Anna’s Camino: Day 11 – Reshuffling, World Class Tapas, and Navarrete


Logroño had some amazing street art.

It’s weird going back through this Camino by way of photographs. I remember the walk to Navarrete pretty well, but if I skip forward and look at where I was walking the next day, I remember things ahead of time, giving me a weird sense of foresight, even though it’s actually in hindsight. For instance, I know that I was feeling sick for a while (mildly, anyway) since a day or two after leaving Pamplona. And I remember walking to Navarrete, and feeling OK. Not great, but not terrible. However, by Day 12, I know that I was in really bad shape; I ended up taking a taxi after the first hour of walking, because I just didn’t think I could make it to Santo Domingo de la Calzada in one piece.

So how was I feeling great on Day 11, and near death on Day 12? Maybe I was feeling terrible for a while, but was able to keep powering through it for a while before my body got through to my brain that now was a good time to take a break. I’m really not sure. I do know, from reading others accounts in blogs, books, and even in FB posts, that every now and then you’ll just get to a breaking point, but a good day’s rest will cure most of what ails you. That’s a very important lesson to keep in mind whether or not you plan on walking the Camino – when you feel like you can’t possibly go on, don’t lose hope – just take a break and reassess the situation before you start making drastic decisions. It really does help, I promise.


Other graffiti on the way into Logroño.

I can’t remember if Natalie and I left Viana before or after Claire, but I do have a memory of watching Claire walk away from the front door of the albergue, off to hunt for the bus that she would take to get a few days ahead of us. It’s strange to think of distance and time in this manner. We were still all in Spain, but a short bus ride would literally fast-forward Claire to an entirely new group of pilgrims, a new stage of the road, new adventures. Meanwhile, though we were left behind, we would be on the road for longer. Did this mean that we had more opportunities, or just different ones? Did Claire miss out from busing ahead, or did we miss out more for not having her with us? I think that the answer, in not being that clearcut, is very obvious.

I’ve spent enough time on various pilgrim message boards and advice sites to realize that some of the old school peregrinos stick to this silly rule that taking any form of transportation other than your own two feet (and possibly a bicycle, or a horse) is somehow “cheating.” But who’s to say that? What if the lesson you need to learn on the Camino is to not be so rigid in your concept of right and wrong? Who’s to say that the one person you really needed to meet on your pilgrimage wasn’t the bus driver, a pilgrim who’s currently up ahead, or even just a local who’s riding the train? The lesson here is that you can be sad that your friend left you behind, or you can be disappointed in your own lack of fitness, or even annoyed that your job didn’t give you enough vacation days to walk the entire thing, but you should never, EVER judge anyone (including yourself) for the way the road is to be traveled. We all need different things, we all have different weaknesses (and strengths), and we all get something different out of our life’s caminos. Celebrate the variety, and celebrate that your friend makes it onto the right bus. Then keep walking your walk.

One of the weirder things that happened on this day was passing a literal “Game of Goose” game board, laid out in marble alongside the Camino in Logroño. For most of the Camino, I kept hearing references to this mysterious game, said to have Templar ties. It was mentioned a few times in my guidebook, and now and then I’d see a version for sale in shop windows. Every time I mentioned it to other pilgrims, though, they’d either heard of it once or twice in passing, or had never heard of it and kind of laughed it off that I was so keen on finding out more. About two weeks from this day, I met another Anna who explained the game a bit more to me, but I’ll leave that memory for later. The bottom line for Logroño is that the artwork was lovely, and I was still no closer to finding out what it was all about, other than that it had a weird name and seemed to feature all of the landmarks of the Camino.

Logroño is a big, busy town. It’s the capital city of the autonomous region of La Rioja, and as such, is just as much of a bustling metropolis as you’d expect. Both Natalie and I were a little put off by it, me probably more, since she’d already walked through the city on her last pilgrimage. It’s not that I didn’t like the place, or want to explore further, it’s just that we hadn’t been somewhere with tall buildings and that many traffic lights and people since Pamplona, and I’d gotten used to things being a little quieter. It didn’t help that, as we were walking through one of the many small town squares (more like a neighborhood green), we walked right through a loud public dispute. This enraged, seemingly inebriated guy was screaming at the top of his lungs outside of an apartment building. We lost sight of him for a minute, then the next thing we knew, he was racing after a car, banging on the side of it, then throwing things at it as it got away, yelling the entire time. We looked at each other and picked up the pace a little, as there weren’t many people about, and it didn’t seem like a good time to get noticed by this dude, no matter what he was angry about. Nothing happened, and we both brushed it off as we made our way to a nearby café to grab coffees and something to snack on before walking out of town.

The café we picked had a different feel than most of the ones I encountered along the Camino Frances. It was close to city center, and had the feel of a chain restaurant – not as corporate as Starbucks, but definitely not a mom and pop place. We grabbed a tortilla to share, and some cafés con leche, and I seem to remember a chocolate croissant, as well. She read over her guidebook and checked out the map, and I did some people watching. One of the things I noticed was that I spotted a gay couple enjoying breakfast together; I remember this specifically because it warmed my heart, and also helped me realize that I was finally getting a read on Spanish body language a little better. Outside, I watched a father walk by, wheeling his toddler daughter (decked out in a pink, impossibly sparkly and ruffled outfit) in a stroller. An elderly lady, hunch backed, in compression hose and head scarf, hobbled by, leading a little terrier on a leash. Several teenage boys in grass-stained football uniforms walked by, clearly exhausted. It was a busy morning.


A pond we passed on the way out of town. I stood here to watch the swans, and to watch a little girl and her mother throw little veggie scraps (not bread – yay!) to the birds.

The walk out of Logroño seemed to take FOREVER. It was another one of those days where you have a map that shows you where you’re going, you know the mileage, you think you have all of the information you need to get to your destination, yet for some reason no matter how long or how far you walk, you’re still no closer to the stopping point. It’s a very particular feeling for those who are walking long distances, and maybe it’s a very particular feeling for those who are coming down with a cold, I’m not sure. Either way, it felt like Logroño would never end. Even once we got to the beautiful Grajera Reservoir, with its surrounding park land, and knew that we were only a little over 5k away from our destination, it still felt like forever and a day to Navarrete.

The greenway that leads from Logroño to the park surrounding the Grajera Reservoir is very popular with locals, and we passed several kids’ birthday parties on our way through. We also got to walk over some nature trails that had wooden bridges. One bridge made me stop and stare for a while – there were HUGE carp in the water, at least as big as some of the ducks that swam above them. I tried to get some photos, but nothing great turned out.


One of the less traveled paths in the park (this is from after the reservoir, on the way out).

At times it was a little scary to be a pilgrim on this park trail shared with enthusiastic weekend bikers. Wherever possible, we got off of the paved trail and walked on the natural ones, but there were bikes everywhere, and from time to time I was unnerved to hear them approaching from around the bend at breakneck speeds. We managed not to get run over or cause any accidents, and once we got to the reservoir, we decided to have a short lunch and take a rest. While we sat there, several people went by on horseback, and I was a little wistful, both because it would have been heavenly to get off my feet, and because I genuinely love horses, and because I was thinking I’d love to have the option to go horseback riding on the weekends in my normal life back in the states. Lunch was bread, cheese, sausages, and little tomatoes. While we ate, I wondered where Claire had eaten her lunch today.


