Goodbye Firenze, hello Malibu, and a new chapter at home

Sometimes saying goodbye is difficult.  Sometimes saying hello and moving forward is challenging.  Sometimes, however, when the time is right the hellos and goodbyes don’t seem too bad. It has been exactly one month today since I said goodbye to Florence. I said goodbye to Europe, to my study abroad experience, and to my new found “home” on April 15. It is hard to believe that was already one month ago. Saying goodbye was not too difficult since I saw more than I ever thought I would and I grew and matured in ways I am extremely grateful for.

Many people, during our final week in Italy, rushed around the city and seemed stressed with the pressure to see and to taste the things they had previously hoped to taste and see while in Italy.  I, however, after eight months of travel and study, relaxed and did not become too preoccupied with what I did not do while abroad, but instead I marveled at everything I was able to do while abroad. Because, when I look back to my time abroad, I am thankful and fulfilled.  I was able to travel to Italy, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Hungary, England, Germany, Austria, The Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Belgium, Spain, Ireland, Morocco, Greece and Vatican City. I saw the islands Sardinia, Sicily, Santorini, Burano and Murano, among others. I was able to visit over 100 cities; yes 100, I counted if you don’t believe me. I hiked the Alps in Switzerland and Italy, road tripped in Tuscany, walked over the Pyrenees in Spain and I have memories that I cherish dearly which will last me a lifetime.  I’d say my year has definitely been a memorable one. I am excited to see where life takes me next. Even though it has been one month since I returned home, I do not think I have fully processed my journey yet. The beginning of my time in Italy was actually quite difficult since as my time in Italy began, I was still trying to process my journey on the Camino de Santiago. I have too many thoughts to think about and ponder at the moment. But, it is my hope that my journey will help me to relate to and understand others in a more impactful way in the future.

Some of my highlights include the quiet freedom I felt when hiking the dolomites, seeing the Tuscan countryside and taking in the beauty of multi-colored houses in Cinque Terre.  I will always treaure the time I spent with my Italian relatives as well; I got to spend Christmas and Easter with them and go hiking, caving, and visit thermal springs with my family as well.  Other precious moments include embracing the beauty of new cultures and customs, meeting the smiling people of Ireland, hearing the call to prayer and walking through the souks in Morocco.  A more difficult yet impactful memory was when I visited the Dachau concentration camp and felt the pain and suffering that once occurred there while I attempted to fathom the plight that the Jews once faced in Nazi Germany.  Other moments I will never forget: seeing Papa Francisco twice and watching the sunset in Santorini and Sardenia. Those are only a few moments that come to mind when I recall the past nine months of my life, but there are many more, too many more stories waiting to be told.  One thing I am extremely grateful for is that this year I learned the importance of presence and of experiencing moments to their fullest.  I learned to take life less seriously, to laugh at my rediculious tendencies, to value true friendship and relatonships.  Most importantly, I learned to love others in a deeper way.

Some pictures from my highlighted moments:

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During our final week in Florence, we had a final banquet. The Gala was held at the top of a beautiful hotel that overlooked the Duomo, I have pictures to share below!

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Here are a few photos of my Italian friends and sweet Antonella (a Florentine resident who I worked with regularly who has downs syndrome). Sweet ones Sweet Antonella Italian friends My Italian friend

The Gala was one of the final dinners we shared all together and a time we were all able to honor the teachers and talk about the year. At the end of the banquet, I read a poem that I wrote about our time we spent together in Florence. It is simple, but I will share it with you all below.

 In September we came

Feeling excited and a bit afraid

A new country, a new place

A new chapter up ahead

Strangers we all were

Surrounded by the unknown

We walked into a building

That we would soon call our home

The excitement and thrill

Uncontrollable and intense

But soon reality set in

And life seemed to change on a whim

Firenze, we never knew

The challenges we would face

The happy moments and the tears

The facing of our fears

It felt hard, it seemed impossible

But we soon did adjust

We traveled, we experienced

We began to see the world

We found our little niches

Our sweet places of freedom

We cherished new friendships

And grew in unexplainable ways

Winter break soon ended

A new semester, a new start

New faces and new transitions

Welcoming in nine new additions

We set out for semester two

Some excited others blue

Others didn’t quite know what to do

But we all did learn a lesson or two

We traveled to find

What we needed was here all along

A community full of laughter

And a household of love

Now we sit here together

Only seven days left

Where did time take us?

