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Tbilisi – a new life

On August 19 Mum and I landed in Georgia. Our driver was unable to locate our AirB&B and with no working cellphones, we had no idea where to go. I asked the driver to take us to Tiflis Palace – the only hotel whose name I knew. I had previously visited Tbilisi for long periods of time and I always favoured Tiflis Palace’s restaurant due to its view. The next morning we checked into our AirB&B for a month.

During this time the aim was to find a long term apartment. In that AirB&B I sat typing away at my master’s dissertation. Frequently going to print my note cards, practising for my defence, realising I needed new note cards and repeating the cycle. I soon learned that a printing shop in Tbilisi is simply referred to as Xerox (pronounced with an S at the start). I graduated splendidly!!!

A day after we arrived, I contacted someone named Leon in China. I had heard that he does relocation services and I asked the company which was storing my China possessions to send the boxes to Leon. He and I agreed that he would go through my stuff during a video call and I could pick and choose what I wanted to have sent to Tbilisi. This happened one morning when both time zones coincided and even the stuff I chose not to keep was lovely to see again. I selected only that which made me truly happy, things I was excited to see again and that were irreplaceable. The rest of the stuff wasn’t my problem anymore. I have no idea what Leon did with it, but my choice items were packed and sent. I waited with bated breath for the next two weeks, since I had been told it would take two weeks. We were on the phone for over an hour as he went through all my old beloved stuff.

One of my SA friends said she would never be able to have someone else handle her possessions like this, and I reminded her that this was literally the only way for me to get it back again. Even if I had everything sent, someone would still have to go through it all to make sure there’s nothing illegal in the boxes, for example, batteries cannot be sent in these boxes, neither could my chef’s knife so if I wanted my stuff with me, this was the way to have it done.

I also loved the fruit, the summer fruit was still in season when we arrived. Beautiful watermelons and rockmelons whose fragrance would fill up the entire fridge/ kitchen depending on where they were stashed. I once pointed at some dark grapes and said I want “two lari” worth of grapes – I came home with more than 1kg of delicious, perfectly ripe and entirely edible fruit. I soon learned grapes are one of the most inexpensive fruits and that I can go a long way with just one lari worth of grapes.

One morning a female voice was to be heard calling “Malina, Malina” at our building. I’d grown accustomed to this. In the evening men would call their friends repeatedly until the building’s front door was opened or the requested party would appear on their balcony to call down or throw down a lighter, usually a very loud conversation would ensue.

Today’s lady did not stop calling, I eventually wanted to stick my head out and scream that “Malina” was not home right now, do get a cellphone – why is yelling such a normal part of the culture? Later I would learn that Malina means Raspberries in Russian, the lady wasn’t looking for a friend, she was selling berries!

The lady at the fruit stall spoke french, the first time she asked if I spoke french I entirely froze. My french is not fully learned, I have to think about every sentence and practice each phrase I had been so focused on the few Georgian words I had learned that when someone offered a different foreign language my mind blanked. Later on, I would practice my mediocre french before going to the veggie stall. Once the season turned and butternut squash arrived, I pointed at the butternut squash and said “Je voudrais petit” (I would like small) with a combination of French, Georgian and even a few Russian words mixed in I bought what I needed.

Previously in Tbilisi I ate something called Ponchik, I later learned that this is merely the Russian word for “doughnut”, but in Georgia, it refers only to one type of dish: a freshly made, deep-fried doughnut specifically filled with vanilla curd. The filling is more gelatine-ish than custard, but it’s truly delicious. To my knowledge, one ponchik contains approximately 660 calories, so it’s incredibly filling.

This time I searched for the best ponchik stores in town and came across a place at Liberty Square which is situated nice and high, from their terrace you can see Saint George and Mother Georgia along with a small section of the Narikhala Fortress in the distance. I once got take away ponchik from there and another time Mum and I went there for lunch. I ordered Turkish coffee with ponchik. The coffee was incredibly strong, I don’t think I’d have been able to drink it if I wasn’t also eating something. We sat there on a cool crisp day with freshly made ponchik. Every time when you order at this restaurant, the waiter informs you that it will take quite some time to prepare the food because there’s not a stash of prepared ponchik that’s waiting to be served; everything is made to order!

Within the first week of arriving I finally got the tattoo I planned on getting in China, 活力, pronounced Huo Li, it translates as Vitality. I once listen to a podcast by Liz Gilbert and Cheryl Strayed where they talked bout a quote by a psychologist which says, “The opposite of depression isn’t happiness, it’s vitality”. This statement shook me to my core, it resonated with me so thoroughly. Not being depressed isn’t a state of perpetual bliss and laughter, it’s the life force, having vitality, being energetic and within that energy, you would find happiness, but it wasn’t a constant state. Vitality was the constant. So I got it inked on my wrist by a tattoo artist who insisted on checking it via Google Translate and made very sure I knew what I was doing. I explained that I had lived in China and that my Chinese teacher, along with Reddit and some of my old colleagues had all agreed this was an appropriate tattoo. Only after I told him I could speak Chinese was he okay with the idea of inking me. I really appreciated this, there are so many misspelt tattoos in this world that it’s good to meet an artist who is willing to pause before taking my money.

One morning I visited the Galleria mall to buy some clothes. Now let me just add some South African background here, in SA it’s a common problem that people steal your handbag/ shopping bags in e.g. toilet stalls or dressing rooms, any place where there’s not a complete wall all the way to the floor, where someone’s hand can easily enter at the bottom… So, I am always aware of that.

In the dressing room, I made a pile on the floor of clothes I want to buy – suddenly I saw a hand creeping in under the door. I nearly stomped on it, luckily I wasn’t undressed and I flung open the door to find a store manager berating me in Georgian for putting the stuff on the floor. I had no idea what she was going on about, but someone else translated that the clothes shouldn’t touch the floor. I responded that this was stuff I would be buying and I had no problem if my property touched the floor. I shooed the manager out of my dressing room and changed into my own clothes.

I later posted on an expat Facebook group asking about this. The floor is considered extremely dirty in the Georgian culture, one girl said that she married a Georgian man and her mother in law always says that she’ll be barren because she likes sitting on the floor. Another superstition is that your handbag shouldn’t touch the floor, because your money will “walk away”. It was very interesting to see it verbalised. Those from other cultures who have been living in Tbilisi for some time could explain it, but there were one or two comments from Georgians who said that I had been wrong putting the clothes on the floor, that I should have known that this would make them dirty. They lived out their culture, but they couldn’t verbalise it – once I understood it, it was easier to accommodate.

After scouting for an apartment for a few weeks, we finally moved from our initial AirB&B to a beautiful long term apartment. I adopted a cat, Nabat, a skinny little thing who was barely a year old. She had 4 different colours, the regular white, black and ginger of a calico cat, but she also had dark stripes on some parts of her fur. She was such a cute cat, sleeping her one paw over her eyes, or crawling in under the radiator to make sure she napped in the warmest possible spot. I had her sterilized and got a microchip tag for her collar, after this I felt confident that she could go out onto the balcony.

My China boxes still hadn’t arrived. I contacted Leon about the change of address, he contacted DHL and it was updated. A month or two after moving into the long term apartment I got a call from DHL (not the first one), my boxes would be delivered this afternoon, where in Vazisubani do I live? Vazisubani was the area where the AirB&B was located, I had emailed DHL, spoke to them on the phone, Leon had contacted them and still, the address wasn’t updated. This was not the first or only time DHL had messed up with my packages.

The following day my boxes arrived, three battered boxes all the way from Shanghai. My possessions had travelled from Shenzhen to Shanghai, Leon had sorted through them and they had been sent via Dubai all the way to me in Tbilisi. I had decided against having them delivered in Dubai because I felt that it would only increase the number of suitcases I had to drag with me to Georgia. It was much easier to have them delivered to me in Georgia instead of having to deal with the transport issue. And now they were here!

I dashed downstairs in my sweatpants wearing a too-tight shirt and no bra, on my way out the door I grabbed a hairband and put my hair into a wackadoodle ponytail. I sprinted out to find DHL unloading my boxes, there was much less than I anticipated. The delivery guy reminded me that I had to pay an additional 35 lari ($10) for the delivery. I asked if this could be done via the mobile banking app, but he only wanted cash. Feeling like the most ungroomed person in the city I walked down the block to the ATM and back.

Once in the apartment, I attacked the boxes. After the initial happiness of seeing everything again, the reality of sorting through it all started. All the clothes had to be laundered, the memorabilia had to be placed on shelves, I had to decide what went where and then hang up the next batch of clean clothes. After about a week everything had a place, it had all been folded and located, I had tried on almost everything to make sure it still fits and now my world was integrated once more. Everything I own in this world is in one country for the first time in almost 10 years. Bliss.

When my china boxes arrived the cat was so curious; sniffing the outsides, hiding when the tape crackled, diving into the jumble of stuff inside. I love having a cat again, who makes little kitty cat pictures. A regal cat sitting at the window looking out. A sleepy cat laying with one paw over her eyes, a cosy cat curled up under the radiator, and most of all a curious cat, investigating every aspect of life.

As I’m writing this my lovely cat is not home, she jumped off the balcony yesterday around 6am and it’s now 9pm on the following day, so it’s her second night outside. I had searched and called, showed her photo to strangers, but she is still enjoying her walkabout. I wouldn’t be worried if it wasn’t for the weather. It’s 6C in the mornings and often much colder at night…

So, to make my time in Tbilisi better I decided it must have a social aspect. I started a little group, I posted on the expat Facebook group that I was looking to meet friends. I got a lot of responses from people wanting to meet up, but the most common one was people saying that if I set up something, they would join. Thus it began, I contacted one of the people who suggested a meetup and went to meet with Charles, an older man from America who is living here temporarily. We hit it off rather well, during our meet-up, he wanted to buy a lamp for his apartment and this took me right to where I needed to be: a fairy light shop, even though it wasn’t Christmas yet, I was able to get some fairy lights for my bedroom and the balcony.

The next time I decided to take up the offer of all the people who said that if I organized something, they would come. I made a messenger group and sent out a broadcast, I also posted on two different Facebook groups and reserved a table at a restaurant. This would take place at one of my favourite restaurants with a breathtaking view of the city. I was rather dubious about this, I did not want to share one of my favourite places with people I did not want to bump into again, then again, I did not want to visit an unfamiliar restaurant and have the food be a disaster. I chose this place because its central location makes it easy to find and I felt safe there, I didn’t think anyone could rob me in a place like this. I had arguments with the Facebook admin because of my post, I checked individual profiles, I reserved a table, I worked rather hard behind the scenes to make sure of who I was letting into my group.

A Chinese lady responded and Charles also came. I had expected a turn out of at least 6 people, but two was better than nothing. The Chinese lady sat down and started talking, she never stopped. Charles and I would try to talk to each other, but it felt like trying to insert spokes into an ever-moving wheel. She would stop momentarily, but the second the conversation turned to her again, she was off. Talking non-stop and seeming to be unable to take in any ideas other than her own. Charles is an AA member, she ploughed on about how much she drinks, I mentioned God, she talked for (literally) 20 minutes straight on why she does not believe in a higher power. We departed.

The next time I checked my phone, I saw Charles had sent a message to my group. He wanted to try out another Georgian restaurant in the future, a few people responded, I also went to that meet-up, thinking how nice it was that members were becoming active.

I joined Charles’s meetup at the Georgian restaurant on a day I was fasting. I didn’t want to eat anything but thought I’d go for a glass of wine and some company. He asked what I would eat, I told him I’m not hungry, I don’t always share my fasting days. He said I’m at a restaurant, I must eat. I ignored this. He asked how I came, I said by taxi, he told me I must figure out the metro system of this city. I tried to explain that I live in Vake, an area with no metro but with everything you may possibly want within a 20-minute walk from you. He told me I was wrong and looked it up on Google maps. I said that I had walked from my apartment to the closest metro station many times, which takes at least 25 minutes. No, I was yet again wrong. After lunch, he would walk with me from Rustavelli metro to my place and I’d see how quick it goes. And then the Chinese lady arrived and started talking. Soon I was paying my share and leaving the restaurant with no intention of spending social time with either of them again. That was a pity.

