Friday, 13 November 2015

Camino De Santiago Day 1 Part 2

Our stop happened to be just around a creek. A group of pilgrims passed by (from Madrid if I recall correctly) and we asked one of them to take a photo of the brothers and me sitting on a small bridge. The photographer in me was hoping it would be a perfect shot but Ze had his eyes closed. Bummer.

We trudged on and the three of us were getting a little bit behind because we would occasionally stop to take shots here and there.  There was one area where Chico borrowed my camera to get a shot from an elevated position. The effect was rather good because he focused on us while blurring the nearby leaves on the foreground. It was at this point that I got convinced that Chico really has an eye for good shots.

The path led to a long wooden bridge with the unmistakable yellow sign on the railing.  Only a fool would get lost to the intended destination, as the yellow marks are conspicuous all throughout. Further on,  the group went again for a quick break. I made some calculation that at the rate we were going we could not do the original plan of spending the first half of the day walking and the rest of the day, exploring the town of the chosen stop. I did not mind the pace because it allowed me to have considerable rest, so convenient actually I felt it was just a leisurely walk. Before the trip I was initially worried that I might be the slowest one, delaying the overall pace of the group but such was not case.

In one of our stops I notice a blue arrow pointing towards the opposite direction. Chico told me that it was a sign leading to a route to Fatima. How cool is that. I made a small reminder to myself to visit Fatima if given the chance to spend some time in Europe again.

Around 12 I was feeling a little bit hungry and I was wondering why the group still has not decided to have lunch. Then I remembered that lunch in this part of the world is at 2 pm.

We had lunch at a restaurant at the foot of a hill. We ordered a sumptuous Octopus meal with chili, a specialty of that region. And boy that Octopus really tasted heavenly, partly because I was extra hungry from walking. (I would later learn from a Spanish friend that the Pulpo in the Galicia region is the best and taste different from the ones served in the Murcian region.)

Ze borrowed my phone for a while because he was expecting a feedback from an internship in one of the leading firms in his city. I was hoping he would make but he told me he didn’t.  Ze is a debater in his school And I presumed he was a good one as I see in the fb feeds that he represents his school in contests)

After lunch, the group had to choose whether to pass by a scenic route though 4 kilometers longer or a shorter one but would lead us to an industrial area. Good thing the group decided to choose the shorter route as I was looking forward to just have a good rest in the albergue.

The industrial path reminded of a similar industrial area in Subic, a city in the Philippines. The path looked strangely familiar and yet I am thousand miles away from home.

The heat was rather scorching but I did not mind.  I initiated a quiz game with Ze that started first with a vocabulary game. Eventually Chico joined us and I gave them logical puzzles. One was concerning weighing eight balls with one defective ball. I was quite pleased that the two brothers had appetite for logic games. It made the walk much more interesting. Time just seemed to fly by easily.

We passed by a highway and had a quick stop in a bakeshop where I took some candid shots of the group. Normally the shops we stopped by have stamps to put on our pilgrim passport to show proof that we have indeed passed by the route.

We finally reached O Porrino the intended stop for the day but to our dismay, the hostel was closed due to bug infestation. One option would have been to stay at another hostel but it was bit expensive for the group. We took a break around a fountain to decide on the next move.  A few of us went to the supermercado to buy food.

I saw Helena again and she looked so lovely as she sat there near the fountain. She told us that she would catch a train to the next stop where she will spend the night.

Our group decided to walk on. We met again a Spanish family that we have met earlier in the woods. They were checked in the albergue in Mos. (about 3 km from O Porrino). The albergue was already full but the management allowed us to sleep on mats in the recreation room on top.

While we were waiting for the room to be cleaned, we had our phones charged. Ze and I played a game that seemed like trump. The suits of the cards were weird , different from the ones I am used to-  clubs, clovers hearts and diamonds.

Spanish cards photo taken from

Playing that card game with Ze just seemed surreal. Maybe because the card suits look different. Maybe because it just seemed so unlikely that I would  meet again my host in Porto. And yet there I was with him. And he was teasing me because he beat me on the second round. I normally am a sore loser but I did not mind because my heart was bursting with joy. It was our first day of Camino with the group. Everything just seemed perfect.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Camino De Santiago Day 1 Part 1

We woke up the next day around 530 am, and though there is a barely light from the outside, half the people in the room had already packed and left, much to my surprise. While hastily fixing myself in the bathroom I found out that one of my contact lens was missing. Bummer. It meant that I would have to wear glasses the rest of the journey, which I abhor because I don’t like to have my glasses on when posing in front of a camera as they make me look older. I normally bring a spare set of lens for cases like this, so I was quite disappointed that I missed it in my pack.

