Slip ‘N Slide

Maybe hiking a steep stone trail in the rain wasn’t my best idea.  But it was my first afternoon in the Cinque Terre, and I wanted to get out there.  So off I went climbing up and up and up towards the Madonna di Montenero Sanctuary high above Riomaggiore.

The light rain didn’t faze me.  I know there’s a chance I’ll have a wet day or two on the Camino, so I’ve gone out walking every day – rain or shine.  In any other year of my life, rainy days would find me curled up indoors with a good book.  I laughed to myself.  I was impressed with how much I’d changed my habits and myself in preparation for the Camino. There was another change that needed to take place though.  I needed some uphill practice.  Miles of walking on flat paved surfaces are not going to help me hike through the Pyrenees (which I must do on my first two days of the Camino).

So after settling into my hostel, I started up at 4:45pm.  I saw just two women coming down during my forty-five minute hike up.  They each had a pair of walking sticks.  That’s when it hit me.  I turned around and looked at the slick stones I’d just ascended.  That’s not going to be fun walking down, I thought, wishing I had some walking sticks.  I looked around but grapevines weren’t going to cut it.

I plugged ahead, deciding the walk would be worth it, and I was right.  If you think the views from the Cinque Terre are amazing, hike a little higher.  I’d post pictures, but am having some technical difficulties.

I took dainty baby steps on the descent.  Stairs were done one at time.  Watching only my feet, I thought of a few things to be thankful for:

  1. The residents of Riomaggiore who put railings between their property and the trail – something to hold onto!
  2. The patches of grass growing between the stones – much better to step there than to slide down the slick stones.
  3. The two girls who passed me as I was walking down.  At least if something happened to me, I knew there’d be two people coming back down the trail that I could call to.

When I reached the bottom, I walk also thankful to have all my parts intact.  No sprained ankle, no broken leg, not even a scratch.  It would be devastating to get injured on these trails.  Not only because I’m alone and far from home, but because then I wouldn’t be able to do the Camino.  I’ll be much more careful here on out.

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For those of you worried about my safety:

  • Before hiking, I leave a note in my room as to where I’m going and when I should be back.
  • If I can go with others from the hostel, I’ll consider it.  But I do like being on my own schedule.
  • The trails I’m taking are not back woods types of things.  They’re pretty commonly used by tourists.
  • The two trails that had the mudslide in October are closed.  I’m not a rule-breaker, so will not be climbing gates to get to them.
  • If I’m meant to die falling off a cliff into the ocean on the Italian coast, so be it.  It’s a hell of a way to go, no?

 

Serendipity – In a Train Station

I could feel him behind me.  He and I obviously didn’t have the same idea of  ‘personal space.’  As he got even closer, I wondered if this short, tanned, elderly Italian man was trying to cut in front of me?  I stood my ground in line for the automatic ticket machine.  He shifted behind me, looking over my shoulder to the woman in front of me, watching as she typed her selections into the machine.  He looked to the left at the man making his choices on the next machine.  He looked around the station, nervously shifting his weight, still too close.

The woman in front of me finished her transaction, gathered her ticket, and walked off.  I approached the machine and was thrilled to see the British flag indicating the machine spoke my language.  The man shifted behind me.  Was he actually looking over my shoulder?  I typed in Florence as my destination.

“Firenze? (Florence?)” he asked.  This was followed by a fluster of Italian while the man pointed from the paper in his hand to my screen to the trains.  All I understood was that there was a train in three minutes and he wanted me to be on it.  I looked at his ticket.  The destination?  Padova.  I had no idea where that was. 

“Non capisco italiano (I don’t understand Italian),” I told him.  He continued on anyway.  “Parla inglese? (Do you speak English?)” I asked.  Obviously not.  He finally pointed to a ticket agent and waved his hand for me to follow him.

In rapid-fire Italian he explained his dilemma to the bi-lingual woman.  She then explained it to me: His ticket was for a train leaving in a few minutes.  He bought it discounted on-line but needs to take a later train.  He can’t get a refund so he’s trying to sell it to me.  Florence -my destination- is on the way to Padova.  She told me the ticket to Florence is normally 45 Euros and I could work out with him whatever I wanted. 

I handed over 40 Euros and the man escorted me to my train saying over and over again, “Grazie, grazie.” (Thank you.)

With that, I was on my way to Florence. Or so I thought.   

I stowed my backpack and secured my seat.  I had no reservation for a place to stay in Florence.  I had followed my intuition and not booked anything for my first night in Italy.  This alarmed me only the day before I left.  But the feeling passed.  Now I knew why.  I was due to meet my sister in Venice the next day.  My rough plan had been to stop in Florence, spend the night, and hop a train the next day to Venice.  In my hands was a ticket all the way to Padova – a mere half-hour from Venice.   My five Euro savings increased to 18.  I took the train all the way to Padova, found myself a place to stay, and the next day continued on. 