The next thing I knew, Charles was posting a few times a day, suggesting hikes and dinner, making planes that were never part of the idea I had for this group. I had a certain vision for this group and it was mine, I could hear Luke Danes from Gilmore Girls arguing with Lorelei, “you’re so possessive about your stupid truck” “it’s my truck, I possess it!” – maybe I did overreact, but I went ahead and removed him and for safe measure, the Chinese lady as well. I did not feel any need to sit in her chatty company another evening. Perhaps I just needed to meet them to learn; learn what not to do, to learn to communicate. I had started making contact with some of these group members when I was still living in RAK.

I still own my leather jacket which our taxi driver in Dubai, Asim Ali, gave to me. Each time I say his name, I feel like singing “Prince Ali, mighty is he” from the Disney Aladdin film. Well, this jacket was made in a time where jackets were super short, they had to literally just rest on the top of the jeans, I’ve been wondering for some time if this could be remedied, perhaps the jacket could be lengthened? So, I posted on the Tbilisi Facebook group for expats and was answered by Chris. He suggested a leather store he trusted and asked what I do here, I said I’m an English teacher if only I could get a job and so it began, he works for a teaching company as well and immediately recommended me. I went for an interview and soon had a part-time job, 10 hours a week (instead of the full time 40), this was soon increased to 12 hours. I don’t get paid very much, but I don’t make nothing, and I have a one year contract, so by next summer, I will be able to apply for much better positions since I will officially have the required two years of experience.

A week after I started at my teaching job I got a request to teach an additional class, just as a cover for a teacher who was sick. The problem was a miscommunication. I arrived, prepped for one (90min) lesson. As soon as I walked into the school I saw another email on my phone with details for my second lesson, which started immediately after the first. I went to the classroom, only to discover that I had a very different book than my students. My planning was entirely nullified. The students enjoyed the class though. I finished a few minutes early, dashed downstairs for some water and started hyperventilating about the unknown and unplanned for class, which turned out to be a repeat of the class I had just completed. I just had to teach the same material twice.

The students were 12 years old, excited and talkative and 12… Way more interested in everything except an English lesson – now if I was free to choose the curriculum, I’d just talk to them about my life, Dubai, South Africa living in China – ask about their experiences favourite foods – just get them to speak English, practice & learn without realizing you’re doing it… But I have to stick to the book and there were only 7 students but sooo rowdy that I really had to raise my voice to be heard. Two of the students were very quiet, I would regularly have to shush the more talkative students and say hey we have a student talking shut up, without using that language. Then lastly the school laptop I had to use on this particular evening acted weird.

It was fun despite all of this I enjoyed it, I learned so much from them and I walked home freezing – didn’t take a coat when I left and came home later than I anticipated. So I bought some veggies and then I found a stall with some Georgian dumplings, Khinkali. The lady selling them speaks no English and via a translation app I asked, “how to cook?” I had heard these dumplings must be steamed, somewhere else I read they’re boiled, no the correct way was to fry them in a pan – I had no idea where to start. The only part of her instructions I understood was 8 minutes. The cutesy receptionist ended up telling me what to do: you boil them! And so I did.

I got home and cooked my newly found favourite Georgian food, so all in all a good day and a good finish. Another week later I was asked to teach this class permanently! I had made a good impression apparently. At the end of the lesson I asked the students what I should eat in Georgia and they told me to try Lobiani.

Thus, as I was walking home, I passed a Georgian take out store I had heard of on Chavchavade road. Impulsively I walked in and ordered Lobiani – now lobio means beans and lobiani is a dish of beans baked into bread. I had tried this previously, but it was extremely dry, today I decided that if I did not find this tasty, at least it was from a well-known store and I’d have a real opinion on this dish. But it wasn’t dry, it was amazing. Thin layers of sourdough bread on each side of an inch thick layer of bean paste. I waited and waited and then waited some more, the food took ages to prepare (30 minutes, but if you’re waiting it feels longer). Only one girl at the store could speak a little English and she hadn’t told me how long the wait would be. If I had known this, I would have ordered something to drink while I waited as it was I just stood there, until I finally left with something the size of a pizza. I had ordered the cheapest one, but it was still massive.

From what I understand, Georgian people live together in big families. This is seen in many different things, the size of chocolate bars in the supermarket, the size of a takeaway lobiani, the fact that very few Georgian restaurants have tables for two. It’s just anticipated that many people will be part of whatever process takes place. For example, I really enjoy eating Turkish Delight and here one of the supermarkets sells it fresh, it’s not sold in a tin or a box, but in a big container and you can take as much as you want. This is really convenient since it’s just Mum and me, we don’t want a big box of candy, but 4 or 5 pieces are pleasant. It’s as soft as butter and melts in your mouth.

Our building is quite a nice place, we have a foyer, with a cutesy receptionist, who speaks acceptable English. I came in with the massive lobiani and asked her if she’d like a piece, she very kindly declined. The receptionists vary between two girls, one speaking slightly better English than the other. The one with the “weaker” English isn’t bad, you just have to speak slower. Short sentences, small words. But they’re both kind and always helpful.

Our building also has a handyman on request. He’s not always here, but if you want something done to your apartment, you tell the receptionist and voila Alex appears. Now, Georgian men aren’t ugly, but they are very rarely truly handsome. They are plain, that’s the best way I can describe it, the girls look beautiful but that’s mostly due to now they groom themselves. So, the first time I opened the door for the handyman, I was surprised to find one of the only truly attractive Georgians in front of my door. He was even more marvellous once he got the heat to work and our apartment was able to get nice and toasty.

Continuing my effort to meet people, I attended a wine tasting evening. From the description of the evening, I had understood that it would just be people who enjoyed wine and meet up at different locations all over the city to have some wine once a week. I don’t know why I thought this, because once I arrived, I was introduced to a bunch of people who all had a financial interest in the evening. The owner of the restaurant, his personal sommelier, her assistant who helped arrange the evening, a businessman from America who was there to sign contracts to import Georgian wines to Los Angeles, along with a few more important-looking men in expensive-looking suits. Later on, some other guests arrived, and we had a true wine tasting experience with the sommelier explaining each wine as we went along. I did meet some nice people and it was a pleasant and interesting evening, but different from my expectation. I learned quite a lot though.

The next day I walked into the butchery near my apartment which I had regularly seen but never visited. They sell freshly made sausages with a spice I cannot name, it smells wonderful when it’s cooked, but I just can’t put my finger on what it is. I think it’s a pork & beef mixture of meat inside, along with the unnamable spice and then some pomegranate pits. I’ve found this in Georgia previously, meat with a tangy fruit mix in the middle. Unexpected, but not unpleasant. I spoke slowly in Georgian saying “I want 4” (me minda otkhi) and pointing at the sausages.

I am also very fond of Baklava, the Georgian styled one. It’s layers of filo pastry with nuts, usually pistachio nuts, in between and some kind of sweet syrup drizzled over it. Freshly baked baklava can be bought from regular supermarkets. I adore this with coffee, it’s not super sweet, just a nice “soft sweet” that goes incredibly well with dark coffee. The pastry cracks and the sweet sauce mixes with the nuts just perfectly. So, with my sausages in hand, I stopped at the supermarket and got treats for later.

It took me a while to get used to the clothing style here, it’s icy outside, but nice and comfortable inside. I have travelled in this but never lived in it. In South Africa, if it’s cold outside, you wear a jacket inside and live in your bed, trying to stay warm. If it’s hot outside, well, the heat also comes in. But in other countries, double glazing is used and the two temperatures don’t influence each other. So I used to leave our home way too cooley dressed. I’d leave my coat or forget to put on tights or not take gloves. One evening I went to teach wearing tights and a mini dress over a thin button-up shirt. It was okay walking to school, but walking back wasn’t a pleasant experience, though luckily not a long one.

The following morning I was in the mood for bread, Georgia bakes this amazing bread called Shotis puri. It’s sourdough bread, but they only bake it approximately 1inch thick. It’s wide but flat and the bakeries bake this continually. You can get freshly baked bread throughout the day. When we first moved to the neighbourhood where our long-term apartment is, I went searching for bread one morning just after 7am. I walked very far and found nothing. Later I went downstairs again and saw that the bakery near us opens at 8:30 – that became my benchmark. Not long after I went down one morning at 8:30 to find nothing. This reminded me of Ras Al Khaimah. I would regularly arrive at small shops to find them closed. The people work, they work very hard, but they don’t always start or stop working at the same time. I feel like saying, pick a time, literally any time and stick to it. But then when you do get shotis puri, it’s so worth it and you forget the time and you enjoy the bread. Sometimes it’s so fresh, it burns your hand as you carry it.

As an attempt to meet more people, to burn off the calories I had ingested and to experience more of Georgia I went on a hiking trip. A group of us met at Liberty Square and took shared taxis to the starting point of the hike. I had not worn a jacket, I was layered with a short-sleeved shirt and a long-sleeved shirt, but no jacket. While we walked I was fine, during the wait and the lunch break at the summit of the hike I was iced. We walked through a slightly overgrown forest area, the trees on either side starting to show signs of autumn, long after the halfway mark, we turned and walked along an open field, the sky was a clear periwinkle blue. Men were driving tractors and a policeman gave us directions. A group of men were sitting in one of the fields drinking. I assumed it to be tea or water, but the Georgian girl said she think it’ll be Chacha (a liquor comprised of 60% alcohol, famous in Georgia). The American girl and I passed the men and they offered us the cup, what is it? I thought they might think us thirsty. Nope “Chacha!” one man exclaimed, Lauren took the cup and tasted a sip. The man gestured that she should down the whole shot, she moved on to join the rest of the group. I too took a sip, remembering Rome and Grappa as the strong flavour filled my mouth. The man did not want to take the glass back, I had to drink it all. I ended up putting it on the ground next to him and just saying thanks a few times before trotting on.

Our guide had never hiked this route before and once we had finished at the viewpoint, the idea was to walk down to the nearest road and try to find a bolt or go to the bus stop. This felt slightly foolhardy to me, what if there was no bus or no taxi within range. but we walked, my toes eventually complaining due to the continual downward trend. Soon enough a small minibus stopped and we had one Georgian speaker in the group who translated this bus would be going to Tbilisi. We all piled in, 2 lari (less than $1) each was paid for more than 30 minutes of travelling.

A few days after the hike, I was standing on the balcony one afternoon drinking my coffee. The cat had not yet returned, suddenly I heard a meow. I had been living in a cat-free home for 3 days and didn’t like it one bit. I thought it might be a stray cat, however, I called out “Nabat?” The meow persisted – I called a few times until with an awfully loud meow she came into sight. I flew downstairs without shoes and asked for the key – my balcony is just above the mezzanine floor which is only used for maintenance and a special key is needed for the door on the stairs. One of the cute receptionist girls was on duty and got the key, spotting my bare feet she also grabbed a keycard for the elevator, how could I come out without shoes? How could I climb stairs without shoes? I tried to explain that in my country this was perfectly acceptable. In the back of my head, I remembered that the floor was taboo – I was now touching the said floor with bare skin. Nabat came home and attacked her food bowl, she used the litter box and I was glad to see that she had eaten in the last 3 days. Life went back to normal, with a cat in the background.