In the ground floor area, on the way to the kitchen, I was finally introduced by Ze to his mom, aunt and cousin, who had already their backpacks slung on their back. They all couldn’t speak much English so Chico and Ze had to do the translation. Despite the language barrier I felt their hospitality and friendliness and I knew that I was very much welcome to their group.

The two brothers and I had a quick breakfast in the pantry (a few slices of bread, a handful of salami and half a cartoon of milk). It was not much but I couldn’t complain as these were just items left by other pilgrims. As I would later find out throughout the camino, generosity and hospitality are a common thing, like the whole experience transforms the pilgrims into better and transcendental versions of themselves

While munching my breakfast contentedly, I saw a pretty blond girl, with a hauntingly penetrating pair of blue eyes. I guess all blue eyes melt my heart in a certain way. I tried to do a bit of a small talk. I learned that she was from Bremen and doing the Camino alone. It really impressed me (although I would later find out the solo female pilgrims are common). I somehow sensed that she wanted to be in a meditative mode (or perhaps I was just being paranoid) so I let her be in her own zone.

Chico also had a conversation with her and I somehow sense that Chico has this charm of letting the guards of the girls down – he reminded me of a friend back in the Philippines who was a natural charmer and I wouldn’t be surprised if Chico is a ladies man.

It was a foggy morning and it was drizzling when we stepped out of the albergue.  The team put on disposable raincoats – similar to the ones handed out in grocery stores. I was relieved to know that Ze’s family brought an extra coat for me.

The path led us back to the wall and I couldn’t resist taking a photo of the group. I found out during that part that Chico also has this interest for taking photographs. He showed me some photos taken from his phone and was pleased that he has the eye. Great, I thought to myself. We have something to talk about along the way and I could teach him some basic photography rules.

We passed by the bridge that connects Portugal and Spain. I thought that there would be a passport checking station at the border similar to the ones I have seen in the movies- the movie Shining Through comes to mind- but to my surprise (perhaps dismay) we went through it just like that as if we just moved from one town to the other.

Ze’s aunt explained that back in the pre-EU days they had to sneak to the other side to buy stuff at cheaper prices.

The first town of Spain from the border is Tuy. Just off the bridge, there lay a distinct sign of the Camino De Santiago and its symbol, a yellow-colored shell with lines that seem to look like rays of light. I was told by Chico that pilgrims or “peregrinos” hardly get lost in the Camino because all one needs to do is look at the direction where the lines are radiating. How quaint, just like a compass.

We passed by alleyways made of cobblestones typical of European towns and followed the signs. In one part of the town that was sloping I thought of taking a photo of Ze and Chico. We had to take turns taking photos as we did not have a tripod. Fortunately two girls with heavy American accent and backpacks twice their size came by and offered to take our photos. How sweet of them. I was hoping to invite them to join our group but hesitated, since technically I only tagged along with Ze’s family and I don’t want them to feel uncomfortable with a pair of strangers joining us.

As this walk was on a holy week, a lot of churches were open with their traditional preparation for Good Friday, the day the Lord was crucified. The strangest arrangement I have seen was actually in Valenca where a big cruficix was laid down slanting on the center of church ground, the pews set aside the walls while another crucifix was hanging from the center as if watching over its doppelganger.

The row of houses along the path slowly thinned out and we went straight to a path that leads to the woods. There was a huge block of rock that depicted Santiago or St. James, the person who started the Camino and our group thought it was an ideal place for a long rest.

During this time I took out my precious token, the UP Ikot sign. Only my friends back in the Philippines could truly understand its meaning. It is a signboard used in jeepneys to indicate the route of the vehicle. I posing in different European cities with that sign never fail to amuse my friends back home. For some, it seems that the European city is just one of the stops of the local jeepney. For me it probably means something deeper, like a life journey, going away from home and yet never leaving it. I am not sure if that makes sense.

I asked Chico to pose holding that Ikot Sign. (Ze already had a shot back when I first couchsurfed in Porto) Chico made a funny face.

At that moment seeing the local sign held by a person who comes from a totally different place just seemed extraordinary. It’s hard to imagine that two different worlds could actually coexist. The sign which reminded of my home and Chico who at that instant is the embodiment of Europe just made the shot seemed so unreal and yet it’s there, the scene smacked in my face, reminding me of the two disparate worlds I came from.

It seemed that only days ago the Camino de Santiago was but a dream but then right that very moment it reminded that it was all happening. And that I was there.  And I really felt alive and aware that moment.

(to be continued)

Monday, 20 July 2015

Camino De Santiago Day 0 Part 1

Dark clouds were swirling ominously in the sky when I stepped off Estadio do Dragao. The place was rather bare except for the building on my right, presumably the stadium. It was a chilly morning, but my thought was not much on the coldness or the bleak weather, but on my phone battery that is almost running out. I would have no way of contacting my friend’s god father in case I lose the remaining power.

