll leave you with the last excerpt from my Camino journal:

“I am so glad I did this. The openness to experience. The vulnerability. The dependency and independence. The strength. The relationships. The belief in myself and the forgiveness of myself. Looking back, in this moment, the Camino has been all I wanted, and everything I needed it to be – even when I didn’t know what that was. I am sure the story will expand and grow – but it’s starting off as pretty amazing.”

 

Small wins

As I sit in an empty hostel kitchen in Montmartre, Paris, my mind is still reeling from what has been the last 48 hours. It’s early morning here and I find myself in a dreaded jetlagged fog (maybe compouded by the celebratory welcome drinks I had with my adopted family last night – but we will get back to that).

The journey thus far: Sydney > Abu Dhabi > Paris

22 hours in the air. 3 train trips. 30 mins wandering like a lost sheep trying to find my hostel – note that it was 2 doors down from the point I assumed my incompetance at following directions, turned around and proceeded to wander in the complete wrong direction. Not incompetant, just blind.

It’s early days. But for the first time though I’m feeling that, just maybe, I can do this. I am doing this. It’s intimidating and confronting, but every successful step beyond comfort feels like a win. Small incremental wins, but a win nevertheless.

Let me give you an example.

I went to sleep last night in an empty hostel dorm room, I woke up to all the beds full. Full of men who arrived quite merry, at an even merrier hour of the morning. Me in my long sleeve shirt & leggings, wrapped modestly in my sleep sheet. Them sprawled on their respective bunks, in just their underwear. I get out of bed, avoid any awkward eye contact, get ready for the day and now I’m here.

It may not seem much, but I’m a pretty private person. I’m also cheap, so when given the option of a mixed dorm 10€ cheaper than female only – I was in. Note that ‘Mixed Dorm’ appears to translate to ‘predominantly male dorm as all women are advised to avoid the dangerous creature that is the male backpacker’…and have to pay more money in the female dorms – typical! And on my first day I decided to subvert that patriarchal bull – typical! Low and behold I was fine…and saved some cash!

Knowing I will be spending the forseeable future living with strangers – right up close and personal like this is a confronting thought. But this is what life is for me right now. Dorm rooms, bunk beds, shared meals…the necessity of extroversion. And that is okay.

Even in my short few hours here I’ve already met some lovely people. Paulette & Christopher, French locals, on their way home from celebrating their 20th anniversary in Thailand. Nilly, moving from Sydney to London indefinitely to teach. Gareth the photographer from Berlin spending the week in Paris on a holiday booked out of spite cause his girlfriend didn’t invite him to Thailand.

Then there is Sonia and Kathy, her mother, who are travelling the world for Kathy’s 65th birthday – they also happen to be my adopted Montmarte family. Teaching me the backpacking ropes and letting me tag along on their adventures. Turns out both are rediculously well travelled and Kathy has even trecked the Camino…at 61 (so there is hope for me yet).

Each on their own adventure, each holding a unique story that travelling allows to be shared.

We ask more questions when we are travelling – Our facination in others is increased. But every person on earth is on an adventure. Everyone has a story, we just need to be facinated enough to ask.

I guess what trying to say is that even though I’m not in St Jean just yet, I’m already learning about myself and others. The Camino is already teaching me. Small confronting steps. Asking questions. Fostering curiousity and bravery.

Tomorrow I jump on an early train to Bayonne, then onward to St Jean Pied du Port. It is there I will begin walking.

But for today…Paris!

One step at a time: My Camino

So it turns out that learning to be comfortable with the now is not a comfortable experience at all.

I am a planner. I schedule and strategise. I consider all the possible outcomes and respond accordingly. Unfortunately life rarely goes to plan. What happens when you reach a point in life that you can’t strategise or analyse? When you have to give yourself fully to what is happening around you, with no power to change where you find yourself – only how your respond?

Upon graduating, having quit my job, and wrapped up most of my volunteer positions, I had an unprecedented amount of free time… and I hated it. To the point I texted a friend proclaiming my disdain for holidays. I hated feeling I had nothing to add value to my day. I had no hobbies because all my time till then was spent studying, working or sleeping. I didn’t know how to define myself. I loathed the question, “so what are you doing now?”

And I loathed it because the answer was a strange one,

“I’m going for a walk.
Quite a long walk
897km to be exact.”

Let me explain. I’ve decided to become a pilgrim and walk the Camino De Santiago. A historic pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, lovingly known as ‘The Way’, I’ll be walking the Frances way, which stretches from the French Pyrenees to Santiago – then finishing on the Spanish coastline.