We think and reflect

Emotions are now flowing

The reality has not yet set in

Yet now the goodbyes soon must begin

We say goodbye to

the pizza, the pasta, the Duomo

The gelato, the palazzos,

The statues and fine art

Goodbye to the Italians,

To Viale Milton

Goodbye most of all,

To who we once were before our journey had begun

Firenze how you would change us

Was unclear from the start

But we leave here with memories

Thanks to the city of the arts

We soon will enter our homeland

But before we depart,

Goodbye sweet Firenze,

You’re forever in our hearts

As a house, we left a gift for the future students who will be studying in Florence. We decided to leave a “yearbook page” meaning that the house would come up with a superlative for each of us, which would be placed by an individual photo of our choice and a quote. I was so honored because the superlative that was given to me was “most likely to save the world.” I don’t think I deserve this superlative, but I am more than honored that my peers gave me such an honorable title. In reality, I know I will never be able to change the world. All I hope to do is to love everyone and allow God to work through me, for change only comes from God. I feel as though I have been given so much and I often wonder, “Why me?” None of us will ever discover the answer to the question “Why us?”  I think the question that I will begin to ask myself is “How can I use the gifts and the experiences I have been given to help others?”  Maybe that is the question we should constantly ask ourselves. Matthew 10:8 says, “Freely you have received; freely give” I hope to model my life after this. I hope to give to those who have nothing, I want to share the love I have been given with the voiceless and the broken hearted. It is not a command that I have to do this, but instead a burning desire within my heart, one I have possessed ever since I was a child. Whether it is through spreading cultural awareness and acceptence, contributing to the world in using strong intercultural communication skills, or helping a child who is suffering. I hope that whatever I do, I will do it for the good of others and mostly; I will do it out of love.

After my time in Florence, I flew directly to Malibu. I stayed on campus with my dear friend Jennifer for a few days. Being back at the Malibu campus was refreshing. I was able to spend a good deal everyday at the beach, have a sunrise devotional, catch up with some great friends, visit my favorite acai juice bar Sunlife Organics, volunteer in the projects in downtown LA and even go to the campus ministry formal. I have a few pictures below from my time in Malibu.

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When I arrived home, it felt like a dream. I was tired, jet lagged, excited, and my mind was overloaded. While abroad, though I did not blog about this (I will explain more in future posts), I was actually ill. Even though I did travel throughout Europe, I suffered from various health problems throughout my journey and visited various Italian health physicians. Though I had originally planned on interning in Washington DC this summer with Pepperdine, I had to withdraw from the program in order to heal. So, this summer will be one full of relaxation and healing which is a stark contrast to my last nine months abroad. Since home I have been eating a raw, vegan diet (I have been vegetarian for 12 years, vegan for 4), doing yoga regularly, reading, spending time with family, and relaxing outside. It has seemed almost like a relaxation retreat. I have also been filling out various scholarships and other applications as well. What’s next? Well, as of now this summer will be one of healing but I am volunteering at a weeklong foster kids’ camp in June and will be hopefully traveling to Puerto Rico and backpacking (if my health allows) as well. I was just accepted into a Jewish Studies Scholarship Program, which will sponsor an internship in Israel next summer (or the following one), which I am excited about. I get excited thinking about living in the Middle East, I cannot wait, but until then I will continue to rest and hopefully my body will be healed soon. I will be posting regularly throughout the summer despite the fact that I will not be abroad, so keep your eyes open! Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.

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a perfect ending and a new beginning

After spending two days exploring Santiago, I started to realize that my trip was ending. I felt that Santiago had been a perfect place to end my trip; I had such a wonderful time in the city, the cathedral, and at the festivities for the feast day of St. James. I could not have asked for a better ending to my trip. Yet, God had different plans. God ended my trip in the most perfect way, better than I could have imagined.

At the beginning of my trip I had hoped to change my flight so that I could stay a few extra days and walk the extra three days to the sea, to Finisterre. However, changing my flight would have been $250.00 and with other fees that would also arise, I knew that it then would not be possible to walk to Finisterre.
This did not, however, change my mind about making it to Finisterre. So, I decided to take a bus there. Three others from my group wanted to take a bus to Finisterre along with me. The bus would leave at 9am on Sunday and I insisted that we leave around 7:15am to ensure that we would get tickets. When we got to the station we luckily got tickets, I could not control my excitement. I had heard such amazing things about Finisterre, also known as The Ends of the Earth. I had heard about the large rock-bound cliffs, the lighthouse, and beautiful beaches there as well. I was not, however, prepared for the rich, overwhelming beauty of Finisterre.

My amazing friend Ashley and I sat together on the bus trip and admired the gorgeous views throughout our ride to the seaside village. It was quite strange being on a bus after walking for 5 weeks without the use of a car!
When we arrived in Finisterre, we saw our friend Niels at the bus station. Niels is from Germany and he traveled with us up until Leon. We had not seen Niels in weeks and we greeted him with much excitement. He was originally planning to leave on the next bus out of town, but he decided to stay with us, and he then became our tour guide.
First, we headed to the beach. As we walked up to the beach I became lost in the glimmering aquamarine sea, white sand, and glorious sunshine.
Ashley and I were surprised to find an abundance of seemingly untouched, perfect seashells on the beach; this was quite different from the California beaches that we are both used to!