I have agreed with my friend Ze that I will leave some stuff not needed for the camino-my camera and my mac- with his godfather. I decided to bring my camera to Porto because I promised my friend that I will be taking good portrait shots of him- like I had done to my hosts in couchsurfing- so he could update his Facebook profile.

Fortunately my friend’s godfather received my message and they were quite on time. There wasn’t anyone in the area so it was quite easy to determine that the new persons who arrived were my contact. Introductions were made and I transferred my stuff to the trunk of the car. Ze’s godfather, who also happens to be his uncle is fluent in English- quite a delight since I was used to a lot of non-fluent English speaking  in Murcia- so it was quite easy to share a few things about myself and then of course the planned Camino. He was accompanied by his son – perhaps he is around 13 or 14 – and his English was also commendable.

They dropped me off at the train station (which is quite far from the tram station) so I could purchase my ticket to Valencia, Portugal. I still had 2 hours to spare, so Ze’s uncle was kind enough to offer a quick tour of Porto. We passed by this church which I actually had visited the first time I was in the city. It had a great view of the river so I did not mind visiting the place again.

When his uncle dropped me off at the station, he suggested that I bring my camera so I could take good pictures. So at the last minute I took my DSLR and transferred it to my backpack. In hindsight, it had been a great decision.

I still had about 45 minutes to spare so I had a quick lunch in a café. I used my Spanish only to realize after placing my order that I was in Portugal and not Spain. Still the cashier understood what I ordered. It was a pasta dish that looked so yummy at first glance yet tasted bland.

Still the tasteless food did not bother me, I was getting excited for the walk. It felt so surreal because it only seemed like a dream 2 years ago that I would be back in Porto again.  Yet at that moment I was there in flesh and I was about to embark on my Camino de Santiago.

Ten minutes before the schedule I already went to the platform. It must be the engineer in me, I also apply a safety factor. Count me to always be in the platform area at least 15 minutes before my scheduled train ride.

There were only a few people taking the trip; in my carriage I think there were only two passengers. I occupied the front area so I could take great shots of my backpack with the UP Ikot sign on it.

The route offered a seaside view of Portugal and it reminded me of the rocky beaches we have in my hometown.
We passed by a train station named Nine. I chuckled and hastily took a photo of it. I have a friend whose nickname is Nine and I was pretty sure she’d be delighted to know that a station is named after her.

 Finally we have reached the station Valenca. It reminded me of the train station on my way to Fuji. It was characteristic of a train station of a sleepy town whose probably main connection to the rest of the world was the train station.

There was no electric plug in the station which somehow I have half-expected for a sleepy town such as this. I began walking away from the station. Surely the wall which my friend used as the main landmark to meet should be just nearby. Great thing I passed by a café that had free Wifi so I received message from Ze that their trek took longer than expected and they would arriving 2 hours late.

I received a message in gmail from my mentor in Toastmasters in the Philippines regarding the feedback on my taped speech. It felt so strange reading that message because it seemed my hometown was a faraway place and that message brought me back to reality that yes two worlds can indeed exist at the same time.

Thank God for Google map because the wall easy to locate. It was perched atop a hill like a lookout. I had to remind myself that this place was useful during the times of conquests in the past. Though I know nothing about its history, it just seemed intuitive.

The fort offered a commanding view of a river which separated Spain from Portugal.

I was bit hungry so I went to have a late lunch –composed of a jamón serrano sandwich and a coke- in a bar which thankfully allowed me to have my phone charged.

It turned out my friend wrongfully estimated their pace because 4hours passed by but still no word from them. I was thinking he probably ran out of battery. But surely if they had arrived he might have charged it already.  After six hours of waiting I thought I would just meet them at a hostel. (Am surprised how I kept myself alert while waiting for 6 hours)
I saw some boy scouts walking in a single file with a yellow flag and I thought they are probably a group doing the Camino as well.

The sun was already setting down so I decided to head  down the fort and find a hostel to spend the night. This was when I received a call from Ze.

 My phone was dying again soon so I barely heard his instruction to go the hostel. I thought I heard Teotico which I recall was a hostel near a church where I stayed so I ran back. The receptionist told me I had the wrong hostel and was kind enough to point it out on the map.

On the way back I asked a guitarist who was playing some songs for money and he was kind enough to accompany to a shop to ask for directions. “Hurry” the store owner told me. The fort gates will be closed anytime soon so if you pass that way you will reach the hostel.

I ran as fast as I could. He sent me back to the Albergue which was actually the first place I originally intended to go. It reminded me of the quest of Santiago in the book "The Alchemist"

Fortunately the hostel was just a few steps from the wall. I paid my fee to the albergue and waited for Ze  to give me my Pilgrim card.