Why? Truth be told I’m yet to fully grasp the precise reason why. Coming out of a challenging season a few years ago I thought it might be a good idea. I wanted to step beyond work and study, to explore who I was and what I wanted. Then I told enough people I was going, so that when the time came I actually had to. Life is funny like that! And honestly the thought of it terrified me. The idea of spending that much time with myself isn’t an inviting one – and probably the exact reason I thought I should do it.

The hardest part has been not holding onto well-known rhythms of work. Rhythms that wrap my anxious mind with a warm blanket of certainty and structure. I did well in my studies and had a few job offers coming out of university – which I had to be very intentional in kindly declining. That was an ego hit. I always prided myself on embracing every opportunity, and here I was saying no. All to take myself on a very long walk…alone…in Spain.

Then recently another hit. A few weeks before I was meant to fly out my partner left me. The path I thought I was going to take, with the man I thought I was going to take it with, fell out from beneath me – he decided to leave, and I decided it was all too hard to go alone.

Here was the problem. I had planned this trip for years. Planned to walk the Camino as a means of adventure, self-exploration, and letting go. And when all of that was at it’s most necessitous, I didn’t feel I could do it.

But is that not the point of pilgrimage? Choosing to jump. Choosing to be brave and go when it is most difficult, when you are most vulnerable. Choosing to move beyond defining yourself in work, your relationship, your belongings. To carve out time to undertake something that at any other point in life would be darn near impossible due to work, mortgages, kids…just plain fear!

And believe me that fear is real. I am scared – to say otherwise would be denial of what the Camino is already revealing to me.

I am leaving in a few short days. Going alone; leaving Australia somewhat bruised by life. I don’t speak Spanish. I have never undertaken a trek this long before. I am boarding a plane with an open-ended ticket and no plans, spare to start walking.

This adventure meets me at my most vulnerable – No outcomes to assess, nothing to analyse but myself and the challenge to be fully present to the now. Learning to rely on the present time and place, whatever that may bring.

But if I know anything of myself, I am never one to shy away from a challenge. I find solace in the Joel McKerrow Poem “The Search” . As I step onto the plane I hold onto his words,

“They say that a girl who walks the edges of the world will find herself if she looks for long enough. But to see the beauty of what would be she must turn her face away from what was.”

So I’ll take this journey one step at a time. Uncertain and grey as the path appears. Turning away from what was, grateful for what is, and open to the possibility of what is to come. And trusting, that by the steps I take, I will find my way.

“Run the path, cross the mountains, sail the oceans, turn the corner till you come home into the soft arms of who you truly are.”

A life well lived…

A year ago today I lost my Grandad to brain cancer.

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There is nothing unique about this kind of loss. Loss is something we all experience. The loss of a grandparent, while painful, is part of growing up. Grief is a natural part of the experience of life. Yet, still the pain is profound and the pain is deep.

Today I wanted to celebrate him. In whatever small way I could – probably with the selfish motivation of finding little solace through honouring his legacy of love and strength. But I truly believe celebrating those who have inspired and moved us is at the heart of human existence.

On the front cover of his bible was this poem,

“Trust Him when doubts assail you,

Trust Him when your strength is small.

Trust Him, when to simply trust Him,

Is the hardest thing of all”

When I was in high-school I was quite unwell for a few years. Both my Grandad and my Nan would visit during the day to keep me company when I was home alone. I will always remember, when I was facing uncertainty as to whether I would finish my HSC, as he was leaving for the day he turned to me and said in his quiet way, “chin up, it will be okay”. That was how he lived his life, and – while I am not as good at it as him – how I endeavour to live mine.

This was a man who had faced so many of life’s struggles without a single breath of hostility or anger toward the unfairness of the hand he was dealt. Holding a gentle and humble strength he gave wholly of himself with no expectation of return. He believed in his family. And he loved unconditionally… He loved purely.

His legacy of love lives on in the hearts of all those who had the privilege of meeting him. The love, strength, hope and faith of my family is testament to this incredible man. A man who just simply lived, with humility, grace and above all profound love.

 “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.”              1 Timothy 6:11

My Grandad, Peter Solomon, was a true gentleman. A true man of God. And the epitome of a life well lived.