A sign on the way to Navarrete: “Without pain there is no satisfaction.”

Leaving the park, we passed through a section of the park that reminded me of some state parks back home, complete with little cabins for campers less inclined to tent living. It reminded me strongly of my days as a girl scout, and I spent most of the rest of the afternoon in some kind of nostalgic reverie, paying close attention to all of the birds and plants that we passed. Sometimes it felt like I needed to take in every detail, like I’d be getting quizzed on it after my trip. I’m glad that’s not the case, because I have no memories of walking into Navarrete, until we were firmly in the little town, walking around in search of the albergue.

It was afternoon, around 3pm, by the time we reached Navarrete, and I was beat. My feet were throbbing, and I was in desperate need of water. We walked into town by a high street; I think we were in search of a particular address, but I can’t remember, exactly. What I do remember is feeling lost and exhausted, and that the entire town seemed to be taking siesta. It was SO quiet, and there was an air of abandonment. I was running out of hope and energy, and just plodding along after Natalie, feeling incapable of independent thought. She saw a little public fountain under a couple of trees, with a bench nearby, and we headed that way. Just as I’d taken a seat and resolved to sleep there for the rest of my life, a lady leaned out of a nearby second story window to flap out a dusty throw rug, and spotted us by the fountain. She smiled, leaned over the window ledge, and yelled down directions to the municipal albergue, which was only a block or two away. Saved again by the kindness of strangers. This was to become a trend of my Camino.

The municipal albergue was being staffed by a very nice elderly gentleman who showed us where to put our boots and walking sticks, and led us to our bunks. We showered, washed our clothes, and hung everything out to dry on the little rotating circular metal clothes lines that were anchored outside of our bedroom window. I really wish I had one of those for my apartment; it’s an excellent idea – except for when you forget to put clothespins on your clothes, and they fall into the street, as my towel did that evening. Luckily, another pilgrim saw my towel and brought it inside to the hospitalero, so I got it back with little trouble.



Just next door to the albergue, we’d spotted a little bar, so we headed over there to catch some wi-fi and grab a drink. It was there that I experienced my first glass of pacharán, a lovely Spanish liquor that I’ve really been missing since coming back to the states. It was Natalie’s drink of choice, and though I didn’t drink it always, a sip was always welcome. My drink of choice in Spain, when not sipping red wine, was Ballantine’s Finest, a sweet and inviting Scotch whiskey. I went looking for a glass of Jameson’s, my go-to, when I got to Roncesvalles on Day 2, but the closest they had to Irish whiskey was Scotch, and I stuck with it for the rest of my trip, when I wasn’t drinking red wine, pacharán, or on one occasion, hierbas. The other major beverage of my time in Spain was a major favorite of the peregrino crowd: Aquarius, which is a (non-alcoholic) canned sports drink that’s a little like Gatorade, except it actually tastes good.

Anyway, we sat down to have a drink, and that turned into an afternoon at the café, just hanging out and recovering from the day’s walk. It turned out that I was starving, so I ordered both a tortilla and a bocadillo (sandwich, in this case ham and cheese), plus I had a pacharán and a couple of glasses of scotch over the course of the afternoon. Soon after we sat down, Tom poked his head in the bar. He’d just arrived in town, and stopped to say hi before dropping his things off at the albergue. Eventually he wandered back in and ordered a glass of wine. We talked for a while, and he said that he’d left Mark behind much earlier in the day, and we probably wouldn’t be seeing him in Navarrete tonight, at the pace he was currently walking (his feet were really banged up). Maybe 45 minutes to an hour later, we were all surprised (and overjoyed, as we were all a couple of drinks in by this point) to see Mark poke his head in the bar, too! The gang was all here! He went to get cleaned up, then came back and ordered his trademark “large” beer, cheerfully demanding the biggest mug in the house.

We all sat around for another hour or so, until it started to get close to time for dinner. The guys went back to the albergue, and Natalie and I decided to start checking out our dining options for the evening. When I asked the bartender for my check to settle up, I was blown away by the fact that I only owed 12 euros for everything – three or four drinks, a slice of tortilla, and a sandwich. When I reacted with shock, the bartender thought I was freaking out because it was too expensive, and Natalie had to translate that it was just the opposite. I asked the bartender to check again, because I really didn’t want them to lose out on me if she’d forgotten to include anything, but she double checked, and it was correct.


Just me and a couple of my new pilgrim friends!

We did a turn about town, walking down a couple of streets, checking out the church, looking at menus on every restaurant we spotted, but one restaurant really caught our attention. Bar Deportivo (also known as Casa de Comidas de Begoña y Antonio) is tiny, and doesn’t look like much from the outside. Inside is simply decorated, while managing to still feel warm and inviting. The family that run the place are warm and attentive, and though they speak limited English (not their fault – mine for not knowing the language), they did their best to make us feel like we were at home. The little restaurant has full seating in the back, but we were peckish, so instead of ordering off-menu, we chose to grab a seat at the bar and eat a selection of tapas. Mark came to join us a little later, and he was pleased with the size of the beers, lol.


Bar Deportivo has ruined me in regards to tapas. Here in the states, I’ve yet to come across any places that do tapas like Spain, where they’re available to see at the bar, and in great quantities. Here, you normally order your tapas like you would any appetizer, sight unseen, off the menu, one at a time. It’s not done in the same sense of community, and really takes away from the intended experience, in my opinion. There, all through Spain, you see all sorts of options right there at the bar when you get your drink, and you can just point out a selection of the tastes you’d like, and the barkeep will put them on a plate and hand them to you then and there. In many places, you get a free tapa when you order your drink. It might be the bar’s choice, but it’s still free food, and typically delicious. Anyway, this place had some of the most beautiful little tapas I saw over the course of my entire Camino. They were delicious, too. Add to that the wife/owner, Begoña, took a shine to Natalie, and gave us free food just because, and we were in heaven. I’m sad that I only got to experience one meal there, actually. If I lived in the area, it would be my favorite spot.


The owner, Begoña, gave us this amazing goat cheese stuffed pepper in a squid ink sauce.

After dinner, it was time to hit the hay. We got back to the albergue well before the doors were locked for the night, and I was asleep by the time my head hit the pillow. We woke before dawn the next morning, and it was still dark out when we left the albergue. It was misting heavily enough that I needed my pack cover and raincoat, and though we’d intended to wait until the next town to grab breakfast, we stopped just after the church to grab a coffee at a tiny hole-in-the-wall café. I remember this place because it was either the first or second time that I ordered a freshly squeezed orange juice (zumo de naranja), and I felt guilty when I saw that she was doing it all by hand with the tiniest of juicers. I also got a delicious chocolate bar there, and never saw that exact brand again. Ah, mornings on the Camino, when you can eat a chocolate bar without shame. I distinctly remember that my face felt clogged up and on fire, and even the chocolate bar didn’t really cheer me up. I got a second café con leche before we left, but it didn’t do much to improve my mood. It was going to be a long morning.