I sat down and sent a broadcast message to the meetup group. I suggested a wine evening at a place called 8000 Vintages. It was close to where I live and I had checked out the prices, nothing seemed too preposterous. The restaurant did “boards”, like sharing platters and wine. I saw that a board with bread and oil would cost 5 Lari ($1.5). I said that I would provide snacks, I ordered one nice ham and cheese board, and I kept ordering breadboards as more people arrived. That way everyone had something to nibble. I made it very clear that I would not be paying for anyone’s alcohol. We were a party of 8 and according to covid regulations not more than 6 people may sit together. So, we were divided into two “groups” at one loooong table. Thus, a version of musical chairs ensued. The bread was served with sunflower oil, but not the cheap kind found at supermarkets. This was a very nutty, earthy taste. it was delicious. And the bread wasn’t just boring toast, but a selection of different pieces of bread to enjoy.

At the end of the evening, everyone thanked me for putting this all together and I stared at them. I had done this? As I walked home, I thought, yes I had. I had brought this life together, and my English classes, I had put myself in the way of beauty (Cheryl Strayed), I had moved to Georgia and started a new life in Tbilisi. I had put it together, wonky and lopsidedly and not always perfectly, but it was a life. It is my life.

Back to blogging

So, 5 years ago I graduated with a TEFL certificate. China was somehow always in the plan. I finished my studies. I travelled to Tbilisi. And then came China. I’ll blog that in another post. It was an incredible time. From Bao’an airport into Shenzhen city my mouth literally hung open. It was so green! I lived through a monsoon season, I had collegues and dumplings. I became “Mayiya Laoshi”.

19 January 2020 I came back to Dubai for a quick visit during my winter holidays. A few days later I was sitting at the Cherry wood dining room table, my phone buzzed “mystery pneumonia” popped up. Something about a city called Wuhan. Then it was only an epidemic. Only China was suffering and I extended my stay in Dubai.

Well, I haven’t yet returned. I might never return. The elasticity of life is something. I’m in Ras Al Khaimah writing this. The world turned upside down and went topsy turvy. My landlord packed up my possessions and I arranged for my cat to be adopted.

At the moment I’m studying for a masters degree in English language teaching and language acquisition. I never even thought I’d get a bachelor’s degree now I’m writing a thesis!!!

I love learning about Lingua Franca and communicative competence and intercultural & cross-cultural competence. It’s just so interesting, it’s not like I’m studying. I’d listen to this even if I was looking for entertainment.

I was in China for only 8 months, if you disregard that, then I’ve been “living” in the UAE for 8.25 years. I’ve travelled and had “adventures” abroad, but my home base has been in the UAE. See, this can be disputed, because I moved to china, I rented an apartment I mentally and emotionally departed from the UAE. I walked my favourite routes, I looked places telling myself this was the “last time” I’d see them living here. I packed my bags and left. but seeing as my time away was so short, rich and informative, but short, in a certain sense I do believe that I can say I have lived in the UAE for 8 years.

During the heavy lockdown of 2020 the beach was closed, now we live in a “big” apartment. Technically it’s the Penthouse apartment of this building. there are only 4 apartments on this flour, the level below us has Idk, 10? 12? I don’t know but during a time when it was 48C outside and the beach was closed off, I got into the habit of walking from my front door to the other side of the hallway (70 steps, I counted and used my MiFit band). I’d walk and walk and walk. Yesterday (april 2021 I walked 16km inside).

Now that I’m studying, it took sometime, but I’m “walking through my master’s”. I charge everything at night, then tomorrow morning if I have reading to do I take the iPad, which belongs to mum’s company, and I walk up and down and I read. Then I take my headphones and I listen to my professor for 3.5 hours and I walk. It’s like hiking the Camino all over again. I actually walked a blister yesterday. I don’t have a backpack. I have comfy clothes and I’m walking in AC, it’s quiet so I can focus on academia, but I don’t sit still.

I’ve made contact with an amazing dietitian from Paris, and the person I dubbed Dmitri in my previous blogposts is still part of my life. But other than that my life hasn’t acquired longterm new characters. With covid, it feels as though I’m living the same week over and over again. Tuesdays are laundry, that’s a good anchor. Pity that the rest of the week doesn’t have a lot of variety to balance it but there’s a lot to be thankful for.

I’ve learned about Low Context and High Context cultures. These are so interesting that I’m starting to wonder if personality is as personal as we think it is, but then I touch on so many psychology theories and nature vs nurture that I just stick to “wow, interesting” and I don’t delve into the mess of theories.

I “broke-up” with a friend of mine. We had a fight, and not just a disagreement, but an argument in which I was told that the life-choices I made, such as moving abroad, was wrong. That I shouldn’t offer these options to my friend, because this person didn’t wanna wreck their lives the way I’d messed up mine. I hung up and looked around the apartment in China. It contained a couch from Ikea on which my darling cat was sleeping next to an unfortunate, but well loved red wine stain. I had a home abroad, my life wasn’t bad. Despite this, even today I go “*** I miss you” and I wish we could sit down and talk. It feels like a breakup, it’s non-romantic, but I lost a friend who had been with me since high school. or at least I lost a version of that person.

My current goal is to eat everything in the house. there’s 5kg of rice, or there was. by now it’s maybe 4.8kg – I might have made a tiny dent. When covid arrived, the stores were empty and there were questions about places receiving new stock. I over did it at tad, but I am working on consuming it. Our time in the UAE is coming to a rapid end (120 days left), so I’m eating “everything”. I forbade myself to shop. I have possessions in SA waiting for me, my stuff in China is boxed and waiting for me. I won’t leave the UAE with nothing. I have special possessions here. So, I am not allowed to increase it. I have to wear the clothes i own, eat the food I have – just live until I’m reunited with my stuff.

I’ll update again, but for now indoor walking and the master’s degree is probably enough.

Tbilisi time 2018

Summer snippets

  • The beauty of Tbilisi is that I do not need a visa, South African passports are accepted, and I can just walk through security. No hassle.

 

  • We checked into our apartment after a horrendous taxi ride from the airport. Worse than any other taxi I was in during my time in Tbilisi.

 

  • The sleeper couch was very comfortable. Always a perk

 

  • It’s a rather small city, I went for a walk and found some really great street art. The noise pollution from the cars hooting at each other continually was unexpected. My South African mind wondered whether it was safe walking around alone here.

 

  • I walked down a pedestrian street with pretty little lights strung over it, thinking that I should come back here some evening when they’re lit.

 

  • We went to the city centre, the bathhouse domes rising from the earth. Tour guides showed Arabic families around the city explaining the various famous people who had been to these bath houses during the previous centuries.

 

  • I went for a walk, flowing Google maps instructions to a store. I spotted a coffee shop along the way and walked in. The waiter spoke English and I chatted to him for the time it took to drink a cappuccino. We exchanged numbers but never saw each other again.

 

  • I walked from Liberty Square to Dry Bridge market. A complete waste of time. I love markets, but I do not do well with flee markets. I enjoy walking between stalls and buying stuff, but flea markets never seem to sell anything buy-able in my opinion. I had read that it was a market, nobody mentioned that it was a flea market.

 

  • I went to hike in the botanical gardens. I missed having a walking stick with me after learning to rely on one during my Camino hike in Spain. It was beautiful up there. Different types of plans being cultivated. A small Japanese garden, a bamboo forrest, a little river, a water fall. I walked around there for hours. Suddenly I found myself at the Mother Georgia statue at the top of the hill. I’d been walking up and up with out realizing how far I was climbing. I saw the tourists all taking the stairs down and turned around. I wandered back down on my own via the botanical garden. I found a café and ordered a chicken salad. It came with delicious guacamole.

 

  • One afternoon I took mum to the flower market I had found near our apartment. We had a nice time watching the men playing chess and the people selling their flowers. I bought a bunch of beautiful tiny little pink flowers.

 

  • I went to buy a hiking stick. I had read about hiking trails and the city has so many uphill and downhill parts, that owning a walking stick might come in handy even on a regular day. After I had found my vividly pink collapsible walking stick, I checked Google maps for a lunch place. I found burger restaurant and ate a delicious burger while chatting to the barman. The service was slow, but the burger was worth it I told myself.

 

  • I attempted to go hiking in the national park. This was an impossible idea. Firstly, the boys down at reception told me that a taxi would be too expensive all the way, I should take the metro and then a taxi for a shorter distance. I wondered how much was too much, in their minds. Then again, I rarely enjoyed the taxi rides, a smooth train ride might be more relaxing. I couldn’t get a taxi to understand that he could drop me in the middle of nature and drive away. Shortly after I convinced him that I was where I wanted to me, alone in a nature reserve, he left, and a thunder storm started.

I stared at the map for ages. There were three hiking trails, but the starting point was not marked at all. I ended up walking on a tar road up a hill, not knowing if this was a trail or whether it led anywhere. The uncertainty was rather bothersome.

Unexpectedly I arrived at a church or monastery, something religious. I was out of water. I enjoyed the view and walked back down.

My phone could not find signal for the taxi app and I started walking back to the main road. I was really grateful when a passing taxi picked me up. He already had a passenger, but they could drop me in a busy street and then I could get another taxi much more easily.

I came home, having felt rather wrong footed all day.

 

  • I felt like going out and so I downloaded Tinder again. I had rarely has a nice time on it, but maybe I’d find someone nice to spend an evening with. I matched with an Egyptian guy and a Russian guy.

 

  • The Egyptian guy and I met up and went for a wine tasting, it was rather interesting but neither of us enjoyed Georgian wine enough to continue. Georgia matures the wine with the leaves and the stems, only separating the juice later, this gives the wine a much earthier taste.

We walked down the road and found a shisha smoking café. We sat down and smoked while chatting away. He was nice and a decent conversationalist. I said I like to drink scotch and he went on about the type of Scotch he prefers. We talked about previous Tinder dates. I enjoyed being out on a nice evening with a non-annoying person chatting to me.

  • One day I went to search for a North Face store, I couldn’t find them, and I hadn’t realized that Tbilisi doesn’t have zebra stripes to cross the road there were under passes most of the time. I was exhausted on this day and I didn’t truly need to find North Face. This meant that when I found a busy street I had to cross and I didn’t know how, I simply turned back. I needed rest and I wasn’t going to spend time walking up and down the pavement trying to find a crossing. When I told this story to the boys down at reception they all looked at me uncomprehending – how could I not have known about underpasses?

 

  • I took a taxi to the Narikhala fortress one morning. The car’s engine complained as we ascended. At the top the city spread out before me. The river a murky green colour even in the morning sun. I walked down the hill after I had looked at the fortress. I could see the golden dome of the church gleaming on the opposite hill on the other side of the river.

I ambled around the city centre one morning. It’s very small compared to some of the other cities I’ve been to, within a few days you can see all the “important” stuff in the centre.

I passed an orthodox church, crossed the river by walking over the Bridge of Peace which was an important landmark. I passed everything that most tourists come to see in Tbilisi that morning and walked up to the big church with the golden dome. It was beautiful, but at the same time, it was just another church.

 

  • Most of my Tbilisi memories don’t pertain to seeing the “check list stuff”, but to living there. I was a student. I had group work (PS. Our team passed that assignment with a distinction!). I would wake up and do my exercises, I would buy food at Spar and flowers at the flower market. I found delicious shawarmas containing pork near the apartment.

 

  • Clothes – I shopped for clothes in the second-hand clothing stores. It was so nice. The styles that are sold in Dubai never really felt like stuff I’d wear. I know many people fly to Dubai for shopping sprees. I snooped around little shops finding wonderful stuff. Every day I’d come home with a bag of clothes, bought for so cheap I couldn’t believe it.

 

  • I met up with the Russian guy I had matched with on Tinder. I accidentally led us up the wrong street and then up the right one. Then we climbed 144 stairs to the café called “144 Stairs” I believe the stairs are famous or something, but I never checked why they’re on the tourist sign posts. The view was lovely, and we got on well. It was nearing sunset and I suggested staying. He was cool with the idea.

Later on, we had to move inside as it started to rain. He showed me a taxi app he uses, the one I hadn’t tried to use again after my non-hike in the national park. I had forgotten I had downloaded it. We shared a taxi, entering my address into the app meant I didn’t have to keep saying “further on” with helped. Mental note: always use an app.