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Calming the Workaholic Within

As we find ourselves refreshingly in Autumn, I’m sure like me, many of your new year resolutions are much less resolute than you would desire them to be. Having decided to become one of those post-grad people, I am at that stage of the year where the tsunami of organisation hits – endless to-do lists, planning, goal setting and buying of overpriced stationery. 394834_10150697002603056_268929931_n Being the list maker that I am, I have used up many a note-pad sitting in cafes trying to organise my life – an attempt at relieving the stress and being intentional about not overextending myself, scheduling breathing time into my life. I find it somewhat easy to get caught in ‘doing’ mode where life becomes about damage control and meeting deadlines. Always planning, mitigating, and pre-empting – skills I am well and truly a master of. What I seem to have lost the knack of is just ‘being’. Relaxing! This became evident in the last couple of months where I had my first ‘break’ in over 3 years. Only to find myself accepting a new job, alongside an internship, signing up to run a few events and completely incapable of switching off. It’s clear relaxation and just being are NOT my strongpoint. So as I plan for the next wave of uni & all-round busyness, I have 3 things I am going to try and learn to do.

1. Organise, do, then stop!

2015-02-18 15.16.59-1Plan, write to-do lists, schedule what needs to be done and when it is…Stop! I notoriously feel guilty for feeling like there is more I should do. Another article I could read, I could get started on that essay or that client brief early – No! Step away from the laptop, put down the phone and relax. Take yourself to a cafe, eat some delicious food & get ready for the week ahead. I’m a pretty good scheduler, so I need to learn to trust my scheduling abilities, and take some me time once all the work is done.  Introducing ‘done for the day’ into my vocabulary is step one.

2. All that healthy lifestyle jazz

Not something I enjoy – though a future blog will be about my new-found love for yoga and a Texan lady called Adrienne…But I digress. Exercise is scheduled ‘me time’. Nothing new I know, and certainly not rocket science – but with a busy schedule looking after myself is the best thing I can do, and more often than not it’s the first thing to be pushed to the bottom of the list. Let’s face it, living off coffee and a walk to the bus stop… not the best.

3. Scheduling breathing time

1966763_10153514867878056_761878287410851408_nI learned very quickly this summer that it’s a rare thing for me to stop, take time to just go and ‘do’ things. Movies, beach, a walk with my new hug-machine of a puppy by the river. Taking time to breathe clears the head and quiets the soul. It’s looking after myself. Getting back to nature with fresh air and a stroll along the water is one of the best things I’ve found to calms my spirit – those writers were onto something when they wrote “down to the river to pray”. I guess it’s just a learning curve. A bit of a trial and error – and it’s difficult for me. It comes easier for some, while is impossible for others – and that’s okay. But it’s something that has a profound influence on work, health and sense of wellbeing. Work-life balance is a tightrope we all walk. Despite our best intentions we can’t do everything. Let’s help support each other & help keep aligned and focussed on what matters. You-can-do-anything-but-not-everything

Sydney Siege – Today I cried…

Today in Sydney, in the city I have lived my 23 years, a hate-filled man took siege over a cafe. Stopping Australia and locking the worlds attention on a little chocolate shop. Ending in the violent death of three people and the trauma of a city.

Today I cried.

Not because I knew the hostages.
Not because I am fearful or angry.
Not because I was there in Martin place.
Not because I am Muslim and fear the social repercussions of this one lone man.

I cried for the loss of innocence – for the victims, for a city and for it’s citizens.
I cried because for me this has never happened in my home, yet for millions around the world this is a daily burden and today I felt only part of that horror.
I cried because the world stopped for this tragedy in Australia, yet doesn’t blink for the 126 children killed by a school bombing in Pakistan.
I cried for the fight Australia now faces in softening angry voices, diffusing racial tension, and stilling religious vilification.
I cried because while our eyes were fixed on a cafe in Sydney, the Australian Government quietly went about stripping the world poorest of another $3.7billion.

… and I cried for so many reasons I myself am yet to fully understand.

The siege in Sydney affected me and many I know in a strange, weird and confusingly exhausting way. Some days the world just stops. There was a eerie stillness in my home and my work. We called friends over for the comfort of community and the solace of a hand to hold. As my friends and I gathered on our little couch in suburban Sydney to watch the unchanging news after so many hours, none of us quite fully understood our thoughts and feelings. As we sat, holding each other that little bit tighter, none of us could express our feelings, many of us were silent – yet we acknowledged the worry and sadness. A worry now present as grief.

Today we are grieving, we are confused, and we cry. And amidst this grief and confusion let us not surrender ourselves to fear and hatred.

Let us hug our friends and families a little tighter. Let us maintain soft hearts. Savour the blessing of freedom that little more eagerly. And allow this to become a time representative of Australia’s compassion, our strength as a community and our hope as a nation.

I hold onto the hope that the beautiful and peaceful city I call home, will despite today’s trauma remain alive and full of hope for a brighter more peaceful tomorrow.

Image by Kyla Roma www.kylaroma.com

Image by Kyla Roma http://www.kylaroma.com