Anna’s Camino: Day 10 – Viana & Goodbye, Darling Claire


We had been walking the Camino Frances for ten days when Claire announced that it was time for her to go on ahead. She’d been dropping hints for a couple of days, at least, but none of us wanted to spend much time thinking about it. It was just too difficult of a concept, and I get the feeling that we were all pretty much in the same boat, thinking we should ignore it until it happened, keep on living every moment for the moment, just as we had for the last week and a half.

From the outside, looking in, it probably seems silly to you that it was even that big of a deal. After all, we’d only all met each other ten days earlier. It’s not like we were old friends; how much could you get to know someone in such a short period of time? But the Camino does something to you. Bonds are formed very quickly. You meet a person on the road, and within an hour you’re sharing your deepest thoughts. You’ve got all the time in the world, but no time for pointless bullshit. There was very little small talk on my Camino, and no wasted interactions. In short, we were family, and no one wants to say goodbye to a loved one when there’s a good chance you might never meet again.

So Claire would gently bring up the fact that her flight out of Spain was getting closer, and she was behind her intended schedule. She’d remark that one of these days, she’d need to walk faster, maybe even catch a bus and skip a stage. And every day, we’d all sit down at some cafe or on the side of the road, look over the maps, pick a town for which to aim, decide on an albergue that met all of our needs and budgets, and try to ignore the fact that this might be the last day we got to make plans together. In the afternoons, we’d arrive at our albergue, get our assigned bunks from the hospitaleros, and decide who’d get the top bunk this time, me or Claire. (Natalie had a bum knee, so she tended to get the hook-up with a nice bottom bunk when we checked in. Have I ever mentioned to you guys just how much I began to covet that bottom bunk?) The unspoken knowledge that Claire would be leaving us grew heavier. She had to go on. There was life to get back to, and some of this journey needed to be solo, to give her a chance to mull things over in blessed silence.

I don’t now how she felt about those early days shared as an impromptu sisterhood, but after it was all over, I looked back at that time spent with two strangers from across the globe, and saw that they’d given me a great gift. I was frightened and small, and they allowed me to delicately unfurl from my protective layers, no pressure, no pretense, just the comforting sound of crunching gravel, a shared slice of tortilla, a swig from the omnipresent tea canteen. Ten days can be a lifetime when you’re in the midst of becoming something new.


The walk from Los Arcos to Viana wasn’t that exciting, but a few things happened. I got to pet my first donkey; I’d never realized how soft they are. We also paid an entrance fee to get into a rather small medieval church and have our credencials stamped. I remember realizing that the historical society must depend on our donations, but also being a tad disappointed at having to pay to tour a single room. It was also a day of many, many roadside offerings. Along the Camino, one sees all types of road markers, official and unofficial. There are gravestones, and memorials, little piles of rocks, old boots, rocks with notes written on them, notes pinned down by rocks, small trinkets of all sorts. Most days there would be a few standout sights that really caught my attention. Most of the time, they’d be alone, or in little groups. But today, the roadside tributes were thick, like a little forest of pilgrim thoughts. I found it sad, rather than inspiring. I only left a few things behind, over the course of the Camino. I was already shedding my skin; what difference would a rock or two make?

In Viana, we checked into the municipal albergue, Albergue Andres Munoz, where we claimed the first open washing machine to do our laundry as a group one last time, then hopped in the showers. The girls went out sightseeing that afternoon, but I was exhausted, with a terrible case of heartburn from that wine the day before. I had a bowl of soup in the kitchen (why is it so damn hard to find Knorr cream soups in the states? They’re wonderful!), then took a little nap. When I woke up, Natalie offered me a swig of her leftover wine from the Irache wine fountain. Like an idiot, I had some more. I had been having some intestinal distress on account of the original dose of that wine, plus this dose of afternoon heartburn, but like a true pilgrim, I figured I’d give it another shot and see what happened. Hey, I never claimed to be the brightest bulb.

There ruins of a beautiful old church stand beside the albergue, and if you walk down the street between the two, all the way to the end, you get to little public green space that overlooks the town, and faces almost due west. We stood together, all three of us, to watch the sun go down together, and took one last group photo. Afterwards, we went in search of dinner. The albergue had very strict rules about when the doors would be locked that night, and we were all a little nervous about finding a dining option that would allow us to get back before they locked us out for the evening. Of course, things never go as planned when there’s a schedule to be met…



We’d walked into town about the same time as Tom and Mark, and they were also staying at our albergue. Earlier in the day, Natalie mentioned that there was a world-famous hotel restaurant just down the street with affordable pilgrim meal prices, slightly above what we normally paid, but perfect for the occasion of Claire’s last night with us. That evening, when we went to check out the restaurant, they hadn’t started serving just yet, but the bar was hopping. There at the bar were Mark and Tom, tossing back drinks. I made a beeline to Mark to pick on him good-naturedly, as was our relationship, and Tom invited us to pull up a chair.


The peregrino’s version of “no shirt, no shoes, no service.”

We all grabbed a drink, chatted for a little about the predicament of needing a meal before 10pm in a town where no one started serving dinner until at least 8pm. Spaniards don’t eat early dinners, and they certainly don’t bolt their dinners down and run home. A good meal might take two or three hours, but for folks who wanted a fine meal, and were about to get locked out of their rooms for the night, there were important choices to be made. Finally, we decided to give up on this very nice restaurant and go down the street to find any old place that would serve us a pilgrim dinner in the time we had allotted.

It must have been a funny sight, the three ladies leading the search for food, with two inebriated and jovial gents trailing behind. It took us at least another half an hour of wandering around to different restaurants, asking about wait times, until we finally decided that we weren’t getting served early anywhere, and we might as well go back to the first restaurant and try our luck. At some point in the process, Tom announced that wherever we chose to eat, dinner was on him. I definitely perked up at the offer, since I’d been a little apprehensive about what it would cost to have a somewhat fancy meal out that night.

Back in one of the fanciest dining rooms of my Camino, we sat at a table strewn with linen, silver, china and crystal, and had an amazing meal together (though, for the life of me, I can’t remember anything we had to eat, other than my first course of spaghetti). I seem to remember getting a very thinly cut piece of veal, maybe? I remember Mark and I did have a great bitch session about the lack of decent steak thus far along our Camino. Conversation felt a little tense between Tom and Natalie, which I secretly found entertaining. Who would ever imagine putting a straight-laced, retired U.S. military member and an off-grid, liberal Canadian musician at the same table together, and not having some sort of tension? Add in an English tour bus driver, a South African movie industry professional, and a vagabond New Orleanian in the midst of a mental breakdown, and you’ve got some interesting spices flavoring that evening meal🙂

We ended up having to ask the waiter to speed up our desserts, then paying and dashing out to catch the albergue before they locked the main doors. Even so, Tom decided to stay out for one last drink, with instructions to Mark to fight the hospitalero if necessary to keep the doors open. Mark seemed almost gleeful to be charged with the task, but I don’t think he actually had to do anything. In the end, Tom slid in with seconds to spare, then came to sit with the rest of us in the communal kitchen. We five were the last people awake in the entire house, emailing and chatting with our loved ones back home.


Fabulous wine.