 

  • I contemplated getting a tattoo. I had wanted to get one when I finished the Camino in Spain, but it was rather expensive getting it in Santiago (the final destination of the hike). I could get it in Tbilisi for much cheaper. My mind spun, until one day I decided to get it done. I made an appointment at a tattoo parlour near the burger place and got the Camino shell inked onto me. Afterwards I went to the burger place, but the guy said they only opened 13h. I told him I had previously been served just after 12h. He shrugged. I crossed the street to the other burger place.

 

  • One day mum and I were walking back from Liberty Square, she suggested we go to a restaurant she went to previously. The food was good and after that we took the bus home. I preferred busses to taxis, the taxis seemed really temperamental.

 

  • Another afternoon mum and I went to Vera park and sat down at a restaurant with outdoor seating. We ordered wine and tried to order something to nibble. The waiter kept saying he’s sorry, but the place was new they didn’t have this or couldn’t make that. We eventually ordered French fries. Apparently, they did have potatoes

 

  • I saw the Egyptian guy again, his hostel has an entire room dedicated to board games, so we had an evening of board games and beer. I liked the alliteration. I took a taxi home and learned how to say “further on” in Georgian, because the taxis always dropped me too soon. The Egyptian guy was leaving Tbilisi the next day.

 

  • Mum and I went for lunch in the pedestrian street with the lights. We went to a place I had previously been to and ordered some very good chicken in a cream sauce. It was scrumptious.

 

  • I met up with the Russian guy a second time, this time in Vera park at the same place mum and I had been. They played Leonard Cohen music, which didn’t annoy me so it was nice going there. Commercial pop annoys me beyond comprehension.

 

  • I love street art and, on my way too and from the tattoo parlour, I walked through various underpasses meaning I passed some amazing art.

 

  • I saw the Russian guy for a last time on my very last evening in the city. I left Tbilisi surprised by how much I had enjoyed my time in this small almost unfamiliar city. I hadn’t learned to speak the language or seen something akin to the Colosseum or the Big Ben, but I had still fallen in love with the city.

 

Autumn Moments in Tbilisi

I worked as a dog walker and dog sitter earning enough money to return to Tbilisi, a city I wanted to see again.

I wanted to do some winter shopping after having such success in the summer, I wanted to return in a different season and buy clothes for the cold. I’ll just add here that it was a great success, I bought some beautiful autumn stuff.

I rented a room in a two-bedroom apartment from a Russian speaking man named Gaga (the name felt strange to say). I chuckled as I opened the fridge and found half a bottle of vodka and saw a husky in the yard. I really was Near Russia. I also had the good fortune that nobody had rented the other room, so for the price of a room I had my own apartment for three weeks.

Ok, I’m going to refer to my Russian friend as Dmitri for privacy.

I saw Dmitri again, it was so comfortable to hangout again. I enjoyed being back in Tbilisi, with the cooler weather, the clothes, all of it appealed to me.

So here are some snippets from my Autumn trip:

  • My room had a balcony with a beautiful view of the sunrise. I loved waking up, putting the kettle on the gas stove and having coffee on the balcony before starting my day’s studying.

 

  • I bought bread from a small bakery operated through a window. I wouldn’t have noticed it, if I had not seen the girl who painted my nails buy bread here. I went to buy one, “puri” means “bread” in Georgian, the money currency is “lari”. “One puri” I said holding up a finger. The Russian baker was so pleased he knew an English word. “One puri, One okay one puri one lari good” – I gave him a coin and he gave me a bread with a piece of newspaper wrapped around it. The bread was so hot it almost burned my fingers. It felt “right” having an apartment with bread and flowers and wine.

 

  • One afternoon I asked Dmitri to help me carry kitchen supplies from the supermarket down the hill. The dog walking had given me stiff hands and arms, carrying heavy bags was possible, but since I had a friend in the city it was nice to see a friendly face.

 

  • I checked Google maps and called every language school in the city. Two of them wanted to meet me, the other 18 asked that I send my CV for future reference. One was for French students. None of them had a job for me.

 

  • One evening I went to Dmitri’s place, I missed avocado, since I haven’t found good avocado in Dubai. So, I made an avocado salad. I enjoyed being in a real kitchen, the kitchen at home is a sauna in the summer, the kitchen at Gaga’s apartment felt impersonal. This was a big kitchen and I enjoyed moving around it, cooking Jamie Oliver listening to some mellow music.

 

  • I bought new flowers for my apartment at a flower market where the guy totally over charged me, but the flowers were beautiful, so I paid double and enjoyed them. The prices are so cheap anyway.

 

  • I took a taxi to the second-hand clothing stores which had served me so well over the summer. I was successful yet again, the styles just felt comfortable for me. Left with two or three bulging bags vowing I would back these into my suitcase before buying anything else.

 

  • My breakfast now existed of coffee with cream, fresh bread and butter which was so good I almost reluctantly added the cherry jam or some cheese. I love cherry jam, but the bread alone was wonderful. I watched the sunrise and went to study. Mentally thanking the dog owning families who had paid me to make this possible.

 

  • Close to the end of my trip I remembered that I wanted to visit Mtatsminda park, not because of the amusement park, but I wanted to go on the Ferris wheel. I texted Dmitri and we went up. The view was different than I expected, I saw the city from a different angle than I had previously. I watched the city come and go before me. It was lovely.

 

  • Dmitri had success ordering food on an app. Gaga’s apartment was a black door opening on a dirt road, I had great trouble with the same app. I tried various times, but it was annoying, I couldn’t speak Russian or Georgian and their English was non-existent so I was struggling to get my food to me.

 

  • I used my taxi app religiously though. I never had to explain my address. I could hardly pronounce my street and now I didn’t have to I ordered a taxi and the GPS directed him while I closed my eyes or watched the orange leaves pass by the windows.

 

  • I left Tbilisi at 3am I felt sad leaving the city. I had hoped to get a job here, in a place with bread I love and beautiful flowers, and everything else which was part of this world.

 

Camino – final weeks

Final part of the Camino written from my laptop, while I’m back home.

I did write this, but my phone crashed, and I lost the last part of my blog, so here goes. “When you say nothing at all” is Playing…

 

Right, so the last part of my blog ends with my rest day in Estella, I then walked to Los Arcos. I had a brilliant evening here, I met a group on the road and zoned out with them that evening. At one point a Dutch guy told a story about the church bells in Holland. He said they ring and he hummed a very slow version of a Christmas carol, we all caught on pretty soon and sang the carol out loud. One of the guys sat back “no, it’s April, no f*ck, shut the f*ck up” but we laughed and finished singing while the rest of the tables in the restaurant watched us. I enjoyed this group, but they had been walking together since day one, they had bonded, and I was new and so I made my own way the next night.

The next night I spent in Viana (pronounced Biana). I saw the group from the previous night, but I had dinner alone. I was rather hungry, but it was siesta and the only open place was the restaurant in the fancy hotel. I ordered tapas here, it was all they had, the already prepared tapas was available. I ordered a glass of wine and tapas and then more tapas, it’s really small and I was actually hungry.

I chatted with the rather cute waiter, my Spanish now at an acceptable level to comprehend if the other party spoke slowly. Justin Bieber’s “despacito” song kept playing in my mind, but not only mine. Pretty much every pilgrim had it playing mentally sometimes. Anyway, the cute waiter said something very quickly, I tried to remember how to say slowly. I put my fingers to my temple, saying “Justin Bieber. Despacito. Que?!” (Justin Bieber. Slowly. What?!) he laughed for an entire minute before saying what he wanted to say and pouring me another glass of wine.

Not sure where, I think in Viana I took a bus to Logrono and then to Burgos. I was behind on time and needed to skip a part of the trail. I didn’t check anything except the number of days I had to get to Santiago, others might have checked where the most beautiful landscape was or what the weather on different parts of the trail would be like, I did not. I counted the days and walked from Burgos.

When I arrived in Burgos with the bus, I hadn’t yet booked a bed, I was thirsty, in need to a toilet and perhaps a snack. I walked out of the bus station. On my right there was a bright orange sign saying “hostel”, on my left a faded blue sign read “bar” (this means café in Spain). If I got something to drink first the hostel might sell out, if I went to the bar I would use the loo. If I kept standing here I’d block the door. I walked right, ordered a coffee and went upstairs to the loo. Then I went to the hostel, yeah, they had a bed for me and after that I went to explore Burgos.

It was workers day; the cathedral was closed. It was a public holiday, only the touristy places were open. I checked for a bookstore on google maps, having finished Up on the bus. The bookstore had an English shelf. I picked up one of the thinnest books, In Search of Us by Ava Dellaira. I ended up fascinated by the story, falling in love with James, and thoroughly enjoying the tale.

I sat down chocolate and churros for the first time. The waitress placed a cup of thick hot chocolate and a plate of deep-fried churros in front of me, she spoke no English, but with broken Spanish and hand gestures I asked how I was to eat what I had ordered. She explained that I dip the churros into the chocolate and then eat it, I don’t drink the chocolate. It was delicious.

The following day I walked to Hornillos del Camino. The weather was cold, icy cold and the wind strong. I put on my gloves and then struggled to carry my stick my gloves making it slippery, but my fingers were icy without the gloves. I kept walking through the monotonous landscape of the Meseta. It didn’t feel as though I was moving at all. A sign appeared saying the next town was 5km away, then 2km, then I realized I was hungry and thirsty, the wind was annoying, and it wouldn’t be pleasant to sit down next to the road. Yet, I had water and a sandwich in my pack. The next sign said 500m, but I couldn’t see anything. Alright, if I couldn’t see the next village at the top of the hill in front I would pause next to the trail. And then something came into sight, a dome? A dome! A church, next to which there was a house and then there was the little village nestled in the small valley between the low hills.

The dip was steep and the lady walking ahead of me looked momentarily ridiculous until I realized what she was doing. She wasn’t’ walking the steep descent in a straight line. She walked a zig-zag trail down, steadying herself against the stone wall on the one side and the brick all on the other. I bent my legs and made my own descent. There was a café which was overly crowded. Due to the abysmal weather nobody was sitting outside, and all the pilgrims were crammed into the small indoor area. I went to the loo and saw that the dining room was completely empty.

I ordered a coffee and carried it to the dining room. I took out my book and started reading. I defrosted enough while drinking my coffee that when I returned my cup to the counter my mind registered the sign saying “chocolate and churros” I ordered this and a rum, straight up.

It was lovely, sitting there, hiding from the cold, enjoying a drink and something wintery and warming. After an hour I folded down the corner of my book, squashed it in behind my water bottle and went back to the reality of the trail.

I arrived at the village with my hostel. I walked into the first place, they had a loo. The man behind the counter looked at me, “primo, donde bango?” (first, where toilet?) he pointed to the left. After that I bought a 2L bottle of water. I was still really cold as I walked out and looked up, my hostel was right in front of me.

I checked in, took of my boots and crawled under my comforter. I set a 30-minute alarm on my phone and didn’t move until it went off. The hostel had a real wood-burning fire going and I thought about the lyrics “oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the fire inside is so delightful, let it snow, let it –” no, please no snow! For breakfast the next day I had a wonderful ham and goats cheese omelette and I ordered a sandwich for the road. I later found out it also contained goats cheese.

The next night I stayed in Castrojeriz, on the way I arrived at a dilapidated cathedral. I really wanted to rest, but there didn’t seem to be anything here except for the cathedral… and music? I followed the music and found a café. I sat down with a coffee and rested my body.

That night I unpacked my entire pack, questioning everything I still had with me. I donated quite a few things in the give and take basket. I rummaged through it to see if there was anything I needed.