After we spent some time gathering shells and taking a few photos, we both ran and jumped into the crystal clear sea. The extremely refreshing, cold water was tinted a perfectly blue color. I knew at that moment, when swimming around in the ocean, my trip was not meant to end at the cathedral, but instead at the ocean.
It’s amazing to see beautiful buildings like the cathedral that were constructed to honor and glorify God, and seems to try to bring the beauty of God to earth. However, there is something even more special to me; to see God’s own artful touch, God’s creation, this connects me with God in such a deep way. To me, I feel God’s presence in nature but mostly when in the ocean. The wholeness and peace that I feel when with the ocean, is indescribable. As I swam in the salty sea I felt connected to the sea, to the earth, to creation, to God.

Ashley and I embraced every moment at the beach with thankfulness. I could not have asked for a better friend to share that special moment with. I could not have asked for a better person to finish my Camino de Santiago journey with.
Ashley and I met at the beginning of my freshman year and were instant friends, kindred spirits. God definitely brought us together. I know that I will never forget the joy I felt when swimming in the sea. The moment when both Ashley and I felt clothed in God’s love and peace. After spending time at the beach we all went out to lunch at a seaside café. While at the café, we saw another friend of ours, Mario, whom we had not seen since Burgos. We had lunch with both Mario and Niels, which was so special. After our meal, we headed to the lighthouse, to the cliffs that overlook the sea, the area that was once thought to be the end of the western world, The End of The Earth.

As I sat on the gigantic cliff and looked out at the sea, I felt so small, so insignificant; yet, another part of me felt more significant than ever before. I felt as though I was apart of something greater than I could ever comprehend, something exquisite. While there, I imagined that my friends Thalia and Brenda were enjoying the extraordinary view along with me. I made it to the end for them. I left two small shells on the top of a high cliff in honor of their arrival. I know that they too completed their journey, they both made it to the end, to the vast ocean, to God.
I wrote in my journal and I was overcome with thought for quite some time.
I reflected about the end of my Camino. And, at that precise moment, when I was sitting on the cliff and admiring the majestic sea, I felt more ready than ever to begin a new chapter in my life. The time seemed to slip away while Ashley and I were sitting on the breezy cliff. After about an hour, I had to say goodbye to the sea, to the ocean, to Brenda and Thalia, to the person I used to be. I was not sad about these goodbyes; instead, I felt an inner sense of peace and joy.

So, here I am, now finished with my journey on the Camino de Santiago.
I am now walking on my never-ending path towards deeper growth, healing, knowledge, and faith. I know that I am not who I was yesterday or who I will be tomorrow; I am simply the person I am in this present moment.
I bring no past baggage into the new chapter in my life; it is a fresh start for me on every possible level. Too many people take life far too seriously; I used to be one of them. Life is so beautiful and exciting. I want my new chapter to be one filled with joy, hope, and simplicity. I will take the time to smell the flowers, to smile at a stranger, to embrace relationships, to love others, to love myself, to stand up for justice, to kiss a cow, to comfort a hurting child, to embrace life.
In one short month I leave to study my sophomore year in Florence, Italy. Living in Europe for an entire year will be a whole new set of adventures, which is exciting.
So, here’s to a new chapter in my life, a new page, one of mystery and experience.
Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and Love.

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galicia

Galicia was the last region I walked through in Spain and was a beautiful place. Here is a brief history of the area.
Galicia is an autonomous community known for its many rivers, delicious seafood, beautiful coastal spots, and its gorgeous, lush, green mountainous area. Galicia is located in the northwestern region of Spain, is bordered by Portugal in the south and by Asturias, a celtic region, in the east. This region is very diverse geographically, having mountains inland, gorgeous cliffside beaches, islands, lagoons, and is known for the beautiful fishing villages that surround the area. Galicia’s beautiful geography has attracted the attention of many and Galicia is often referred to as the “land of one thousand rivers.”

Some people believe that the ancient Galicians traveled by boat to Ireland, where they spread their Celtic roots, various legends go along with this belief as well. By 5th century B.C., individuals of the Celtic decent made up a large portion of Galicia’s population. There are various remnants of the Celtic villages that were once spread across this area, the Celtic ruins of Castro de Santa Tegra, are a good example of these Celtic remnants. Galicia was colonized in the 6th century by the Visigoths, 500 years after this colonization, Muslims took over the land for a short period of time. The economy of Galicia began to fall after the Spanish Civil War causing many citizens to emigrate. Because of Galicia’s past economic problems, Galicia has been viewed in the past as one of Spain’s poorest regions. Nowadays the economy survives off of its abundant, agricultural land and seafood. Many of the residents of this region speak the Galician language, Gallego, which was not recognized as an official literary language until the mid-1800s. This Romance language has Latin roots, from which it is said to have evolved from. This language that has been described as being similar to the Portuguese language, separates the Galicians from the other Spaniards.