Mark and I shared a moment that night, talking about something family-related, but I sadly can’t remember exactly what it was that we talked about. I just remember talking to him about how I was keeping in touch with my boyfriend, and mother and father, and at some point I looked up to see him looking at me with this very open, wise expression. I knew the look. He’d understood whatever point it was that I’d been trying to make, and had decided that he thought I was interesting. We’d been gently goading each other since meeting on that second day, but this was the first moment that I recall seeing through the guard that he’d put up, and realizing that there were some complex and interesting layers there, were one interested enough to go exploring. I already liked him, but for me it was validation that I’d made the right choice in doing so. Maybe it’s a Scorpio thing; I don’t know. I do know that I’ve had this same exchange a handful of times with other Scorpios over my lifetime, so maybe there’s a similarity in the way we let people in? Either way, there was a deal struck at that table, and I’m very sad that we didn’t get nearly enough time to see it through.

Turns out that Day 10 was a bit of a heartbreaker for multiple reasons. What about that?


I should go to sleep. I’ve been up all night, sipping Jameson and writing a particularly emotionally-exhausting blog post. Now I’m just sad, and ready to go to sleep, and not really tired, yet worn out all the same.

You see, this guy I knew when I walked the Camino died. It wasn’t recent. He died last year, within a few months of me meeting him. We weren’t best buddies, or even good friends. We were acquaintances. But I really liked him, and that’s not something that I do very often. I can barely stand most people, if truth be told. But Mark was funny, and kind. And today I got to thinking about him while I was writing what happened on Day 10 of the Camino, and now I’m just sad about things. All sorts of things.

But that won’t get us anywhere, will it. So instead, I’m playing Donovan songs on YouTube, and sharing them to Facebook, where no one will comment or listen, because let’s be honest, who else actually listens to Donovan except for me and a bunch of 60-year old English guys?

Ugh, I should go to bed. I’m in a state.

The other night, I had a particularly detailed dream, in which I dreamed about my spirit animals for the first time ever. For years now, I’ve been trying to have some sort of connection with a spirit animal. I’ve analyzed every interaction with any kind of animal, from the time that squirrel ran up my leg when I was on the way to yoga class, to the feral cats in my neighborhood, to the horses that made friends with me along the Camino. Then the other night, I had a dream in which a buffalo quite literally stood in the road and blocked my path. I walked up to the buffalo, sank my hand in its fur, and pondered why I wasn’t supposed to go that way. Later in the dream, I found myself explaining to a shaman that I’d just had a run-in with a buffalo who’d blocked my path, but that it was really strange, since up until now, all I’d ever experienced was the snow leopard who followed me everywhere. In the dream, I saw my past, how this snow leopard was constantly at my side, wherever I went. I walked through a crowd in Paris, and the snow leopard skirted the crowd, jumped from building to building, and followed me where I was going.

The rest of the dream was a decent sci-fi plot line, so when I woke up, I wrote it all out and told my boyfriend about it. It wasn’t until later that afternoon that the true depth of what I’d dreamt re: the buffalo and snow leopard made its way through my addled brain, and I realized I hadn’t just dreamt about spirit animals, I’d legitimately had an encounter with *my* spirit animals. I don’t have an affinity for either animal, so I know it wasn’t wishful thinking. I hadn’t been watching any movies or reading anything about either animal, so I know it wasn’t a reference to old information. So I have to entertain the thought that even if it was my brain pulling something up from history, it was because it was a useful trope.

So what do these animals mean? Buffalo leads us (or in my case, tells me what roads not to take). Snow leopard teaches us self reliance, and urges us to listen to our intuition. In this case, I know exactly what they were both telling me not to do, though the intended path is not quite as clear. I am lost. Maybe that’s why the Camino is front and center tonight. I don’t know.

Who the hell would have thought I’d end up with a snow leopard? I always thought it would be a grackle. Somewhere in the spirit realm, a giant cat is probably pretty annoyed with me.

Anna’s Camino: Day 9 – Los Arcos


You may know this, and you may not, but we were running behind (much like me with these blog posts, lol). The fact that it took us nine days to get to Los Arcos means that, by Camino standards, we were walking a little slow. In the Brierley handbook that many Western pilgrims treat as gospel, you’re supposed to get to Los Arcos on Day 6. However, now that I’ve been there, done that, I can honestly say that unless you’re on a strict timeline, there’s really no need to push yourself that much.

I can’t imagine having walked any faster than I did, for many reasons. First off, I was in so much pain, even though I was pretty fit when I started. I never got a blister, but my muscles felt mangled by the end of each day, and my feet never really got used to all that walking. Secondly, there’s so much to see, and why not take the time to see it all? Granted, our pace was still too fast to get to see everything, but at least we had the time to visit the sites that caught our fancy along the way. For instance, this morning we happened upon a sweet little chapel about five minutes’ walk off of the Camino, and we gave ourselves time to take a little detour:

Last, and most important to me, a huge highlight of my walk was giving myself the luxury of sitting to have coffee and eat a snack whenever and wherever I pleased, and most days I stopped to eat three or four times during the course of the day’s walk, not counting breakfast and dinner. (No regrets – still lost 20 lbs and got to try every delicious morsel that struck my fancy.) Day 9 stands out to me for this, in fact, as it’s the day when I tried my first (and definitely not my last) real Spanish hot chocolate, during a long morning break in Estella.

Of all the towns that I walked through along the Camino Frances, Estella is the only one in which I truly regretted not getting to spend more time. Next time, I think I’ll plan to stay an extra day to check out the town’s architecture, museums, and shopping more thoroughly. We left Villatuerta just before dawn, with our new friend in tow. I feel awful, but I can’t remember her name at all, but I feel like it was Emily or Erica, something starting with an “E.” (Mind you, I’m probably completely off-base, but hey, I’m trying!) It turned out that the pilgrim she had been walking with the night before had been a little too cosy and assumed too much of their friendship, and she’d wanted to put some space between them, while walking with other women. We all walked together through the morning, chatting and laughing, and even though it was less than 5k to Estella, it seemed like we were all rather tired already by the time we arrived.

We spent awhile walking around; a couple of us were looking for an ATM, and I was desperate to find somewhere selling hats, gloves, and scarves, none of which I’d brought. Luckily, a few days earlier, Natalie had gifted me her extra scarf, which I still have hanging in my closet – a beautiful reminder of a beautiful friend. It was warm enough, but I’d started getting seriously chilly in the mornings, and couldn’t imagine many more days without a proper hat and gloves, and maybe even a thicker neck covering to keep me toasty. A lady in the tourist office told us that it was market day, and there would be lots of artists and farmers setting up stalls soon. I was interested in waiting around to see about finding the items, but also not that dedicated to the idea of wasting more time.