I laced up my boots and was intending to walk to Fromista, my little toe had some blisters on it. If I kept moving it was a dull pain, once I’d rested, cooled down and started up again it throbbed horribly. But I kept walking. After breakfast my toe gave a nasty twinge, and I decided to ask for advice in a pharmacy in Fromista. I texted Mum and asked her to Google about popping blisters. Then I sat down, I was now not walking, but hobbling and my other muscles were starting to complain.

According to Google maps the next town was 1h 10m away, the place I had just left and could still see was 37m back. I looked ahead of me and saw a hill. I was turning back. I would walk the flat stretch back and just sleep here. On my way back, a tractor passed me. I waved for help and the driver and his wife nodded, gesturing me out of the way as they drove passed me and stopped. The lady reminded me of Dobby the House elf, she barely reached my chest.

I tapped my right leg saying “dolor” (pain) she rambled on in Spanish something about the town not having medical care and if I needed medicine I shouldn’t go back because there was no doctor and no pharmacy. I didn’t know how to say rest in Spanish, so I ended up saying “relax” this satisfied her, and I hopped onto the back of the tractor where she joined me.

I went to a café, carrying with me a needle and some antibiotic cream. I ordered two shots of vodka. I used one of them to sterilize the needle and drank a sip from the other. I got to work, sticking the needle into the blisters and finally draining my shot as the needle made painful contact with the raw flesh below.

The bloke who owned the hostel gave me a ride to the next stop the following morning, this way I could rest, but I didn’t lose more time on the trail. The name is written Villalcazar and pronounced “Biyalcathar” which created some confusion. I had single room here for a change and I loved it.

I sat outside in the town square watching the pilgrims arrive, some stopping for a coffee before continuing, some merely passing by, others happy to have reached their destination. I had lunch with a beautiful boy from South America, Zac.

After a lovely rest I continued with the trail. I was yet again out of cash. The Meseta stretching relentlessly on ahead of me. I walked and walked, someone mentioned it was a 17km stretch with nothing in it. I had booked a bed in the next village and I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. Odd snippets of songs playing in my mind, when I started walking I thought of the film, Elizabeth Town and of the song which played when the film journey started. At once, Elton John’s voice filled my head “from this day on I own my father’s gun…”

Elton John then meant that I thought of “the trail we blaze” and then “without question”. The songs played in my mind, then snippets from the Harry Potter audiobooks and random lines from the FRIENDS series. Odd memories, like the time I had studied for the wrong test back in the sixths grade and then the trail. The trail was beautiful, the landscape gorgeous despite being monotonous.

Where was the next village? I kept walking, “all of these lines across my face, tell you the story of where I’ve been … all of these stories don’t mean anything if you’ve got no one to tell them to, it’s true, I was made for you” the lyrics repeated in my mind. They had used this song for a car ad back in SA. Was it true? Did stories mean nothing if you couldn’t share them? I don’t think so, but then again maybe I’m wrong?

I wasn’t wearing sunscreen and there was no shade, just a continuing gravel road to follow. I wanted to stop, I couldn’t see the road ahead. Perhaps it turned or dipped or – is that a tower? I had reached civilization at last.  The road dipped slightly and between the two very low hills was, well, not a town, but a collection of houses. I was out of cash again and found only one place willing to accept credit cards. The waiter touched my ass, but I came back for breakfast, being unable to go anywhere else.

I stayed in a place called Sahagun that evening and continued the next day. My blisters had been fine, but they now reminded me of their existence. I sat down on a bench along The Way and two pilgrims passed me by on horseback. A car slowed to watch the horses and I waved at the lady driving it calling out “can I get a ride?”. She was a middle-aged woman from England and dropped me off in El Burgo. At the café I asked the waitress to call me a taxi and get me to Leon a day earlier.

I needed a new book, I needed small socks to prevent new blisters, I needed many things which only a big city could provide. My heart missed London as I checked into Hostel Covent Garden.

To my utter surprise that evening I ran into the two Canadian ladies I had met while resting my twisted ankle back in Orisson. I was standing at an ATM and I looked to my right, “Chris?” “whazzup?!” said the blue-eyed pretty boy from the west coast of America who had sung Christmas carols with me in Los Arcos!

I didn’t have dinner this evening as I was still doing the 5:2 diet. The big city vibe felt harsh. After quiet days and small towns, all the vibrant-ness of the city felt overwhelming. The hostel had a hot shower and I enjoyed the feeling of the water cleansing me.

The next day I walked through the outskirts of Leon, the nice city centre turning into residential areas and then car dealerships and mechanics and furniture stores. I kept walking losing track of time. I walked into a café and ordered food and a shot. The waiter looked at me with a slight smirk. And I looked at the clock, it wasn’t lunch time it was 9:30. I blinked, the busy energy of the city had made it feel as though much more time had passed.

I didn’t feel as thought I had left Leon when I arrived at my next stop, La Virgen del Camino. The outskirts of Leon seem to morph into the next village and I sat down at a café. I ordered a hamburger, the waiter asked me what kind I wanted, and I said “tu favorito” (your favourite) it was so good!

My afternoons now had a rhythm. After arriving at a place, I set a 30minute alarm and lay down, after “waking up” I would take a shower, change into my dress (if it was warm enough) or some clean clothes. Then I would do laundry and head to a café. I lived on red wine. I sometimes ordered a bottle of red (if it didn’t come with the meal) and zoned out at the café. I tried to move as little as possible in the afternoon. I would sip my wine and read my book and talk to other pilgrims and blog and people watch until it was time to order dinner.

Every morning my feet seemed to have recovered, but my left shoulder hurt. It would start twinging earlier every day until it wouldn’t stop hurting at the airport when I was heading back.

Can’t remember where this happened, but it was before Hospital del Orbigo. My feet were tired, and I walked into an albergue, they had a bed and I unbuckled my pack before dropping down into a seat. I booked two nights, my body needed a rest.

The next morning, I woke up and vacated the room, so the girl had time to clean the other beds in the dorm before the next pilgrims arrived. The first laundry of the day was drying in the slight breeze. As I walked out of the room to the loo, my sleeping mask pushed up into my hair, wearing yesterday’s dirty t-shirt and my underwear, the lady who owns the hostel looked up and smiled “buenas dias, guapa” (good morning, pretty girl) “I like it here I thought” as I returned to my room to get dressed.

That evening I sat next to a man from France and a group of Koreans. I got lectured about elegance by the French man and learned how to say cheers in Korean. I was amazed, we spoke English and French and Korean and we didn’t feel isolated. My throat was starting to hurt.

Before going to bed I rummaged through my bag and extracted the little box containing antibiotics. I took two, but still woke up with a horribly sore throat. I checked Google maps, there was a pharmacy in the next village. I had antibiotics, but nothing else. I walked to Hospital de Orbigo. It was Sunday, and everything was closed.

I booked a single room for the night; the village was so cheap I could afford it. The door didn’t have a lock and during the night I could hear the man in the next room snoring.

The lady at the pharmacy spoke English when I got there the next day and gave me what I needed. I waited at the bus stop hoping to make up for lost time, but the other pilgrim standing there said she had been waiting for the bus for 2 hours. We chatted for a few minutes and decided to share a taxi to Astorga.

I was dropped at the train station and she went to the city centre. I just refused to walk while taking antibiotics. I got a train to Ponferrada and again I got a single room. I stared at it, it hadn’t cost me more then the previous night, but I was looking at a room with two beds, a tv, a private bathroom – this meant a shower as hot and as long as I wanted. In shared bathrooms, I always respect that other people also want to have a warm shower at least.

I watched The Perks of Being a Wallflower on my phone’s Netflix. I walked to the nearest place that got good reviews on Google Maps and had lunch, I came back here for dinner and asked the waiter to bring me his favourite, just no blood sausage. He had a glint in his eyes as he talked me through what I would be eating. I ended up having an octopus started, turkey and cheese with salad for the main course and ice cream cake for desert. As usual there was a bottle of red wine on the table and a basket of gorgeous bread.

I wanted to be back on the trail! I took my last antibiotics and closed the blinds, I slept beautifully and started walking. I had started drinking a shot early-ish in the day. I spoke to a British guy about this and he explained that alcohol opened your arteries, so if you want your blood to start moving it helps. The American hikers I met carried a flask with them thinking this totally normal.

I walked into a café and ordered a shot, the elderly lady behind the counter made me think of professor McGonagall giving me a stern disapproving look before pouring my shot.

That night was wonderful, I walked to Pereje and met two American hikers and a Spanish guy from Madrid. I had a good evening with them. This was the bonfire night. After dinner the four of us and the big Spanish group headed back to the only hostel in the town carrying with us the wine and beers we hadn’t finished at dinner. We were singing “Buen Camino” based on the Despacito melody, I had a bottle of wine in one hand and hooked in to the Spanish guy’s arm and the group made its way happily back to the hostel.

We made a lovely bonfire and later the group decided that more wine would be good. I said I’d go and the Spanish guy offered to help me carry. We walked back to the only restaurant in the village. The proprietor and the Spanish guy talked for what seemed a long time, finally the crucial part was translated “there’s no more wine” I blinked at the man behind the counter and he walked into the back, he came back with one bottle and 4 beers. They had obviously planned on providing for the pilgrims during dinner, but nothing more. We literally drank the town dry that evening.

I sat next to the Spanish guy closing my eyes, my body still recovering. One of the American guys suggested I go to bed, but I was having fun sitting between people.

I arrived at O Cebreiro the next afternoon and checked into the municipal albergue, glad they still had a bed and to my pleasant surprise I found the big Spanish group, the Spanish guy from Madrid and the two American’s there as well. One of the American guys hadn’t been able to get a bed and I snuck him in later, he slept in his sleeping bag on the floor at the foot of my bed.

Earlier that evening we had hiked up one of the hills with a bottle of traditional Spanish coffee liquor to watch the sunset with a Korean guy. The American guy turned on a south African song I had never heard of “I fink you’re freeky and I like you a lot” they liked it I thought it cringe worthy.

But then the three of us started dancing and it didn’t matter that it was good or bad or that we had blisters, we had walked here and had shared this and were watching a glorious scene and we were together today and the music changed and the guy sang “jump, motherf*cker, jump” and we jumped, waving our fists in the air and then it was over and we laughed and once we started it was hard to stop.

The other American guy came to join us later, when we saw him we changed the Buen Camino song based on the Despacito melody to “Hola Luka, hola luka” singing until he joined us. We sipped the coffee liquor out of a shared up and we talked and watched the sun and then I realized it was 9pm and I was hungry. I left them to their own devices and headed for dinner.

I saw the Spanish guy the next day in Triacastella, but he was more comfortable speaking Spanish and was sitting with the Spanish group. They were friendly to me, but I couldn’t understand them, and I went for dinner alone. Chatting with a mother and son from Denmark who were doing the Camino together.

On my way to Sarria I saw a Dutch guy I had met a while ago walking with his girlfriend, whom I hadn’t been introduced to. They walked together as though they had decided to wlak the Camino together and not like two strangers who had met on the say I watched them and into my mind came Fiddler on the roof “they look so natural together…” which was randomly followed by The Turtles singing “I can’t see me loving no body but you for all my life…” I thought of Beth saying she understood why I didn’t walk with my headphones and I chuckled as I kept walking.

I hadn’t planned on staying in Sarria, but when I arrived there I didn’t want to walk any further, I could have if there was no bed, but I just didn’t want to. I walked into the first hostel and asked for a bed, no they only had single rooms left. I took it my feet were hurting and my shoulder throbbing.

I now had blisters between my big toe and the next, wearing my comfy flipflops hurt sometimes. I met a Camino tour guide and stared at him. “Can’t they just follow the yellow arrows?” I asked, the Camino is an easy, well-marked trail. Who needs a guide here? He said, “Camino is business”. He books the hotels (not dorm beds), arranges for luggage to be transported, though doing this yourself is easy, points out the good restaurants in the town. It’s his job, so despite me wanting to laugh we had a good time each of us enjoying an ice cream.