By some stroke of luck he was at the lobby and I finally met him and gave him my warmest hug.  He looks the trek has worn him out yet he gave a great smile. He introduced me to his brother, Chico.

They invited me to watch football but I declined since I was so tired. They told me the girls quarters are different from the boys so they would have to introduce me to their mom the following  day.

Ze showed me an available bunk next to his place. I slumped on my bed and in no time slept.

And that was my first day.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Camino De Santiago Day 0

I first heard about this pilgrimage from a friend who just finished her PhD in Bremen, Germany. We were having a catch up lunch in my alma mater. She was settling down quite well back in the country while I was psychologically preparing for my transfer to Spain for my MBA. She said If you have time do the Camino De Santiago.

What I recall from our conversation was that the Camino is more of an offering, a sacrifice for people who walk at least 20 kilometers a day to reach Santiago De Compostela.

Images of pilgrims who reek of sweat from a day-long hike entered my mind. Surely if I need to do this I need to work on the sensitivity of my sense of smell.

After that fateful lunch, Camino de Santiago became part of my bucket list.

I was planning to do it in July during my summer break in the MBA. But as fate would have it my buddy from Porto invited me to join him and his family for the Camino during Holy Week. Life indeed offers a lot of surprises.

And much earlier that I expected, my Camino De Santiago began.

Airfare from Alicante (the nearest airport from Murcia) to Porto was quite pricey, so I took a cheaper alternative. I booked my flights to and from Madrid airport and booked train tickets from Murcia to Madrid.

It was a bit gloomy, the day I arrived in Porto. It reminded me of the weather the first time I arrived there. I also recall how confusing it was to go to the tram station from the airport terminal.

As instructed by my friend I was to meet his uncle so I could leave my stuff with him (things that are not important during the hike)

There is something about train rides and gloomy weather that makes me sad. I recall the the time I took a train to Hakone from Tokyo. The train was rather packed and there was this Japanese lady (perhaps in her early twenties) who went onboard and hang on the railing. She was probably late for work as she was still applying her lipstick while clamping her folder in one arm. She looked awkward in that position and looked a bit worried that she might get off balance if the train would suddenly stop. Miraculously she made it and boarded off about 2 stops before my stop.

I recall hearing the cascade of waterfalls when she got off the train. For some reason I really felt depressed that time (as if a dementor just passed by). Maybe because of the gloomy weather. Or maybe because of the sad reality that I will never see her again. And I guess it goes for all the passengers on that train (except maybe for my buddy Gabby who was hosting me at that time). I just felt sad that I will just be a sentence in someone's life pages. I could not  articulate this feeling until some genius guy coined a word for it. Sonder. The realisation that everyone has a story as vivid and as complex as your own.

Ok I now digressed a bit here. But I guess I had to capture that mood when I came back to Porto.

In every stop of the tram, a female voice in the intercom would announce the name of the station followed by "Direction Estadio do Dragao". There a certain nasal charm of the Portuguese language. The girl's voice sounded like she caught the flu or something.

I was not worried that I would miss my stop because it would be on the last one. The repetitive voice
of the train was like a wake up call for me during that lazy cloudy morning. I was already in Porto and my adventure was right about to start.

(to be continued)

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Paying it Forward

So there's this cool set up called Trade School. It works on the premise that anyone can be a teacher and medium of exchange is through a barter system.

Anyway I thought that my backpacking experience in Europe for the past 3 years somehow gives me a little bit of wisdom of what to do and what not to do.

So as a "Pay it forward" attempt I set up a class for Europe Backpacking Tips and Tricks.

I do hope to inspire a lot of young Filipino travellers to take the plunge.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Eurotrip 3 : First Stop Paris

Ok no surprises here.. The last time I updated this blog was 2 months ago. God has it been that long already? It seemed like it was only yesterday that I arrived back from Europe.

As a personal I promised to document the bits and pieces of my journeys past if only to have some basis for my friends who plan to wander off Europe some day.

Like my 2nd Eurotrip, my first stop was Paris. This was an easy decision because the cheapest flights from Manila are to Paris. It used to be Manila-Amsterdam when KLM was still operating here.

Paris did not enamour me as much as before. I guess the novelty has worn off?

My friend Kathy whom I met through CS was fortunately still based in Paris and was gracious enough to meet me and have a quick tour around the boulevard Hausmann area.

I'm a sucker for intricate church interiors hence I was so elated when we went inside St. Michel church.

It happened to be a Friday the 13th that time and we gamely posed with a team promoting a lottery happening that night.

So far that Friday the 13th did not turn out to be unlucky..