What I *was* happy to waste more time on, however, was grabbing some coffee and something delicious for breakfast. Luckily, all of the ladies agreed, and we ducked into a lovely little cafe, not realizing that we had stumbled upon a proper little patisserie, complete with blue-haired matrons dressed to the nines, staring down their noses upon this rag-tag group of pilgrims! It was adorable in the shop, and the bakery case looked so inviting, so we did our best not to annoy the locals too much. I ordered a hot chocolate, thinking that it was going to be another one of those times where they give you steamed milk and a packet of hot cocoa mix, but to my surprise, I received the most beautiful cup of thick, traditional hot chocolate. It was a magical, life-changing moment for me. You probably think I’m joking, but I’m definitely not. Look at this thing of beauty:


After dallying probably a little too long in Estella, we walked on towards Irache, home of the famous Bodegas Irache vineyards, and the even more famous (with pilgrims, anyway) wine fountain. That’s right – free wine! It took awhile to get there, and there was a bit of confusion just before we saw the fountain, and we somehow lost Claire. At the time, it sounded like she thought the winery was in a different direction, or perhaps we’d already passed it, so she went to check up on her hunch. I never did ask her what she found, but the fountain was up the road a little more, and eventually the rest of our group got there. (Claire did, too, just not with us. It’s so neat now, going back and thinking about how we could all be walking together, but experiencing such completely different adventures. It makes you think more about how much you think you know of your friends’ lives.)


The new girl and I both had to use the bathroom, so we walked past the fountain and up the road a bit to the wine museum, where the shopkeeper was just closing up, but kindly let us in to use the bathroom. We bought little commemorative wine shot glasses while we were there, one for each woman, then went back to find Natalie by the fountain, where we each had a few shots of the very fresh (mouth-puckering, even) wine and took the requisite photographs. Nat filled up a little bottle with the wine, too. We had a little more from her bottle later, though I was pretty sure that wine was the reason for my intestinal unease over the next day or two. Claire still hadn’t shown up, though soon enough, the same busload of elderly tourists that we’d been dodging all morning along our walk appeared and descended upon the wine fountain. We decided to walk on, since we’d agreed in Estella on where we were bedding down for the night, and we were pretty sure she’d find us. As Natalie and I walked along the Camino a bit farther, we realized that not only had we lost Claire, we’d also lost the new girl. Knowing she’d catch up if she wanted, we walked on.

I remember three big things from that afternoon’s walk. First, I remember walking with Natalie, and coming upon this interesting structure that housed an old freshwater spring. I was intrigued by its location (seemingly the middle of nowhere) and the way the building was set up. I wondered briefly what it might look like inside the building during the summer, since it seemed like it would be easy for more adventurous peregrinos to climb down inside and enjoy the cool water.

The second thing that I remember is being behind Natalie and Claire a little later in the day, and hearing a sound coming from the ditch that ran alongside the road. There were farm fields on either side of the path we were walking, and they looked to have been recently harvested. The remaining vegetation lay flat around the sides of the field, and covered the ditch, so that you could tell there was a depression, but couldn’t tell what might be in it. From this cover of vegetation, I heard the most delicious crunching noises. The entire scene brought me back to my childhood. I grew up on a dirt road, and we had a large property, a few wild acres of forest, perfect for a little girl to explore on long summer days. It formed my appreciation for outdoors, and the wild things that inhabit it. I love animals, big and small, and as a child I spent many hours just studying how the wild things lived. That afternoon on the Camino, I took the time to be a little kid again, and stopped to sit and listen at the ditch bank for longer than most adults would deem prudent. Whatever the creature was (I didn’t brush up on Spanish wildlife, but I was guessing some sort of amphibious mammal), it was enjoying a leisurely lunch there under the ditch bank canopy, and I watched as one long piece of freshly mown vegetation after another was slowly drawn into the animal’s hiding spot. Eventually I gave up on seeing who was under there, and continued my peregrination.

The third, and final thing, that I remember from my afternoon was the distinct suspicion (as insane as it sounded) that Los Arcos was moving farther away from me as I walked. At one point in the late afternoon, I could see the town. But the next time I saw it, it seemed farther away. The next, it was even farther. The girls were way ahead of me, and there was no one to whom to voice my growing concern, but a day or two later, I was telling another pilgrim about how weird it had seemed that it felt like Los Arcos kept moving, and they said they had felt the same way! It was hot and sunny out that day, so who knows, maybe I was experiencing the onset of heat stroke. Either way, it was really strange.

I wasn’t as far behind Natalie and Claire as I’d thought, and they had just signed in at the albergue (Casa de la Abuela) when I arrived. We checked in, washed some laundry, took our showers, then went to see the Church of Santa Maria. English Mark and his walking buddy Tom (we’d all met on the way to Roncesvalles, and I talk more about Mark here) were in our room that night. It was the first time I remember Mark really complaining about his poor, battered feet. He was asking for advice on what to do about his blisters, which were to get worse over the next few days.

One thing that I particularly liked about La Casa de la Abuela was breakfast in the morning. Many albergues will feed you a simple breakfast for an extra couple of euros, and though we didn’t always sign up, for some reason it seemed like a good idea in Los Arcos. In the morning, one of the offerings was fresh baked bread and Nutella. The concept of Nutella as a breakfast food was mind-blowingly awesome for me, since at home, Nutella is firmly in the “junk food” list. They might as well have given me a bag of potato chips for breakfast. Note that I did not turn down that glorious chocolate hazelnut spread of the gods. A peregrina’s got to eat, right?




There is a point where things begin to intersect. The pattern begins to make itself known. In many cases, it’s a repeated pattern, a cable knit. They say that those who don’t read history are doomed to repeat it. If we have such trouble with spotting the patterns in our own life stories, how can we be depended upon to spot patterns that are playing the long game, those that take place over the course of several generations? The simple, true, shitty answer is that we have just as little control over the patterns that sway the world as we do over those that sway our own minuscule existences. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t try to spot the turning points, to do our best to persuade others back from the brink. But we should also be gentle with ourselves when we realize patterns are emerging, and begin to come to terms with the fact that we’ve seen this before, we know what’s going to happen next, why, oh why didn’t we try harder when we had the chance to escape the oncoming freight train? These are the thoughts that roll through our brains as we struggle in vain against the ropes that have us tied to already-rumbling tracks.

Here are the issues:

  • A city without affordable rental properties in safe, walkable neighborhoods.
  • A “cheap” apartment that costs roughly 50% of my monthly income.
  • No permanent, full-time jobs available for much more than I’m currently making.
  • A broken bicycle lock.
  • The two men who tried to break into my apartment yesterday.

They looked to be older guys, maybe in their 40’s, but maybe just prematurely aged from living hard. Their faces were gaunt – malnourished? ill? addicts? I don’t know. They would have fit in perfectly with that group of crackheads I ran into last year on the neutral ground of Franklin Avenue, arguing amongst themselves about who had done the most crack. At the time, it sounded like the trolls’ conversation in The Hobbit, completely ridiculous, a worthy anecdote to share over drinks with friends. Now, I can feel the fear bubble up again. I already constantly watch my back, peer around corners, am suspicious of every man I meet, no matter the color or creed, just because I am constantly scared here, and on guard, despite my best efforts to relax and enjoy living in this city everyone keeps telling me is amazing and fun and pretty safe, all things considered.

You might have gathered by now that I was home when the attempted break-in (noted on the police report as “trespassing,” since they didn’t get in) occurred. It was mid-afternoon, and it was my day off, so I was in bed with boyfriend and cats, playing a silly game on my cell phone. I had actually just won an hour of infinite lives, and was settling in to beat this really tough level. It’s a game where all you do is connect dots. It’s for imbeciles, and is literally one of the stupidest things I could waste precious hours of my life on. I should have been writing memoirs, or sewing a costume, or maybe putting together that slow cooker chicken curry recipe I’ve been talking about, but when two men tried to break into my safe space I was in bed, connecting tiny circles on the screen of my mobile device.