If I could get to Santiago by Wednesday 12h I would see the amazing Botafumeiro ceremony, held only 7 times a year. Ok, I’ll try, I took a taxi to Ferreiros which was 10km away, then I had to walk 25km each day and I would be there. Somewhere this logic stopped making sense and I arrived in Santiago Thursday afternoon unable to skip anymore of the trail.

As I entered Portomarin I saw the American guy who had slept at the foot of my bed a few days ago. He was shirtless and after I hugged him I realized he was … “why are you wet?” “I jumped in” he said as two other pilgrims joined us. “You what?” “I jumped into the middle” he said pointing at the massive river behind me. One of the other hikers who had joined us asked “did you swim out?” my friend looked at him slightly amused, but I answered, “What? Do you think Neptune pushed him out?” my friend now looked at me “Neptune? The planet?” “no, the god of the sea?” “I thought that’s Poseidon” this is when the fourth hiker, a Spanish speaker chimed in adding in Spanish that Neptune and Poseidon were the same gods belonging to different mythologies.

Eventually we all went our separate ways and as I passed an ATM I paused, I still had cash, but I had now learned how annoying it could be.

A few days later I stayed in Rabadiso. I took a shower washing my hair for a change and texting a German girl I had met on the trail we exchanged a few texts and then I boasted “I have clean hair” to which she replied “I can see Santiago” now there was no way for me to compete. I’d gladly have dirty hair and a view of Santiago, or would I? I liked the trail I was getting closer to my goal, but I wasn’t sure I wanted it to end just yet. I spent a fun evening chatting with an elder British gentleman.

The next night I stayed in a place called Pedrouzo, the trail was forest-like. Every day I walked among trees enjoying the shade. I had bought a copy of The Perks of Being a Wallflower back in Ponferrada, when I wasn’t walking or chatting I would read or sit in silence. I stick clicked as I walked. Every time I saw a Camino sigh, I would double click it. Click-click on stone, crunch-crunch on the gravel thunk-crunch as I walked over a wooden bridge onto a gravel road.

Eventually there was a collection of red roof tops in the distance, Santiago? I checked google maps, I was an hour from Santiago, so yes, those rooftops must belong to the city which was my destiny, the place I had walked to for the passed 5 weeks. I was finally here! In my head I heard David Bowie singing “I, I will be King, And you, you will be Queen … we can be heroes just for one day” arriving in Santiago would make you a hero just for a day. I had done it, climbed the Pyrenees and had my ass touched by a weird waiter and danced on the hills with other pilgrims and had drunk red wine and ate octopus and learned Spanish and rode on the back of a tractor and walked 800km to the very end.

I checked into my hostel, my shoulder aching, I had intended arriving at the cathedral wearing my hiking clothes and my pack, but my shoulder hurt. I put down my pack and took a shower then I headed for the Cathedral, here I knelt at the grave of St. James. I had made it. I was in Santiago de Compostella (St. James of the field of stars).

Life changes & plotholes

Many stories I have been following suddenly seem to contain giant plot holes. Authors add life changes for the characters, but don’t really describe the effect. The authors never lived through drastic life changes and so they don’t really know how it feels to adapt  to an entirely new life or to live very free or in solitude or any of the things they try to convey.

In Twilight, Bella goes from a human girl who loves to cook to a Vampire who never misses cooking. She just automatically adapts, I get the feeling that Stephany Meyer never adapted to a new lifestyle.

In Bunheads, the main character is meant to be this free person who accedentally didn’t finish high school because she went traveling and got distracted and then ended up dancing as a show girl in Vegas. Now one of the girls in the village this showgirl is living in doesn’t want to move  away and instead of acting according to her craze free persnoality and telling the girl to leave and experience life, she just helps her to stay in this tiny little village. Also in Buheads one of the characters breaks up with her boyfrined after 7 or 8 years. This happens early in the season, but she never freaks out or cries or misses him or anything.

Then I watched Me Before You. I could feel the author had traveled and lived, she had experienced change and so she could describe it’s efffects accuretaly. At the end of the movie when the letter is read, the sentence “you’ll be sitting on one of those chairs that never sit quite level on the pavemen. I hope it’s still sunny” it made me feel I am in Paris, it was a tiny piece of info, but it added real-ness.

I have lived in many lifestyles, traveled to many countries and suddenly these small things skipped or added to stories become really noticible to me atleast.

 

Camino – first half

Conveyer belt part of the journey

I was picked up at midnight, Disney princess style and traveled for 11hours until I arrived in Madrid airport and, after losing my taxi driver and myself, I finally found my room.

I struggled a little to find my way around to a cellphone store and finally got a working SIM card so after that I’ve had Google maps and haven’t lost myself again.

I went to bed before 8 that first night exhausted by the day’s journey. The next morning only one fact was lodged in my mind – I had a bus at 10:45. I packed my backpack and ventured out for breakfast. I didn’t understand one word of the menu and ordered the only thing I recognized from another pilgrim’s blog tortilla de patatas (a potato omelette for lack of a better description)

I read Jojo Moyes on the bus and ripped out the first 140pages of the book once I got to Pamplona. I had lost track of time and days, just checking every step as I got to it. I checked my phone for the time telling myself regularly. It was 4pm as I kept trying to anchor myself in the new time zone.

In Pamplona there was a definite feeling of the Pilgrimage. I had arrived by bus, but Pamplona is on the Camino trail, so the others in the hostel had come after a day of hard walking and brought that energy with them.

I shared a laundry machine with two other hikers splitting the cost and having fresh clothes finally. This morning I woke up as the other hikers were leaving and smelled slightly burned toast as they opened and closed the dormitory door. I felt vaguely wrong-footed not being on the trail and then I suddenly realized that this was my last morning of sleeping in for a while tomorrow morning I would be on the trail. I sat bolt up right. I had totally lost track of time just living from bus to bus – tomorrow it would finally start. I snuggled back under my duvet and slept for another hour…

I also had some slightly burned toast for breakfast … and here I am waiting for lunch time, writing my blog, and then another bus.

Traveling with a mini keyboard that connects to my cellphone, so I can document my journey.

 

Camino part 2

I got to St. Jean Pied de Port, I was finally at the start! My bus drove passed my hostel and I froze trying to memorize the route from the bus station to the hostel. My phone wasn’t working, I had a Spanish SIM card with data and I was in France! I grabbed my bag and retraced the route arriving at a hostel called Gite Compostella. A nice house which has been adapted for a hostel. On the tiny patio there were 2 or 3 laundry drying racks. When I got to my pack I had lost my water bottle along the way. I went into town to get my Camino passport and a new water bottle.

The town was picturesque. Small cobbled stone streets filled with stores attempting to sell stuff to pilgrims. I found a water bottle with a clip which I could attach and then never lose it again.

My pack was and is still rather unfamiliar to me, so I unpacked it entirely every time I wanted something. Initially I had stashed my jacket at the bottom thinking I’d only remove it occasionally if it happened to be cold. I soon changed the order, being in the mountains during spring was too unpredictable.

I spent an awful lot of time packing my pack, suddenly remembering I had laundry drying outside and then unpacking and reorganizing and repacking until all my stuff fit.

I went into a cafe and ordered a coffee and a sandwich for the road. “Un sandwich, sil vous plait” I said almost surprised that I could remember some of my self-taught French. “Jambon?” (ham) the lady asked, “et fromage” I said after a pause, her words seemed to take time to register and make sense. “Burre?” (butter) she asked but I heard “bare” no I thought I’d like some butter or olive oil or something. After another beat we understood each other, “oui”. I left after a lovely strong coffee with a sandwich the size of half a baguette sticking out of the side of my pack next to my towel.

I was wearing long pants and a t-shirt early in the mornings while hiking in the foot hills of the Pyrenees mountains. I paused, took off my pack and reorganized. I zipped off the bottom part of my trouser legs and stashed them in my pack, thus turning my pants into shorts. I also put on the vividly pink fluffy inside part of my jacket and kept going.

The trail sloped up and up and up, I looked up and saw a man walking ahead of me, he’s calves also straining as he hiked up the mountain. I was climbing up a mountain which I hadn’t expected, I had only read that the first two days of the trail are the hardest. Soon the only sound I could hear was my own heavy breathing. If I stood still, then I experienced silence.

I walked passed amazing views and realized I was really hungry. I sat down on the first reasonable bolder I could find and had half of my sandwich. The view was spectacularly beautiful. Up, up, up we all walked, the paved road changing into a dirt road which became a muddy trail before turning rocky. I paused again, and again trying to catch my breath. Finally, at a level spot I sat down on a log. I checked the time on my phone, I would sit still for 5minutes before continuing. I had the rest of my sandwich, I felt a lot better and thought that this was a good idea but after walking for 30seconds I was back to breathing like I’d never stopped. At some point I arrived at a water fountain. I drained my entire water bottle and refilled it. I stared in disbelief as some hikers just emptied their “old water” onto the grass and refilled the bottles. I was parched.

Later I chatted with a personal trainer who said you shouldn’t sit down for a rest, just slow your pace. The thing is, your body takes time to get your heart rate up and when you sit down you cool down, so when you start again it takes more energy to get your muscles warm and your heart rate up again.

Suddenly, Orison was in front of me. Orison is what Cheryl Strayed might have referred to as “an outpost of civilization”. It’s nothing more than a hostel and a restaurant with a roaring trade. Here part way up the mountain you get to rest, buy a cup of coffee, some juice, fill up your water bottle buy food. I ordered a ham and cheese sandwich and a beer – I was done for the day even though it was only 11am and I had left my paperback book in my hostel that morning. Now the idea of carrying a light book didn’t seem so bad, but that morning I had no idea what the trail would be like and my bag had seemed too full already.

Every half hour a new batch of pilgrims would arrive. Me and some of the others were spending the night in Orison, but the others continued to Roncesvalles another 5-hour hike away.

I walked back to my hostel room, 800m before Orison, and at the gate I slipped as my ankle gave way and I landed hard on my knee with the weight of my pack crashing down on me. “Aaaah!” I exclaimed in surprise. I remembered the video of a guy who taught how to self-rescue when you fall through ice, give your body a moment to get over the shock, don’t act immediately he said. I adjusted my position into a sitting one. I sat there for a few minutes until the shock passed and I could think. I rested my weight on my scraped knee and my good ankle, pulling myself up with the help of my walking stick.

I had my lunch sandwich outside the hostel watching the mountains. After a lovely nap I had a cold shower and did my laundry. It’s usually impossible to stay in one place more than one night, but I told them that I had hurt myself and they said they’d help me somehow.

During the night I went to the bathroom my knee and my ankle both stiff as I climbed the stairs. How was I going to hike the trail if I couldn’t climb one floor of stairs? Would I have to go back home after only one day on the trail?

This morning I packed up and walked back to Orison, my ankle not hurting but not feeling “right”. I had my breakfast with another pilgrim who was a question asking person which I found rather tiring and pointless. I don’t think he cared at all what I said. But each question was followed by another.

I would be staying over near Orison another night which had two perks, I’d rest my ankle and the nosy pilgrim would head on without me.

I sat down at a table and fiddled around. It was a cold misty day outside, every batch of hikers arriving at Orison looked wet, it wasn’t raining, but the fog left them covered in droplets of water and everyone was attempting to pull a waterproof cover over their backpacks to keep the content dry. Since most of them had only started walking this morning, it didn’t happen naturally, it looked like a struggle. I was joined at my table by an elderly lady who continued her hike after a cup of coffee. Then a couple of really chubby girls who seemed to have bitten off more than they can chew. They left for their rooms soon after finishing their snack. After that a Frenchman sat down. We were polite as far as my limited French allowed us to be but mostly we sat in silence. He had a beer and a large plate of food while I typed and had another ham and cheese sandwich.