There are a few major cities in this region, but many villages that are spread throughout Galicia are extremely rural which definitely has an impact on the culture of the region. Galicians are known for their delicious white wine and seafood rich diet. There are various festivals that are celebrated by the Galician people, most of them being religious or Celtic festivals. One well known celebration is the festival in honor of Saint James, which I actually attended this year, on July 25 in Santiago de Compostela. Galicia’s celebrations are typically in honor of various patron saints, are filled with excitement, fresh seafood, and often have firework shows. So, one may clearly see that the Galician people, who have deep Celtic and religious roots, display their heritage throughout their culture.

Santiago de Compostela, the capital of Galicia, is the end to the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage and one of the most famous cities in the region. The name Santiago de Compostela is believed by many to come from the Latin words campus stellae, which means “field of stars.” When Pelayo, a hermit, claimed to have seen a vision of bright lights in a forest in 815, the area where the vision occurred was dug into. In the ground where the vision occurred, a Roman-era tomb was unearthed, this was said to contain the body of Saint James the apostle. A church was soon built where the tomb was found, as was commanded by Theodomir, the bishop of a village near to the excavation site. A city soon began to form and grow around this monumental site and church, that city being Santiago de Compostela.

Many people would travel to see the site and by the 11th and 12th centuries over 500,000 pilgrims would journey to see the said relics of Saint James every year. Pope Calixtus II gave Santiago various city privileges in 1122 and offered indulgences to any individuals who would walk the Camino de Santiago, this began to attract even more pilgrims to the site. The city’s population grew as a result of various new constructed buildings including the grand cathedral. Various surrounding leaders throughout Galicia helped build many roads, bridges, hospitals, and places of lodging for the Camino’s travelers. These structures increased not only the population in Santiago, but also the number of pilgrims who journeyed to the cathedral. The Camino de Santiago was and still is viewed as a spiritual journey by many, one that helps an individual grow closer to God. Some pilgrims today travel solely for cultural and historical purposes. Nonetheless, this monumental path, The Way of Saint James, remains as one of the most well traveled religious pilgrimages in the world and will continue to attract thousands of pilgrims in the future, whatever their motives may be.

The locals throughout this region are quite different than in the others I traveled through. The smaller mountain villages I traveled through seemed to be completely empty with hardly anyone outside, other than at the bars. Sometimes I would pass old men throughout Galicia, ones that were sitting on benches staring off into the sky. I often wondered what the lives of those older locals would be like in such a small village. When in the more mid size cities like Sarria and Palas De Rei, the locals seem less interested and encouraging towards pilgrims. Understandably so, as there are notably more pilgrims in this region. This is because if a pilgrim walks the last 100 kilometers they will get credentials, since the last 100 kilometers of the Camino begins in Sarria, a city in Galicia, there were far more people on the trail during the end of my journey.

This region is quite different geographically than the other regions I have traveled through. Galicia reminds me of Navarra in that the area is mountainous, filled with rolling hills and scarcely has any completely flat regions. When walking from Triacastela to Barbadelo, I was happily surprised to find that Galicia has various beautiful streams and waterfalls, which I have not yet seen on the Camino. This region was colder and more rainy than the other regions, especially Navarra and La Roja, who both had warmer weather and less rain. I have come upon far more small farming towns throughout the region than in any other. Also, unlike the other regions that all seemed to be filled with grazing sheep, most farms in Galicia seem to have cows and chickens. Most of the large cities that I stayed at in Galicia seem to be more commercialized and less personal than the previous areas we traveled through. The food in this region was different as well, gazpacho was more difficult to find in restaurants, and I found that the pilgrim menus were filled with more seafood, as this region is so close to the sea. I enjoyed traveling through Galicia and I cannot wait to return to this gorgeous region again someday. Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.

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making it to santiago

When my parents picked me up from the airport yesterday at around 4:30am, I was greeted with more love and excitement than I could have ever hoped for. My dad did, however, not fail to remind me that according to my blog, I had not yet arrived in Santiago as I have not yet posted about the end of my journey.
I did arrive in Santiago. I actually arrived on the feast day of Saint James, July 25, around 2pm.  In between exploring Santiago, going to Finisterre, and traveling back to my parent’s house for a visit, I have not yet had time to blog. My journey has come to a close as I sit here back in the States. I reminisce about my journey as if it were a dream. From now on, I want to refer to my completion of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage as the beginning, not the end. So, here is the story of my new beginning, the start of a fresh page, a new chapter in my life.

On Thursday July 24, while at an albergue in Ribadiso, the director of our program asked us all to meet around 6pm to talk. During the meeting he made a proposition, if some people wanted to get to Santiago one day early, they could combine our final two days of walking into one long day. This would allow each of us to make it to Santiago on July 25, the feast day of St. James, the patron saint of Spain and to whom our pilgrimage is devoted to.  I had already been thinking about what he proposed, so I was excited that he would allow us to go one day early. It turns out, most of the group was actually opposed to the idea. However, I along with three others (out of the 22 in our group), wanted to make it into Santiago early.  After we showed proof of a hotel reservation, our director gave us his blessing.