It’s funny that I didn’t hear them walking on the balcony/porch that leads to my door. It’s metal, and has a certain sound when the neighbors cross. Maybe they were walking softly? I don’t think so. I don’t think that two guys who decide to break into an apartment at 3pm on a Thursday afternoon are contemplating stealthiness. But who knows what they were thinking. They obviously weren’t, as my funny across-the-street neighbor noted, “rocket surgeons.” Broad daylight, somewhat busy street, a corner where the neighbors are almost always out and keeping some sort of eye on all of the houses in the area. They managed to luck into a time when my other across-the-street neighbor, the elderly gentleman who hangs out on his balcony all day and seems to know just about everyone within a mile radius, was walking another neighbor’s dogs.

I’m saying “luck,” because if I admit that maybe they’d cased the joint before and knew that I’d be gone by 3pm for my night shift, maybe I get home tonight and they’re there waiting for me. I am so scared to go home tonight. I was already scared of that walk home every night, and then I got a bike, and I was scared of how long it took me to get my bike lock to actually lock, with my back to a dark yard, and a tall fence hiding me from street traffic, making it easier to attack me and silence me right there in my own yard. So I stopped biking because of the lock, and then I changed my walking route, and then I started taking Uber home even when I really couldn’t afford it, and now I can’t even be safe when I’m at home, because they’ll still try to break in, like yesterday.

A friend who lives in the neighborhood told me last night that she feels safe because she has a concealed carry license. But I don’t want to carry a gun. First off, because you’re much more likely to get shot with your own gun than you are to successfully ward off your attacker. Secondly, because it’s just not civilized, and it won’t make me feel any safer or happier. I’ll be even more scared. Scared that I have to harm another living thing in order to make myself feel safe, but knowing that even if I hurt that person, I still won’t feel safe. We are all ego, so I can’t pretend to not be full of it. But I can tell you what I already know about myself – I don’t want to hurt anyone else. I don’t want to be hurt, and I’m very scared that I will be hurt, but worse than being caused pain is causing pain to others. Always, without a pause. If I hurt another person, I will suffer greatly for it, for the rest of my life. Whether or not any court of law decides to punish me for my actions. Because it hurts to hurt others. And yes, I know that this doesn’t make sense to those of you who do carry weapons and feel brave because of them. Good for you. Do your thing. I don’t work like that.

The pattern I’m talking about here is extreme fear that is leading me right back to anxiety, and from there, possibly depression. Though I do have a new kitten in the house, so maybe not. As long as no one breaks in while I’m gone and hurts the cats, which is my second greatest fear since yesterday. Yesterday, when they tried the door handle. That’s what I heard first, before they started throwing themselves against the door, testing to see if the deadbolt was going to give. That’s when the rage bubbled up. Thank goodness for rage, but also damn it. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering. On your way to the Dark Side, you forget to collect sufficient evidence.

I leapt out of bed. From the bedroom, I could see them at the kitchen window, faces pressed against the screening, peering in through the partially-open Venetian blinds. My kitchen was wrecked from cooking the night before, and I felt a split second of shame, followed by a little bit of relief. Maybe a filthy kitchen makes you look poorer than you are? Poor housekeeping skills for trashy people? Maybe I’ll cling to that, though it’s not very logical. They saw me, I saw them. I screamed at them: “Get the fuck away from my house!” They didn’t run away. They ambled. They sashayed. They talked shit to me as they were walking away. I forgot to watch which way they walked. I never thought to take photos. I thought about it for a few minutes, then called the cops, with little faith that they’d even come over. But they did, and only 15 minutes later. I was pleasantly surprised.

The cops dusted the door knob for prints, and got a partial palm print. They asked me questions about gender, age, skin color, hair style, clothing, what was said and done. They were kind, but it was clear that nothing was going to happen after this interview. I didn’t expect them to even show up in the first place, so at least they did something, right?

Later last night, I heard my next door neighbor get home, and went over to tell her about the day’s events, just so she’d have a heads up. It turns out that the dread I’d been feeling in my yard at night was well-founded; last weekend, my downstairs neighbor caught a guy hiding in the bushes, just around the time I normally get off from work each night. The cops were called for that, too.

I’m feeling defeated right now. There are no viable options without a more robust and reliable form of income. To move, I need money. To get money, I need a job. There are no jobs in my field. So I take a job in another field, and then I have money, and I move, but I hate what I do since it’s not what I want to do, and because salary rates here are still incredibly low compared to cost of living, I’m still too poor to afford to live somewhere safe or get a car, so I’m still in the same position, except for now I hate my job AND I’m scared to commute and scared inside of my house every night. Awesome combination.

So here’s what I do: I talk to my landlord. I get the bars put back on my windows, get the lock on my steel security door replaced, beg him to get another security camera upstairs, replace my porch bulb with something extra bright, talk to the neighbors and see if everyone would be OK with cutting down the bushes and adding extra yard lighting, and then I carry pepper spray.

And that is where we’re at right now. It isn’t great, but it’s what can be done. I doubt it will help me feel less hopeless, but then I can just be another of the people who falls in line with the erroneous belief that these are the sacrifices we have to make to live in this wonderful city where education has been forgotten and heroin rates are rising and public transportation is completely pointless and AirBnB owners have fucked us all out of affordable rental properties in areas where crackheads won’t peer through our kitchen windows.

This is as far as I’ve gotten in seeing my own pattern. I’m nowhere, and I’m exhausted.


Anna’s Camino: Day 8 – Villatuerta


You’re not gonna like this, but I don’t have many memories of the walk from Puente la Reina to Villatuerta. Part of the reason for that is most likely because I’m writing this so long after the walk (I can’t believe it’s been nine months now, though symbolically, I guess I can, since it’s taken me this long to “birth” these journal entries). However, I also think that part of the reason I’m coming up short with strong memories for the walking portion of the day is that by the time I’d been walking a week, I started to Zen out a little while I was on my feet.

Weird thing is, though, I didn’t recognize it when it was happening. Me, with years of running and Bikram yoga under my belt, and no realization that my mind was heading off somewhere else as soon as I’d tied my laces and fastened my pack. Recently, I found myself reading through Belden C. Lane’s book Backpacking with the Saints, and having an “aha!” moment when I read a section on how the body has its own part in important spiritual work (he calls it “soul craft”). He says:

“One might best think of the soul, then, as the place where the body and the rest of the vibrant world converge. The German Romantic poet Novalis argued that the human soul isn’t inside the body, hidden and encased, like a ‘seed.’ Rather, he said, ‘The seat of the soul is where the inner world and the outer world meet.’ Soulfulness is our ability to discover a vital connection with the ordinary details of everyday experience – what we share along our outermost edges with others…Whenever I plunge into wilderness, my body and the environment move in and out of each other in an intimate pattern of exchange…Where I ‘end’ and everything else ‘begins’ isn’t always clear…My ‘personal identity’ is stretched to include the aching beauty of an alpine meadow or the raucous cry of loons on the other end of the lake.”