It’s now 1pm and I am surrounded by hikers who are flushed with their success of completing the first part of their journey while I am passing time waiting for a miracle to heal my ankle and partly wishing I was on the trail and minorly happy I’m not hiking in fog with a 10m visibility.

 

Camino part 3

Life on the Camino seems to contain so many stories

Yesterday I rested at Orison and by 3pm I got a free lift back to a hostel just outside St. Jean de port (a taxi would have cost almost 50 euro) – spent the night with an English lady from Oxford (I liked the fudge near Queen’s lane I said and she laughed “oh you went into the fudge shop?, knowing exactly where I had walked), a French couple traveling with their 14-year-old and two ladies from Canada.

Orison only accepted cash, which I didn’t expect. I ran out of money by lunch yesterday. I expected to be able to pay the hostel with a credit card, but they didn’t have a machine. The British lady came to my rescue, placing 40euros on the counter, paying for my bed, dinner, breakfast and a lunch sandwich for the next day. I blinked at her, said thank you and then added her on WhatsApp. I paid her back a few weeks later via PayPal, but she saved me that evening. I did draw money, more than usual, when I eventually found an ATM.

She also had medical training and I had her take a look at my ankle and my knee. “No, it’s not painful” “yes, it’s a little stiff” “can you wiggle all your toes?” nerve damage hadn’t even occurred to me, I tried, “yes, but I’m guessing I’m not climbing the rest of the mountain tomorrow?” “no, but if you can walk you can do the rest”.

In the morning the owner of the hostel gave me a lift to St. Jean where a transport would pick me up and I would be dropped off on the other side of the mountain where the easier part of the trail begins.

Everybody I have met thus far has been kind; while walking through a village today, I accidentally left the trail and walked into the village, an elderly Spanish lady directed me back onto the trail out of sheer kindness.

The only other pilgrim taking the transport over the mountain was an overly chatty and very excited new pilgrim who just would not stop talking the entire hour I spent with her. She would ask questions but seem insincere. She talked about her pack, her experiences in a non-stop flow of adrenaline induced excitement without seeming to care whether the driver or I was interested – perhaps just in my mind but still, I was glad to part ways.

I had understood I was staying in Roncesvalles, so when I checked Google maps and found I had 6km to walk I was rather surprised but pleased. It was a test run for my ankle and I was happy being back on the trail, though I reminded myself to check the distances of the hostels and not add an extra 6km to my day accidentally again.

I hadn’t dressed for hiking and after about 10minuts on the trail I realized I was wearing my soft bra, not something for the trail. I extracted my sport bra, looked around. I could hear cars, but the trees were hiding me. I put on the dri-fit Nike bra, manoeuvred myself out of the flimsy one and then put on my t-shirt again. Not long after that I remembered water and food. I hadn’t planned on hiking. I had a little water left in my bottle, but no food. I continued thinking I’d never do this again and then stopping at the first form of civilization I found. Stocking up just in case.

At some point there was a downward slope, I took off my backpack and my water bottle, which I had forgotten to clip on rolled down “no no no!” I started but it just rolled to a stop next to a bush and I vowed to clip it onto me bag every time after that.

I started typing this part of the blog last night but was joined by a Frenchman who spoke no English and later on by a Spanish chef and so blogging was paused. Even though we spoke 3 different languages and came from 3 different countries, magic happened, and we chatted and had dinner together and enjoyed each other’s company and stories. This didn’t always happen, sometimes you felt lonely or conversation was laboursome. You couldn’t communicate despite the person understanding English and you being able to speak French/ Italian/ Afrikaans (if they were Dutch)/ Spanish and the conversation would die away, and other nights magic happened, and we communicated and loved and laughed and shared beyond all the barriers or culture and age and language and whatever.

Today I got up in a single room and enjoyed packing without worrying I might wake someone. I had  slept fitfully but felt rested when I woke. I also found an English book at my hostel, Up by Patricia Ellis Her. When I took a shower, I found what I had read about, other pilgrims had left some cosmetics behind and I topped up my shampoo and conditioner before going on.

For breakfast I had to wait 10minutes for a cafe to open, I ordered a black coffee to start with, a sandwich with mozzarella, lettuce and tomato for the road and a plate of scrambled eggs with bacon on toast for breakfast.

A thin mist hung over the trees. As I understood it, I had left most of the forest and the worst part of the mountain decent behind when I took my bus journey to Roncesvalles. Today I didn’t think I wanted to know what “the worst part” had looked like the previous day. The trail I was descending was treacherous in places.

To avoid erosion those taking care of the trail had added rocks, which usually helped but, in some places, it had been trodden to gravel in others I stepped on lose stones. Then there was the decent on rocks, hard under my feet and causing my toes to complain.

The trail was beautiful. At one point I was plunged into a world of soft blight lime color. The trail was beautiful, but I took my time, descending slowly and due to this I was regularly passed by surer footed speedy hikers.

If I stopped moving the silence would be an amazing sound, but usually I would hear my own footsteps or my breathing in my ears.

On my way from Pamplona to St. Jean the bus had passed a truck next to the road where I saw many pilgrims sitting next to their packs taking a break; when I went to get my pilgrim passport in St Jean I was handed a map and the lady marked Food Truck on it as a point to stop and refill my water bottle. On my guide book app read about the basket of underwear next to the food truck. Today, after a long walk through the trees I found myself entering a clearing and then crossing a tar road across which was the food truck. I ordered Sangria for 1 euro (cheap) and sat down eating my sandwich, resting my feet from the trail and my shoulders from my pack.

An explanation of the basket of (clean) underwear next to the food truck: It was meant as a give and take basket for pilgrims. A lady discarded some uncomfy underwear there, fell in love and got married on the Camino – which lead to a tradition of leaving underwear in the basket, which now contains a sign reading “magic happens” in multiple languages.

I started hiking this morning at 8:30, after my breakfast and by 13:30 I was in my next hostel in Zubiri. I took a shower, hung my laundry, put on my dress and headed to a cafe where I’m sitting while typing this. I ordered the pilgrims menu which was said to come with water and wine. A basket of bread was placed on the table followed by a large jug of water and an entire bottle of wine. I looked at it and then began to nibble the bread. The pilgrims menu was a three-course meal, salad, meat, desert.

My afternoons don’t have a decent rhythm yet, rather I try to do everything that needs to be done after arriving in a new place.

 

Part 4

Just some unchronological snippets of life on the Camino

On the way to Orison there were lizards, small little heat loving geckos that run along the way. These annoyed an elderly lady I met who jokingly said even the lizards move quicker than she does along the Camino.

Then in the forest part after Zubiri (day 3) there were fat 2inch long black snails with spikey bodies oozing their way up trees or along the side of the forest path. I found a patch of water in my way and pocked at it with my walking stick, the stick clicked loudly on rock.

The forest gave way to green fields and farm lands which slowly started to turn into vineyards. The lizards and the snails vanished.

Along the sandy path I found patches of mud. I used my stick again, I pocked the mud and my stick sank inches into the squelchy wet brown earth. I stared at it. It was too wide to step over I was wearing shoes with fat soles that were water resistant or water proof or something, but not entirely, if I stepped into fluid I would at some point soak my shoes. I put my weight gingerly onto my foot which was in the mud it sank down, but I jumped the rest of the mud and continued easily on my way.

In the downhill parts a fellow pilgrim had advised me to bend my knees and it helped a lot. Walking in a slightly squatted position slowed my steps and put some of the weight on my quadriceps (thighs) instead of my calves.

Btw I am currently in Estella for a rest day, eating something so delicious: I pointed and received a cup containing custard topped with cream then a doughy cakey something and finally jam, apricot jam if I’m correct.

I spoke to a man along the way who has walked many different Caminos and arrived in Santiago about 15 different times. He dismissed all the “rules” saying that he has never arrived in Santiago to find someone received a medal and a trophy for doing it “right”. For walking fast or slow enough, for booking or not booking rooms, for having carried the right amount of things, for being spontaneous or adventurous enough. There is no right way to walk the Camino, you find your own way and that’s it!

Yesterday I attempted resting for an hour during lunch. I had a long leisurely lunch with a guy I met along the way thinking it might aid my feet in carrying me further. It did not work. In fact, I think it tired me out more, starting up again after lunch was hard, I walked all the way to Estella and then refused to move the next day, despite having met a lovely girl along the way whom I hoped to spend more time with.

It’s Sunday today and I am taking a rest day, I had initially planned on a rest day every week and this was my first. I packed up my bag since it’s not possible to stay in the same hostel two nights in a row and wandered around town. One elderly Spanish lady walked up to me and pointed in the opposite direction babbling in Spanish and telling me the Camino was in the opposite direction, finally I mentioned, in broken Spanish, to say “No Camino para mi” (no Camino for me). She let me go.

I found an open bakery and set up here for a few hours. I read my book, Up, and wrote my blog on my tiny portable keyboard and relaxed entirely. Through the window I could see the first pilgrims of the day arriving in the town.

 

Things I’ve trashed from my bag: I had read a few packing lists for the Camino. One guy had packed a laundry line saying it took no space (It did!) and that it wasn’t heavy (true) but it was unnecessary, thus far every place I’ve stayed in had a laundry line.

Someone else had suggested a cup, I bought a metal one along with a plate. These I discarded very soon, always in the way and always clanking. My water bottle was enough, and a cafe would always wrap your sandwich for you, so a plate wasn’t crucial.

Next to go was my wash cloth. I could get clean without it. And so, I will repack my bag today, I’ve been on the trail for a week, so this is a good time to reassess everything I’ve packed. Things that seemed like a good idea, the washing line, were entirely unnecessary and kept getting in my way.

That’s it for today I guess.

 

 

 

pre-camino life

And, so each day starts to find its own rhythm.

I am not studying this term, I have a few weeks off and then I’ll be going to hike the Camino de Santiago. Over the passed 6 months I have been cat watching, dog walking and babysitting. Each time earning just enough money to purchase one more item for the Camino until I finally have the backpack, extension cords, dri-fit shirts, hiking pants, quick dry underwear, Scrubba and all the other little things that currently seem like necessities. I’ll see which of it survives the hike – I’ve heard of people leaving things behind on the way.

While I am still in RAK I can’t say I have “nothing to do”. I have started training for the Camino, going down to the beach every morning for an hour long walk. I found a lovely low-carb-keto pancake recipe, so I come home and have a delicious breakfast with salami and cream cheese and hummus and whatever else I find. Then the day is still not scorching outside, and I go for a ride with my bicycle. I usually go to Spinneys to buy food or to the cellar to buy an unnecessary bottle of something; all I truly want to do is cycle – I don’t mind where I’m headed or what I buy usually.

I have things to sort out before the Camino – e.g. applying for a job, so each day I sit down and attempt to handle a few of the things that should be done before the Camino.

I am also back at the gym, can’t really explain why I ever stopped, but I’m back now. I found a nice, short 20-minute workout and whenever I can I go down and try to ensure that I have a strong body which is able to handle the trials of the trail.

I have met a new human, a guy from Germany, who I sometimes chill with. It’s nice to meet new people.  I also chit-chat with a South African bloke and a guy from Lebanon at the gym occasionally.

Just staying alive, eating good, cleaning, exercising it all takes time and energy and it’s odd to think that this is just one part of life. During the times I’m studying I am busy with a lot more than now and somehow it all still gets done.

My plane leaves 3 weeks from now and I am more excited than I have been in a while. After my hike I’ll be back here with a full study load finishing this part of this chapter of live.

A new lasagne recipe has been discovered, it takes 35 minutes, so I get to fall back in love with lasagne. Jamie Oliver’s lasagne takes 4 hours if made from scratch with fresh pasta. I have made this occasionally when I wanted to spend half the day doing mindless enjoyable work, but it’s too much time for a regular meal.

Bloem 2018 – part 2

Writing from photos – always a good option when you can’t remember what happened when.