On Friday July 25 at 3am, me and three others headed out towards Santiago, in the dark. Seeing the arrows was quite difficult but we never got off track. From where we started at 3am, our destination, the Cathedral in Santiago, was around 44 kilometers (27 miles) away.  Who were the three other crazy people who were journeying with me?  Two other students, my dear friend Ashley and a senior named Jesus, along with Tom, a spunky trial lawyer who has been traveling with us in Spain as he works for Pepperdine.  We used various headlamps and flash lights for the first 4 hours of our journey, until the sun rose around 7am and we stopped for breakfast around 8am. We then trekked forward, all of us feeling invincible.

The last 15 or so kilometers, I walked alone in deep silence and contemplative prayer.
I reflected on my journey, the one that was so close to ending, the one that was about to begin, the one on the Camino that I loved every second of. I thought about Brenda and Thalia, and how this trip was symbolic of their life journey I wanted to compete for them. I also thought about all the prayer intentions that others had given me, making sure to pray for each.  I thought about my journey, my growth, healing, and the renewal I had already experienced on the trip. I had no idea how I could possibly become more renewed, more content, be filled with more joy, but God had other plans. God filled me up, causing me to overflow with happiness and peace.

We made it to Santiago around 1pm. By this point, I was ready to be there.
I was exhausted, but I was also in wonderment.
I made it. I made it to Santiago.
I was soon to begin my new chapter.
We made it to the Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela at around 2pm. Santiago was crowded with many people who were there for the festivities in honor of St. James. All along I had longed to make it to the cathedral, physically tired and spiritually aflame, my wish became true as I walked in dehydrated and worn out. My friend Ashley and I fell down at the sight of the cathedral, literally. I was lying down for quite some time in utter amazement, but as the people passing by began to take pictures of us, I then knew I had to get up. Honestly, at first, I was not sure it was the correct building, because, to my surprise, the entire front of the building was covered in scaffolding. But, after some time I thought even the scaffolding was beautiful. After taking in my surroundings and analyzing the building’s exterior, I looked to my right and my friend Elida from Croatia came running towards me. She had waited for us in Santiago for three days, I got to spend a great part of the afternoon with her and she left for home that night on the train. Seeing Elida made all the walking and tiredness worth it. We all headed inside to look at the church together. Like many of the other churches I had seen along the way, the cathedral had a gorgeous gold altar. I sat in awe of the glorious building that I and many others had journeyed hundreds of miles to see.

After some time, I decided to head to the pilgrim’s office to get my credentials. When arriving to the pilgrim’s office we turned in our stamp books. Throughout my journey, I got stamps for my stamp book from various albergues, churches, monuments, bars, and restaurants. When the stamp book is turned into the pilgrims office, this is proof that a person completed the Camino. I am proud to say that I filled up two entire stamp books, since I stopped at so many churches and took so many detours along the way! I also got a certificate from the Franciscan monks. The Franciscan monks give out credentials every one hundred years and it just so happened that our trip was during one of those years!
After getting my credentials I headed to our hotel.
The hotel we stayed at while in Santiago, was amazing. The Parador hotel, Hostal Ries Catolicos, was constructed in 1499 as commanded by Isabelle the Catholic, and is the oldest running hotel in the world. The historic hotel is located to the right of the Cathedral in the glorious plaza. The location of the hotel was wonderful, I could walk ten steps outside my door and I would then be standing in front of the cathedral.

All along I had heard from various people that the pilgrimage is not about getting to the cathedral, but instead about the journey, the relationships you build along the way.
I did not realize how true this statement was until I arrived into Santiago.
When I arrived in Santiago, yes I was excited when I saw the cathedral, but when Elida came running up to me or when I saw other pilgrims in the city that I had met along the way as well, I experienced a different kind of joy. Even when I talked with a priest at the cathedral, he affirmed my belief in saying, “This pilgrimage is not about the cathedral, it is instead about the relationships you build. It’s about your heart, about your journey towards Jesus.”

On Friday July 26, I attended pilgrim’s mass at 12pm. The mass that afternoon was powerful, the music, angelic. Even though I could not understand the priest’s message, I was impacted by his passion and love for The Lord. After walking around the cathedral with an audio history tour, I sat in the church and took in every detail of my surroundings. The alter, the grand organ, the side chapels, the columns, the paintings, the statues, the ceiling, I did not want to miss one thing.
Standing in front of the remains of St. James in the cathedral was powerful and a moment that I fully embraced. Whether or not one believes that these remains are truly the apostle’s, is beside the point. The fact that the vary remains before me, the ones that resided in the small, silver coffin, have brought thousands of pilgrims from all over the world, to travel across Spain, is remarkable. After viewing the remains of St. James, I waited in line to hug the large statue of St. James, which is a tradition.
Later that night, I went out to explore the city with friends. The city was just as beautiful at night as it was during the day. The cathedral was breathtaking, even at night, as it stood there clothed in darkness.