As you can see, I cut the quote down considerably to get to my point, but if you haven’t read this book yet, I urge you to pick it up and enjoy. It’s a somewhat dense read, but an entertaining and rewarding one.


So yeah, I think that by the eighth day of my Camino, I was falling into the soul work I’d sought, but didn’t realize it. I know for a fact that my depression and anxiety had already begun to lift considerably. I was genuinely enjoying walking with my Camino sisters Natalie and Claire, and though it always takes me a while to remember names, I was starting to see more familiar faces each day throughout the day, on rest breaks and at cafes. Most memorable to me that day are two feelings – the physical pain in my legs, and a short dose of panic and emotional anguish when I briefly lost both of my friends near the end of the day, and thought for sure that I wouldn’t find them again.

A short look back through my photos reminds me of a few more little details from the day, though. I remember leaving Puente la Reina in the morning, and sharing in (and being slightly amused by) Claire’s irritation with the group of elderly Israeli orchestra members that had stayed in our room the night before. Besides their funny penchant for bursting into song together, they were a slightly pushy group of guys, something that seemed more a cultural difference than an intended slight, but was still annoying. They’d hogged the bathroom day and night, hung out in their skivvies, and one of the guys snored robustly. Then, as we were walking out of town in the morning, one of them stopped Claire to have her take their photo, but instead of asking her, he’d held the camera out and basically said, “Hey you, stop and take our photo.” In general, not the nicest way to ask a stranger for help. We were all a little put off by the less than great behavior, but I figured, what do we know about how old Israeli guys talk to each other and their loved ones? Maybe something that comes off as curt to us was actually a friendly familiarity to them, who knows.


If you look closely, you’ll see that some enterprising farmer planted a world map on the hillside!

I remember walking up to a town that I’d read had a thriving arts scene, and not feeling like I had time to stop. I felt rushed, and really out of breath on account of the very steep hill up to and through the main street of the town. I’m not sure if that rushing was coming from an external source or what, but I’d love to go back at some point to see if there are any potters selling unique Camino wares. Later that morning, we walked over a nice portion of Roman roads, including a bridge. I marveled at the cart tracks, and how sturdy the construction still was, and made a note to tell my father every detail on our next phone call.

On this day, we were all at different speeds. Generally, all three of us walked at a pretty similar pace, overall, but played leapfrog throughout the day. Natalie was still recovering from a pre-Camino knee injury, and every now and then that would slow her down, but usually she was the most efficient of us. Claire walked at a very tidy pace, sometimes using her umbrella as a hiking pole, often keeping a keen eye out for impressive old churches with unlocked doors (even better if they had a credencial stamp handy). My pace, like my thoughts, varied wildly. Hills were really difficult, and often resulted in lots of little sitting/water breaks. My calves and shins hurt, and my achilles tendon had been acting up for a year before the walk, so that wasn’t doing me any favors. At times, I’d get really into the rhythm of my hiking poles, and just motor down the trail, almost hypnotized by the repetitive sound. Other times, I’d get caught up in conversation with one of the girls, or meet a new pilgrim and talk for miles. But other times, I’d stop to look at a tree, or a rock, or a pile of rocks, or some graffiti, then another tree, rock, a bird, the sky, etc. Then I’d just get caught up in thinking about that one small thing, and shuffle along the path, knowing that there was somewhere I was supposed to be going, but otherwise not too concerned with all of the “little stuff” (you know, anything off of the physical Camino).


I got a huge kick out of this albergue sign. Who doesn’t love a flamenco kitty?

This day, Natalie and I were together a bit more often. We left Claire behind at some point, but then when we stopped for a beer and some paella for lunch, she caught up and we sat with each other for a little while. Eventually, Natalie and I were ready to go, but Claire hadn’t finished just yet, so we walked on. But later in the day, we stopped for another coffee when she didn’t, so it turned out that while we were drinking coffees, she passed us on the road, and eventually we got to a town where Claire was already waiting for us at a fountain. Isn’t it great how the Camino allows everyone to pace themselves but still end up with their loved ones?

By the end of the afternoon, I was exhausted. The last towns we passed through were shaped somewhat like American suburban areas, with newer houses on a grid system, and less of the romantic older structures I’d grown to love. It was somewhere in here that I got separated from the girls and started to despair of finding the place we were supposed to bunk for the night. Earlier in the day, we’d made the decision to stop at a place called Casa Magica, mostly because it had great reviews for food, and the guide book said it also offered massage, which we all agreed would be an excellent option. I’m not sure why or how I got so turned around, but for about 15 minutes, I wandered around on the verge of tears, no clue if I was still on the Camino or where to even try to go to get back to the yellow arrows. Luckily, I eventually found a public square near a school, and ran into some German pilgrims who pointed the way for me. A few minutes later, I found Natalie, and Claire arrived a short while later.

The albergue La Casa Magica was everything I’d imagined and more. The place was empty when we first got there, so Natalie and I sat around, waiting for the owner to come back. His entrance was preceded by that of a friendly, humongous black dog named Thor. I was a bit sad to not have more time to hang out with him after we’d checked in, and I recently saw on the albergue’s Facebook page that beautiful Thor crossed the Rainbow Bridge this summer. Rest in peace, big fella.


The foyer of La Casa Magica. Photo via their website.

As for the house, it was amazing. Nag Champa incense burned constantly in the cool, welcoming public foyer, next to a couple of lovely Art Deco chairs. A nearby lounge included a nice little beer and liquor selection, plus cosy seating, a book exchange, and the omnipresent coffee and snack vending machine. The outdoor patio was also extremely impressive, with room to sit at tables in the sun, or to relax in one of the gaily-colored hammocks strung up under the porch roof. There was also a washing machine – score!

Best of all, for a pretty large house, we seemed to have it mostly to ourselves. There were only about five other pilgrims staying that night, so we three girls got our own room. It was tough climbing up the vintage-tiled stairs to the room, but we were rewarded with what would be one of the nicest sleeping arrangements of my entire trip – a large bedroom with multiple beds, adjoined by two smaller rooms with a single bed, each. I thought of these smaller rooms as “sleeping cubbies.” Natalie took one of the beds in the large bedroom, while Claire and I both took one of the sleeping cubbies. There were thick, warm blankets available, making me feel comforted in exactly the way I needed that afternoon.

When we checked in, there was a pilgrim couple sunning in the back yard, but I don’t recall getting to know them. I took a shower in one of the best bathrooms of any albergue (Rain shower heads and plenty of hot water with great water pressure! Heaven!), then spent the afternoon drinking ales in the lounge, writing in my journal, waiting for the massage therapist to show up. Sadly, though I did get a massage, it was rather underwhelming. I needed some deep tissue action, and he was very light-handed. I was also feeling very chilly that day, a combination of the actual weather, the chill of an old house, and, I realized a few days later, the initial onset of the head cold that was gifted to me by the phlegmy bunkmate in Pamplona.


Beautiful little crocuses were everywhere along the early days of the Camino.