 

Pack Lightly

I know it went out to the masses, but I feel like he wrote it just for me.  And I wanted to share it with you.  Here’s a recent post by Leo Babauta.  I get inspiration from a lot of people and places.  Leo is one of my favorites from the blogosphere:)


Empty-Handed, Full-Hearted

Posted: 16 Mar 2012 04:49 PM PDT

Post written by Leo Babauta.

We often load ourselves up when we travel, because we want to be prepared for various situations. This burden of being prepared leaves us with our arms full, unable to receive whatever is there when we arrive.

It leaves us tired from carrying, so that we are not happy when we meet someone new on our travels.

What if we traveled with empty hands, ready to embrace new experiences, receive new foods, touch new people?

We might feel less prepared when we leave, but the preparedness is an illusion. Stuff doesn’t make us prepared. Having empty hands but a heart that is full of love leaves us prepared for anything.

This doesn’t just apply to taking a trip, but to living each day. Each day is a journey, and we load ourselves up with material possessions, with tasks and projects, with things to read and write, with meetings and calls and texts. Our hands are full, not ready for anything new.

Drop everything, be open to everything.

Enter each day empty-handed, and full-hearted.

Another Serendipity Story

Not a hair was out of place.  Her skin was flawless.  On her face was just the right amount of makeup to accentuate her already impeccable visage.  Her suit, her shoes – she was everything I pictured a corporate America consultant to be.  Next to her, I looked like the newbie I was.  But she didn’t make me feel that way.  The first accented words she spoke (she was from Grenada) made me laugh and put me at ease.  I would come to hear her infectious laugh plenty over our next year working together, and it lifted my spirits in that dreary job plenty of times.

Over the kitchen table at her grand Victorian vacation home, we talked about our dreams.  Hers was to open a clothing boutique in Brooklyn.  Years later, she was doing just that.  We kept in touch, but it’d been years since last we spoke.

Two weeks ago, our paths crossed again – in a way I never would have imagined.

I had two thousand more frequent flyer miles to collect before I’d have enough for my trip to Spain.  I had a plan for getting those miles.  It was complicated, but in two weeks I’d be able to book my flight to Spain.  So I announced the following on Facebook: the countdown begins: Two weeks from today I’ll have enough Frequent Flyer miles to book my flights for the Camino. Let’s hope Delta still has openings on the flights I need! 🙂

Two hours later, my old friend responded: How are you Rebecca? Am I allowed to transfer some of my miles to you? I will happily do so and live vicariously through you!

Really? I literally jumped out of my seat and started jumping around the living room.  Then, I calmed myself down and looked at my frequent flyer account again.  Oh dear.  It wasn’t 2000 miles that I needed.  It was 12,000.  I called her anyway.  As a former traveling consultant, 12,000 miles was no problem for her.  Not only that: she also offered to pay the fee associated with the transaction.  She explained, “A while back you came down to my house to help me get organized.  This is my way of paying you back.”  Tears filled my eyes.  “You have no idea how much this means to me!” I said.

An hour after we hung up, she e-mailed me to say she had completed the transaction.  I would have my miles in 24 hours.  The next day, I booked my flights.

But it wasn’t just this friend who helped me get miles.  Thanks to travelhacking.com, I learned which credit cards give you the best sign-on bonuses: thousands of miles just for opening a new card.  But some gave me thousands more if I charged $4000 in 4 months.  I don’t spend that kind of money so the call went out to my family.  My sister’s Lasik surgery?  Put it on my card!  Appliances for another sister’s new house?  Put them on my card!  New equipment for Dad’s business?  Here’s my card number!

So to all those who helped me get the frequent flyer miles I needed to get to Spain, thank you, thank you, thank you!

Seek and Ye Shall Find

“Do you have a hat yet?” she asked.

“No, but that’s on my list of things I want to bring.”

“I have one if you want to borrow it – a hat just for hiking.  And the best thing about it?”  She cupped her hands like she was holding a balloon, then brought them closer together.  “You can squish it up and put it in your bag.”

This seems to happen to me nearly every day.  Things, people, opportunities come to me.  They come to you, too,  if you start looking out for them – and believe that they exist.

The hat?  That was my friend Elizabeth Anne who offered it.  Remember the hike I wrote about yesterday?  Well, did you wonder how I got from the end of my hike back to my car?  Elizabeth Anne.  She and a couple friends from my writing group just so happened to be taking a tour at Val-kill that day.  They invited me to join them.  I declined but said, “Hey – if I walk over there, would you mind bringing me back to my car after you’re done with your tour?’  They didn’t mind at all.

They picked me up and Madeline said, “I’ve got a lot of food at my house – leftovers from yesterday.  Would you all like to come back and eat some of it?”  Well yes.  After walking nearly 8 miles, I’d love to!  And also have the opportunity to spend more time with these lovely folks?  My how I’m blessed!

I’m not usually one to quote the Bible.  Nothing wrong with doing so, it’s just not something I find myself doing very often.  But there’s some good stuff in there.