On Sunday the 27th myself and three others decided to take a bus to and spend the day in Finisterre. Finisterre is a rock-bound peninsula that was once believed to be The End of The Earth. I will talk in depth about my trip to Finisterre in my next post. However, I will say that making it to the ocean was the perfect end to the best six weeks of my life. Seeing Finisterre made me even more excited to do the Camino again someday, when I have more time so I can walk to Finisterre instead of busing there. I know that the end of My Way is only the beginning of my new life, my blank slate, my cleansed self. God brought me across Spain and I trust that God will also lead me in my lifelong path. I will make sure that wherever I go, that whatever path I go on, will be the one that God has chosen for me. I will make sure to follow the yellow arrows in my life. I will strive to savor and keep my identity as a pilgrim, for we are all pilgrims on a journey to a place far greater than the cathedral in Santiago.

Just as I made and have a Camino family, I too have a connection with each of you, with every person on this earth. Though there are many things that separate us from each other, I hope and pray that each of us will begin to broaden our perspectives on others, on the world. We are all one large family filled with doubts, many different stories, paths, and beliefs. We all come from different places but have the same origin, the same humanity. Though we all have different backgrounds, languages, cultures, religions, and ways of life, we are all united on this path together, having more in common with each other than we realize.

I firmly believe that every person is constantly trying to find hope, to seek truth. Whether that truth is believed by a person to be found in theism, atheism, or agnosticism, I know we are all seeking for something. Something deeper. We are all seeking for something to put our faith in, for God, for knowledge or for relationships and support from others. I hope to walk through my life humbly without judging the actions of others, the actions that are simply the product of the experiences, different cultures and religions of others. I hope we can all agree that we are called to love and support every pilgrim we encounter on our paths. Whether it’s through a simple smile, the universal sign of peace and love. Or, even through our prayers for others.
One thing we should never forget is that we all have a place, somewhere we belong.
I know that during my camino, I did, sometimes need time to walk alone. But, I did like having someone by my side as I walked, even if we walked in silence.
I loved feeling supported when walking the Camino, in life, I hope to be that support for others. The joy of being included and loved is something I will learn to carry over into my life, into my world. Let’s all be supportive of the other pilgrims we meet in life, we should walk together on our journeys. My identity as a pilgrim will remain as I set out with each of you, on my journey towards truth, healing, hope, presence, and my destination of peace. Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.

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a special day

This week has definitely had many ups and downs. At times, my days went by quickly, while other days seemed to drag on and became mentally difficult. I will talk about my challenging days in another post, this post is about a special, wonderful day. Two days ago we set out for the city of Astorga from Villar de Mazarife, this travel day may have been my favorite day on the Camino so far!

I walked most of the day with my wonderful friend Hannah, who is sarcastic, quiet, and extremely easy to talk to. Our journey of around 18 miles began around 7:15am. As we were walking up the interstate, I noticed a skinny, stray dog was following us. Every time I tried to walk towards him, he would run away, but he always came back. We decided to name our new friend Rigoletto, it seemed fitting to both Hannah and I. He followed us past San Martin del Camino, the first town we passed, then ran away before we entered the town Hospital De Orbigo.

As we entered Hospital De Orbigo, a small cat began to follow us and she allowed me to pick her up, we named her Posie. As we were having our breakfast in the picturesque city of Hospital De Orbigo, Rigoletto came running up to us at the restaurant! As we continued on towards Astorga, Rigoletto began to follow other pilgrims, and he then disappeared again.

As Hannah and I walked onward we passed a beautiful sunflower field. We then came to a small farming area, where we saw baby cows! I actually got in the fenced in area with one of the cows and the sweet little cow kissed me, it was such an adorable moment. After spending time with the baby cows we headed off, with much excitement and energy since we were having such a wonderful day. When we were about 5K outside of the city, we came upon this adorable little food stand and hut, we decided to stop by. The donation based stand happened to have fresh juice, tahini, peanut butter, soy yogurt, and other vegan treats! It was a dream come true! As a vegan on the Camino I have been mainly eating salads and fruit, so this stand full of other food I could eat, was so exciting to me!

I met one of the people who ran the food stand, his name was Andre. Andre told me that over three years ago when he did the Camino he came upon the stand and he fell in love with the place. He ended up quitting his job, selling everything he had, and moved to this remote area outside of Astorga. Andre, 28 at most, explained to me that he chose to move to a place with no electricity or running water. He leads a simple life, meeting pilgrims, spreading love and living in the small hut (which is pictured below). After over an hour of talking with Andre, we decided to head out to the city. I can’t wait to lead a life similar to Andre’s: simple, full of freedom and joy, always helping and reaching out to others.