So, I offered to cook dinner one evening for my host family. I made my chinese chicken fried rice and it turned out totally fine and actually quite yummy. We ate outside, with two oil lamps lighting the night.

I went back to my old home and had coffee with Oom Tommie, after that I climbed the tree out front. I sat on a branch I had sat on of years, I had spent time up there, with my scraped legs and the ands and the leaves the breeze the dark green cocoon. It was brilliant even through I scraped off the skin on my calf on my way up.

I moved on from Me Before You, excellent book, to After You. I went to Mimosa Mall again, I collected my stuff from HDL and finally my street market London ring fit my hand easily without it being frozen outside. I also bumped into some old church friends. Me and the daughter just stared at each other at first, our smiles growing broader until everybody looked up and did the now familiar double take before jumping and hugging me. I sat with them while waiting for my taxi, it was wonderful to see them again.

That evening I was back at the pizza place. The weather was delicious and I introduced my friend to Italian Spritz, we ordered a pizza with spinach (another pizza I am unable to find outside SA) and a bottle of red wine. We sat there for hours, talking, eating, drinking, laughing. The light faded and the pizza finished, the bottle emptied slowly, but surely. We talked about anything and everything. It was a good evening.

Later that night we went dancing. We drove to a club called Route 66 and we didn’t care what we looked like we jumped around dancing and when it was “sokkie dans” she, a regular at the club, found me a partner for two dances. After this she and I danced to the beat, laughing more than I have in a while.

The next day I woke up and headed to the Waterfront I needed to buy the third book, Still Me, I was almost done with the second and I needed something for the rest of my time there and for the plane home. After purchasing the book from Exclusive books, I wanted to sit outside and experience being in that wonderful weather. I sat down at a coffee shop and ordered a South African treat, Malva pudding, which came with a desert wine. I sat there savoring it. I read the last parts of the second book (After You) and ate a pudding I had known since I was a little girl and sipped a wine which suited it perfectly. It melted in my mouth with the custard. The blue sky and the white clouds over head the water glittering and the green trees slightly swaying in the breeze which I also felt on my face.

From the Waterfront I walked down 2nd Avenue to the pizza place yet again – I just wasnn’t ready to head home. I ordered an appatizer and waited for my best friend to join me. After some time had passed I ordered a bottle of red wine, I had a glass. Sipping it slowly, while reading and enjoying being outside. Suddenly, my friend sat down, it was lovely, but she burst my solo travelling bubble. She came, with conversation and pizza was added to the table, she poured a glass of wine and I was forced to abandon my fictional world for the beauty of the real world. We had another spinach pizza and a different type of red wine. and it was a good day.

Thsi was also the day I had snails for the first time. Firstly, let me say that after each of us eating almost half a pizza Havana oh-na-na started playing and despite feeling overly full we started dancing, slowly and it was good. After this I wanted to try snails, she liked them, so if I hated it she could enjoy the whole plate. I didn’t hate it, I didn’t love it, I ate something fishy in a garlic butter sauce, but it wasn’t as gross as I had expected.

That night, my host family and I sat around the wooden kitchen table and chatted. It was fun, me and the man had a beer each, discussing our scars and enjoying each others stories.

The next morning I misread a text, I arrived at the waterfront coffee house at 11h to meet a friend. It was Friday, her text had said Saturday. I finished my sparkeling water and walked down 2nd Avenue. I went into the liquor store the waitress at teh pizza place had mentioned as the place selling the wine I loved.

There is a drought in SA, the wine I want couldn’t be purchased due to the drought. I stared around for a moment I didn’t know what to do with my day. My appointment was for the next day and I had finished everything on my “to-do-list”. I headed to the pizza place, out of habbit.

As I sat down I thought it was as though I had applied a part of my Rome rhythm here in Bloem. I nibbled a salad with blue cheese dressing and finished After You. I went home and had a nap, I walked to Spar, passing my primary school, Bloemies. At Spar I found the Simba cheese chips which I had ate continuously as my matric exams approached. I bought a bag in nostalgia and it, despite all the other changes in the city, these chips tasted the same.

One evening my friend picked me up and we went to buy pizza at Mystic Boer. I had heard of their pizzas 5 years ago and apparently the legendary pizzas still existed. We sat there watching the strangest assortment of people while waiting for our food. After this we headed to her place and had a chilling out girls night with pizza and a movie.

Saturday morning I woke up feeling weird. I had eaten more pizza in the last two weeks than in a  long time. I read somewhere about the chemicals used on SA grain, I hadn’t felt like this in Italy, maybe it wasn’t the wheat, maybe it was something else. I chilled out and later on I walked to Spar.

I loved my walks, and on my way back I smelled smoke and saw a man putting sosaties on the fire. I strolled around Spar a few times. It would me the last time I walked down streets I had walked down growing up. Passed the fire department, over the fire ants, passed the “veldjie”… then I bought some sosaties. It was delicious.

I felt sick, but happy in a way. It was my last day and I sat at home reading the first half off Still Me while drinking 5 Roses Tea, which I haven’t found here. It was great to be able to zone out. I had done everything on my to do list, seen almost all the people I wanted to and the places I had missed. If I wanted to spend time in a fictional world I could. That afternoon I saw oom Tommie for the last time and said goodbye to that particular walk.

After landing on JBH airport I called Jade, an old friend whom I was unable to see while in SA, with the last airtime on my phone. We talked for 45min straight and then I boarded for Dubai.

I devoured Still Me on the plane, being unable to sleep as there were three busy toddlers in my vicinity. and it was a good trip.

***

I can’t remember exactly when, but I also spent a day at the ministry of education trying to locate my high school certificate. Finally, I was helped by the nicest black man who gave me everything I needed to apply.

Rooikat taxis was my mode of transportation when I wasn’t walking. It felt sooo South African having the man who answers the phone inquiring how I was and why I was on the other side of the city; nice though…

Back to Bloem

Now we’re  back to the beginning, its just a feeling…”

It’s been 5 years since I’ve been back to Bloem

I booked an overnight flight from Dubai to Bloem. I slept and read Me Before You and arrived in JHB airport for a 2 hour stopover.

Suddenly I was flying over South Africa – homes with square gardens and trees and pools.

It was Sunday in Bloem warm and quiet and dry. My phone was sorted out and I bought a cupcake from The Bread Shop a place whose cupcakes I have long remembered.

I am living with some old friends of mine, they fill their home with lovely music. After arriving I walked from their home to my old house. Down familiar streets and passed long-forgotten memories. There are two routes from their home to my old place and then again two routes from my old house to Baysvillage. I would walk one route there and the other on the way back.

In front of my house I paused, I knew the people who lived there I could ring the bell and join them. “One thing at a time” said another voice in my head. First get to Bloem and sleep then go see people. I walked on, my feet still knowing the way.

Places had moved and closed, but it was essentially the same collection of shops. DVD stores still exist here, but Steer chips have changed.

Monday morning I went to my old house as planned. I attacked the boxes I had packed years ago. I seemed to have purged the house very decently yeas ago the things remaining in the boxes were mostly stuff I wanted to keep. I did throw out 2 trash bags, stuff that had seemed important years ago and now contained no more value.

I located some old treasures, half a trash bag full of them, and they are now packed safely into my suitcase which arrived almost empty here with the sole purpose of providing space to take things home to Dubai.

My bag wasn’t truly empty when I came, it was filled with lamps. Souvenirs for those people I was going to be seeing. These Arabic lamps were a much greater success than I could have imagined. They were real, not silly little things, but something that people actually enjoyed.

Monday afternoon I returned home to nap, but it was impossible. I called a taxi and went to Preller, sat down at my “regular” table at my old favourite restaurant, Coobah. I walked over the once familiar square, but due to construction I couldn’t place myself. Too much of the place was obscured and I felt dislocated. I crossed the road to the tattoo parlour to ask for a piercing, the place seems to be doing very well, since they now work only with appointments.

I walked over to the hardware store for some necessities and ran into an old friend. At the end of the day I was dropped off by a taxi.

Tuesday morning I went to Mimosa Mall, it had changed due to time and construction. Almost everything I wanted to do took less time than I imagined. I was still sleeping badly.

I met up with and old girlfriend for cocktails. While at the airport waiting for my flight I had ordered my first ever vodka martini and enjoyed it enough to order it again tonight. We had a good time together, it was as though we were meeting up for our old regular cocktail evenings.

Wednesday was pizza gorgeous glorious pizza, I had always ordered the avocado pizza in Bloem and never thought that I wouldn’t find it anywhere else in the world. Literally, from New York to Prague I haven’t found avocado and bacon on a pizza. I ordered it here and it was just as good as I had remembered. Here finally was something that hadn’t changed or diminished or been altered by time.

Thursday I spent time in Kloppers and the Waterfront mall, deciding that I should spend less time n shops. I got what I needed though, but malls are malls. Unless you really need something there’s no true point in wondering among shops, even if you do recognize the names.

I called a taxi, over the control I heard the guy say “gaan laai daai meisiekind op”. Later that afternoon I returned to Preller, to Coobah, I decided to walk home. It was a lovely 40min walk.

Later my friend picked me up and we went out for sushi which to my surprise was really good. Decent sushi has arrived in Bloem.

Most days I walk to Spar and back, not because I need anything, just because I enjoy walking. Trying to fit all my favourite haunts into the time I’m here without hurting my body.

Friday evening I went for dinner at some old friends. The boys I had known had turned into teenagers, but it was good to see them all again.

Saturday morning a taxi took me to the Boeremark. It was nice being surrounded by South African creativity again. The type of things SA people enjoy making. I had pannekoek and a sosatie. I walked around buying almost nothing in the end.

The weather was gorgeous and so I had the taxi drop me off at the hardware store and I walked back home. It would have been a 40min walk, but I walked slowly, then paused at Baysvillage, bought a  “boerewors rol”, passing by the park with the little train on my way home.

The times I spent at home I was reading Me Before You, taking short breaks from reality and enjoying myself.

This evening I went for pizza at Bella Casa, an old favourite. I was surprised to see Italian Spritz on the drinks menu. I ordered it and momentarily I could taste Rome. The pizza was good, but as south African’s would have it, there was a lot of cheese on top.

Sunday morning was the first time I set an alarm. I wanted to be sure I got to church on time. I only had one full non-jetlagged Sunday in the city. I got a lot of people who did a double-take when they saw me and even more so at the church. It was good to see them all again. I did a lot of growing up at that church.

I was finally sleeping better, and then it was Monday morning, today and other than having pizza for lunch I had no concrete plans for the day.

 

 

Life changes & plot holes

Many stories I have been following suddenly seem to contain giant plot holes. Authors add life changes for the characters, but don’t really describe the effect. The authors never lived through drastic life changes and so they don’t really know how it feels to adapt  to an entirely new life or to live very free or in solitude or any of the things they try to convey.

In Twilight, Bella goes from a human girl who loves to cook to a Vampire who never misses cooking. She just automatically adapts, I get the feeling that Stephanie Meyer never adapted to a new lifestyle.

In Bunheads, the main character is meant to be this free person who accidentally didn’t finish high school because she went traveling and got distracted and then ended up dancing as a show girl in Vegas. Now one of the girls in the village this showgirl is living in doesn’t want to move  away and instead of acting according to her craze free personality and telling the girl to leave and experience life, she just helps her to stay in this tiny little village. Also in Bunheads one of the characters breaks up with her boyfriend after 7 or 8 years. This happens early in the season, but she never freaks out or cries or misses him or anything.

Then I watched Me Before You. I could feel the author had traveled and lived, she had experienced change and so she could describe it’s effects accurately. At the end of the movie when the letter is read, the sentence “you’ll be sitting on one of those chairs that never sit quite level on the pavement. I hope it’s still sunny” it made me feel I am in Paris, it was a tiny piece of info, but it added real-ness.

I have lived in many lifestyles, traveled to many countries and suddenly these small things skipped or added to stories become really noticeable to me at least.