Dinner that night was nothing short of amazing. It was so beautiful and fancy that I forgot to even get a photo of the meal. The owner of the albergue is a great chef, and after all of the pilgrims had taken their places around the communal dinner table, he fed us a multiple-course vegetarian meal that would have been at home in a fine dining establishment. We had soup, an appetizer of cheese-stuffed peppers, and a jaw-droppingly gorgeous vegetarian paella that had dates (I was really impressed by those dates) in it. I wish I could remember every single detail of the meal, but all I get are flashes of how lovingly the plates were decorated, and the huge paella pan from which he served us. Also, I remember that the desert was my first time trying natillas de leche, and it was crazy delicious.

I wasn’t really up for extended dinner conversation, but we all introduced ourselves around the table, and one couple stands out to me. At the end of the table were a man around my age and woman in her late 20’s who had been walking together for the last few days. They seemed cosy, maybe a little romantic, but there was something in his manner that was off-putting. He talked a little too loud, maybe made a little too much of himself. I made a mental note to avoid him if we passed him again on the trail, and I guess his companion came to the same conclusion. At breakfast the next morning, she asked if she could walk with us for the day. So much for Camino romance!





Whole30 Round 1 Results


July was a pretty busy month for me, emotionally. I made the decision in late June to put 100% of my energy into changing the way I eat, for good, using Whole30 as my template for kicking things off. This isn’t a post about how awesome the Whole30 is, how it works, or what it can do for you. There’s already a ton of information online about the program, including a great website with all the information you need to undertake the challenge for yourselves. I bought the cookbook, as well, but honestly found that the Whole30 website gave me everything I required to make some serious life changes, and all for free.

The program is 30 days long, and I’ve found that the easiest way to explain it to folks is that it’s paleo’s badass older sister. For 30 days, you make a deal with yourself to kick everything out of your diet that could cause inflammation, encourage overeating, or just not be all that good for helping your body work at its top capacity. This includes alcohol, all sweeteners of any kind (yes, even honey and stevia), grains, dairy, corn, soy, and a host of artificial flavors, colors, preservatives – basically, if it comes in a package and the label has more than a couple of ingredients, you probably can’t eat it. In fact, it’s easiest to just avoid processed and packaged food altogether. The program also advises against snacking and replacing “bad” items with “good” versions – you know how you went paleo and quickly figured out how to make those “healthy” paleo pancakes and muffins? Yup, none of that allowed.

I have a long, sordid history of eating my feelings. If I get bored, angry, happy, sad, pensive, (insert emotion here), I will treat myself to food. If I’m with others, I’ll treat myself to a regularly-sized meal. If I’m alone, I’m prone to eating whole pizzas, buckets of wings, two Big Mac meals, whatever it takes to drown out the feelings for a little while. It’s been an issue since I was a child, but I was pretty good at keeping it under wraps for most of my life. I’m just now getting to the point where I’m willing to take ownership, talk with a therapist, and start making active changes to the way I process what’s happening to me in order to eat what I’d like, but in moderation.

Though I did hope to lose weight on the Whole30 program, my biggest hope was to give my body a break, time to cut out the cravings so I could hear my emotions more clearly and find ways to soothe myself without food or alcohol. My second biggest desire with this program was to kickstart a health change that will snowball as I get closer to my 35th birthday in November. I’ve got some crazy big birthday plans to hike the Grand Canyon and go horseback riding in Monument Valley, and I didn’t want my weight to get in the way of either of those things (especially didn’t want to end up hurting a horse – what kind of jerk wants to do that?). I’m aiming to be back at college weight AND feeling strong and vital come November. Thanks to this program, I think I’m on track for all of my goals.

The biggest surprise to me on this program was that it really wasn’t that difficult. I didn’t have any strong cravings for junk food until around Day 28, and I was able to easily overcome them. I did have some crazy weird food dreams around halfway through (one dream that I was eating garbage bags full of gooey, delicious chocolate croissants, and another dream that I owned a 24-hour brunch spot and had to taste test all the new dishes).

I did start cooking more, and doing meal prep, and though I’ve kept a pretty simple diet on rotation, I’ve gotten a lot better at the things I make, and am ready to start expanding my repertoire a bit. So far I make a pretty mean batch of slow cooker cabbage rolls, and though I hated the last carnitas recipe I tried, I’m ready to give it another go. I also found out that my “allergy” to garlic, something that had plagued me for years any time I had a drop of the stuff anywhere near my food, has suddenly disappeared. I can only think that I don’t do well with garlic when it’s combined with grains or dairy in my meal. Since I can eat it now (and really like it), I’m learning how to cook with it, finally. Made some simple and delicious baked green beans and garlic the other night, in fact.

Many people report that chronic aches and pains tend to go away during the Whole30, since ditching inflammatory foods gives your body time to heal. I’ve suffered from Achilles tendonitis in my right leg for a couple of years now, and it went away by the second week. I also went off of birth control medication about four months ago, and was just starting to see some acne show up just before I went on the Whole30, which is the biggest issue for me in not being on the pill. I generally get really nasty hormonal acne on my neck, chin, and chest, and the only thing that can make it go away again is taking the pill again, which really sucks since the medication makes me feel terrible, otherwise (but I’m so vain, and I do love my clear skin). I’d just gotten my first painful zit, and was steeling myself for more, but it’s been a month now and my skin looks great. I’m chalking that up to my hormones not dealing well with something I was eating. We’ll figure that out at a later date; for now, I will gladly accept the clear skin.

Many people do a program like this and combine it with exercise for best results. For me, this has always been about making a permanent change in my relationship to food, so I didn’t want to make too many changes at once. I wanted to get this to stick, then eventually work into getting more physical again. So no heavy exercise, just biking and walking to work, like usual.

The end result is that I lost almost 11 pounds and quite a few inches (see below), didn’t drink for a month and didn’t miss it, and was able to start rationalizing my way through any occasion where I’d feel like bingeing on unhealthy food. I took the day off on July 31st to eat pizza and ice cream (definitely not part of the plan, but I’m not going to down myself over it), and started Round 2 on August 1st, with a plan to wrap up on August 30th. I’m not completely sure of what I’ll do after this month is up. Since I’ve been eating very well and feeling good this entire time, and not feeling too put out, I’m guessing I’m going to stay Whole30/paleo 99% of the time, and then have a treat every now and then if I feel like it. I might also do what I did this month, and be really strict for 30 days, have one day to eat whatever I please, then back on the wagon again. We’ll see what feels right when I get there. I’m not gonna get too worked up over it just yet.

Here’s what I lost this month. I’ll keep you up to date once Round 2 is over; hoping that with added exercise, I can do as well as I did on the first round.

Start – July 1st, 2016

  • Weight – 193.6 lbs.
  • Waist – 35″
  • Lower Stomach – 44″
  • Hips – 47″
  • Chest – 39″
  • Arm – 16″
  • Thigh – 29″

End – July 30th, 2016

  • Weight – 182.8 lbs. (Loss = 10.8 lbs.)
  • Waist – 33″ (Loss = 2″)
  • Lower Stomach – 42″ (Loss = 2″)
  • Hips – 44.5″ (Loss = 2.5″)
  • Chest – 35″ (Loss = 4″)
  • Arm – 14.5″ (Loss = 1.5″)
  • Thigh – 27.5″ (Loss = 1.5″)

Total Weight Lost – 10.8 lbs.

Total Inches Lost – 13.5″