On arriving to the city, none other than Rigoletto met me there! This friendly stray now found a new home in this city, a safe area where he will definitely be fed. I hope and pray that someone falls in love with him just as I did and decides to adopt him.

After we checked into a large municipal albergue, Hannah and I ventured off into the city. We stopped by a market and got gazpacho and lentils for lunch. As we were sitting outside the market, our friends Eva from Quebec and Andrew from Germany came and visited with us for some time. An elderly man discovered that we were pilgrims and took out his guitar and played us a song he wrote about his time on the Camino. That moment was so precious. After lunch, Hannah and I went to explore the city.

We came upon two amazing buildings, first the Bishop’s Palace Palacio Episcopal and then the beautiful Cathedral. Though both buildings were closed since it was Monday, we definitely enjoyed seeing the beautiful architecture of each building. I also found a small church near the cathedral that was open, it was stunning, pictures are below. We explored the town and I fell in love with the small, quaint city. My journey to Astorga and the time I spent there will always be special to me. I couldn’t have asked for a better day. Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.20140716-213354-77634568.jpg

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the meseta

The meseta is quite different from the other areas of Spain we have traveled through this far. The beautiful mountain, rolling hill, and vineyard filled landscapes of both Navarra and La Rioja are not at all like the shadeless, wheat filled, flat lands of the meseta. The meseta, a high central plateau that makes up around 40 percent of Spain’s land, is a fairly flat region in central Spain. The meseta ranges anywhere from 400 to 1000 meters high, and is relatively treeless. The Sierra de Guadarrama and the Sierra de Gredos split this region into northern and southern halves. In the north this region is boarded by Cordillera Cantábrica and in the south by the Sierra Morena. Throughout this region one can find many grazing sheep between the abandoned, scarcely populated towns and villages. This region is filled with various uninhabited homes, and the cities are mostly populated by an older generation as many young people left this region in the 1960s to pursue opportunities in the larger cities.
This region has played a large role in the history of the Iberian Peninsula, as well as the development of Spain. When the Moors attempted to overtake the Christians, the meseta was one of the first areas the Christians were able to reconquer. When the Christians reconquered the region from the Moors, the meseta became apart of the Kingdom of Castile. This Castile region eventually became the Crown of Castile and was later known as the Kingdom of Spain. The meseta, in contemporary Spain, is apart of the Castile and León region in the northwest, while the central and southern regions of the meseta are apart of communities in Castilla-La Mancha and Madrid. The meseta is also known to be the home of the Castilian language, now known as Spanish.
The culture throughout the meseta is fairly diverse, as the region is so large. Some say the people of this region are quieter and not as friendly as other regions. I did not find this to be true, most people I encountered were kind, helpful individuals. Many of the original buildings in this region are built from mud and hay, as this area did not usually have access to stones or bricks in the past. The diet of the residents of this region is extremely meat dense and caracole soups are popular in some areas. When visiting various towns throughout the meseta, I noticed that the fruits and vegetables were more fresh than they did in other regions. Some albergues even had their own gardens which was great, there definitely are perks to traveling through this area.
Many of the people throughout this region are kind and genuine, despite what others claim about the residents of this region. I found the locals I have met to be just as kind and caring as those from the previous regions I have walked through. While in a private albergue in Hornillos, I met a kind couple, who ran the establishment. The couple was inviting and told us they wanted us to treat their albergue like “home”. This inviting couple encouraged me to practice my spanish with them which was kind of them, as my ability to speak spanish is not one of my strong points. I also met a kind man at El Nogal, an albergue in El Burgo Ranero, whose name is Christian. Christian let me play with his adorable cat and precious kitten as he talked with me about his childhood in Barcelona. Christian told me stories about his time in Spain and I also told him stories and information he wanted to know about America. I am so grateful that I met kind people like Christian and the couple in Hornillos. The locals throughout the region are extremely kind and welcoming, just as they have been throughout this entire journey.
The meseta is very different from both Navarra and La Rioja. The walks through the meseta were not as exciting as when we traveled through other regions. The flat lands, spread out towns, and not so scenic routes did provide me with time to think and reflect though, which was beneficial. When traveling through the other regions we walked on many woodland, populous city paths and we did not walk in shadeless areas or walk up busy roads very frequently. However, when in the meseta, we traveled mostly in shadeless, desolate areas and often traveled up roads and on gravel and cement rather than forest paths. The meseta was not as exciting as the other regions that we walked through, however, even though the land was flat and desolate, it was a vital part of my journey. For me, the meseta represents the times in my life where my faith will run dry, the times where I can’t feel or see God’s presence. The times that I choose to trust in God, and carry on, even when life is difficult. The meseta was just what I needed. The time we spent in the meseta provided me with time to think and reflect on my life. Though mentally and spiritually difficult at times, walking through the meseta enabled me to grow in faith and taught me how to trust in The Lord in a deeper way.
Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.