What this all brings to mind is Matthew 7:7 which says something along the lines of, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”  Those words always appear in my head in a song I sang a lot when I used to go to church.  It’s a lovely tune by Karen Laffery.

“You get what you put out there,” people have said to me lately when I tell them of all my serendipitous moments.  “The universe sends you what you need.”  Indeed it does.  Open your heart to it.  See what comes to you.  I’d love to hear about it:)

 

Three Pillows

I nestled myself into bed, head sinking into the pillow.  I turned onto my side, reached for a second pillow, and stuffed it between my knees.  Then, I grabbed a third pillow to wrap my arms around.  Perfectly comfortable, I closed my eyes and a little old lady’s voice came into my head.  “Travel when you’re young.  And when you have no money.  Because you can sleep anywhere and not feel it the next morning.”

Those words fueled my travels for many years.  I first heard them when I was eighteen years old, standing in the Reception Hall at the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site.  Bedecked in my Park Ranger uniform, it was my job to greet visitors entering the home.  After checking their tickets, I then told them all the things they couldn’t do: chew gum, take flash pictures, touch anything.  When there was a lull at the front door, I’d eavesdrop on people’s conversations.  If they said, “I wonder who that is?” while looking at the bust in the foyer, I’d pipe in,  “We think that’s Zeus – but we don’t know for sure because there’s no documentation about it.”  Most of the time that’s all it took for visitors to realize I wasn’t there solely to enforce the rules.  I actually knew about this place and could tell them some pretty interesting stuff.

Bus groups were my favorite.  First, because I loved when it was busy.  And in my first season as a Park Ranger, we could have as many as five buses of tourists some days.  Secondly, bus groups were mostly senior citizens and I love those folks.  They’re usually funny and wise, and I got equal parts of laughter and wisdom in my conversations with them.  I didn’t realize it then, but now I know why I like working with them so much: we have the same outlook on life.  Do what you want now, because you’re not getting any younger.

I remember that little white-haired lady, name tag around her neck, dispensing her advice shortly into our conversation.  She lamented that she wasn’t walking so well today and blamed it on not being in her own bed the night before.  The crux of her advice was that, as a young person with little money, I could afford to stay in cheap places with crappy beds – and wouldn’t have to pay for it with aches the next day.  I remember telling my boyfriend (a Park Ranger on duty with me that day) what she said.  I remember we took her words to heart that summer. Though that relationship didn’t last, her words stuck around.

As I recalled her advice snuggled into my bed last night, I laughed to myself  thinking, “You know, Rebecca, you’re not going to have three pillows to sleep with on the Camino…”  Though then I thought, “Maybe I can bring a couple – pillows are light.”  I did just pull out my backpack yesterday and wonder what I would fill all that space with.

Another successful dreamer….

I was dragging.  The clean laundry laid on my unmade bed.  The red suitcase on the floor  waited for me to unpack it.  I had Pandora playing on my computer and was trudging through organizing Christmas bags, boxes, and bows when my phone rang.  I was delighted to see it was my friend Carolyn, with whom I’d been playing phone tag for weeks.

Carolyn left her job in NYC in October to follow her dream of becoming a comedy screen writer in LA.  But following your dream can be hard.  Carolyn’s moved from friend’s house to friend’s house.  Last we talked, we laughed over our shared experiences of living out of our cars, spending too much time trying to figure out where the supermarket was in the town we were in, and where we’d stay when we moved on from this friend’s house.

But in between all that, Carolyn’s performed in a couple Mortified shows and made connections.  It’s amazing who knows someone who can help you once you put a dream out there.  Like the lawyer at the cubicle job you hated in NYC who has a friend who’s in the business out in LA.  It seems every time I talk to Carolyn, she’s made three more connections.

Today, though, she wondered about her writing.  All this “free time” wasn’t really that free when you, in essence, have no place to call home nor any consistency in your life. We brainstormed ideas for alternative living arrangements so that the worry of where to live could be taken off her plate and therefore give her some writing time.   “I e-mailed the director of a writing residency program I did ten years ago to see if they have a spot,” she told me, but she wasn’t too optimistic.

I gave her as much encouragement as I could, having been in her shoes many times before.  She generously thanked me, as she always does.  I told her that the words I’m often speaking to her are the ones I need to be reminded of myself, so it goes both ways.

A short while later, my phone rang.  It was Carolyn again.  “You’re not going to believe this,” she said.  That writing residency program in New Mexico?  They just had a cancellation.  The director had been thinking about her – they’d found a picture from the last time she was there and had it up on their table for the last few months.  The open spot would give her a cottage in which to live for twelve weeks, and they would welcome her to come take it.  Coincidence?  Nope.  That’s just Carolyn – putting a dream out there.  Instead of waiting for life to fall into her lap, she chases all her leads.  And then something works.

Congratulations, Carolyn.  Happy writing:)