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images from today

Today we walked more than 19 miles from Terradillo de Los Templarios to El Burgo Ranero. The walk was great, but the last five miles were mentally rough. Me and my friend Hannah both pulled each other through and we made it to the city by around 2:30pm. We’re staying at an adorable albergue called El Nogal. I made a salad with fresh veggies, chickpeas, artichoke hearts, white asparagus, and tomatoes for a few friends and I for dinner, it was so refreshing after a somewhat mentally strenuous day. I’m really starting to get to know and love all of the group members from my university that I’ve been traveling with, each person adds something extremely special to this group. Though this is an individual journey, it’s so amazing to experience all of this together. I wouldn’t want to change one thing. Tomorrow we have a shorter hiking day, 12 miles. Then on Thursday we head to Leon, for two rest days. I’m excited for Leon because some of my pilgrim friends are waiting for my group in Leon and we’ll all be together again on Thursday. I love my Camino family, I love my Camino. A few pictures from my travels today are below. Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.

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stopping to smell the flowers and pick some cherries

Stopping to smell the flowers and pick some cherries.
That’s how I’ve decided to do the Camino. At first, without knowing it, I raced through my days on the Camino. Within the first week, however, I realized that I should walk slower and take time to enjoy good conversation, stop for coffee along the way, and learn to relax.
I am a very high strong, over active, individual. I am not good at relaxing or thinking simply whatsoever.
I have learned how to relax on this trip and to indulge in the richness of every moment as I take in the beautiful scenery around me. Some of my favorite moments on the Camino have been when I have visited various churches along the way. Every church, I have noticed, is so unique and beautiful. Most churches are adorned with gold alters and molding and have gorgeous stained glass; without stopping this would all go unnoticed to me.
I think the same goes for life. Let’s all take the time to pick some cherries, enjoy our scenic routes, and engage in meaningful conversations.
Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.

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la rioja

La Rioja, a northern province of Spain, is an autonomous community known for high quality wine and natural beauty. This region is made up of rolling hills, quiet countrysides, and agrarian landscapes. This small area has a population just over 320,000 individuals and Logroño is La Rioja’s capital. Logroño with a population around 150,000, is quite small, yet is this region’s largest city. Most of the villages and cities of La Rioja are each comprised of at most 200 residents. Alike with Navarra and other surrounding areas, this region was historically inhabited by pre-Roman tribes. When governed by Rome this area was in the Hispania Taraconensis region and the governing tribes utilized the fertile lands of La Rioja for winemaking. The winemaking throughout the region later became the La Rioja’s main economic resource. When the Moors took over the area in the eighth century, the region’s wine industry briefly plummeted. The Crusades in the 11th century, however, brought in Medieval Christianity; this led to the reestablishment of the area’s trade and winemaking began again. During this time, the Benedictine monks of Cluny in Burgundy, constructed three monasteries throughout the region as well.

La Rioja was apart of the Kingdom of Pamplona in the 10th century after the muslims recaptured the area. However, less than two centuries later La Rioja was made apart of Castile. In 1822 the region’s boundaries were set, but the area was not named La Rioja officially until years later. The northern region of La Rioja is bordered by Basque Country, the northeast border is Navarra, and Castile-León borders the west and southern areas of the providence. This small area is fertile, green, and has various valleys, and is argued to be Spain’s wine heartland. The residents of La Rioja typically have a high value for tradition as they have many harvests and festivals. The economy still greatly relies on winemaking currently, as it did throughout history. The people throughout La Rioja take pride in and are known for their high quality wine and delicious food.

In La Rioja I have conversed with various locals throughout my Camino journey. I have realized that the people here are extremely kind and friendly. When at a bed and breakfast in La Rioja, I met a kind woman named Lola, who on greeting me kissed both of my cheeks and gave me a large hug. Though I was not able to fully understand her as she spoke spanish, I could tell that she had a kind heart and was a caring woman. The host and the cooks at the bed and breakfast were all so loving. As my friend Ashley and I left they kissed both of us as we thanked them for their hospitality. To some Americans, hugging and kissing individuals when greeting one another may seem strange or like a violation of personal space but I don’t believe it is at all. I thought it was amazing to see the different love languages throughout Spain and La Rioja.

Navarra and La Rioja are similar in some ways but share many differences. When in Navarra the cities we journeyed through were very large and the region very mountainous. In contrast, La Rioja has various cities and villages that are much smaller than the cities in Navarra. The regions that I walked through in La Rioja seem much flatter than when in Navarra as well. La Rioja has rolling hills and many vineyards and Navarra seems to have more grasslands, prairies, and grazing animals. The cities throughout La Rioja have such few people many of them do not even have a supermarket or bar. However, while in Navarra, the large cities typically had various markets and restaurants. Both regions are extremely beautiful and unique, each new experience and region I have welcomed with excitement. I cannot wait to travel through more of this beautiful, unique country.

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