Chasing Fairies. Chasing Dreams

 

I woke up on Monday morning knowing that I would finally be visiting a part of the world that sparked so many thoughts and dreams inside my mind. Over one year ago, I remember sitting in that cafe with my good friend Rebecca very clearly. Traveling had been but a teeny, tiny thought in the back of my mind at this stage. There were still things to consider, choices to make, a conscience to follow. We reached the topic of Ireland and I expressed how much I dreamed to experience their culture one day. Rebecca had taken a recent trip to Scotland and almost instantly brought up this mystical destination. With excitement in her eyes she told me, “If you’re going to be near Scotland, you must go see The Fairy Pools.” We pulled up a photo on my phone and as they appeared, I was struck with amazement. The atmosphere seemed to sparkle with true magic and called out to me as a place I needed to be and absolutely could be. Looking at this photograph had me thinking of the many other almost unbelievable places the world holds. You read about them in the top ten books, watch them as backdrops in famous films and then wonder how you’ll ever be able to reach them yourself one day. They tend to seem so surreal. As I studied that photograph closer and closer, it hit me. For the first time in a long time, I realized that nothing was holding me back from immersing myself in these places that ignited such a passion and inspiring flame within me. I wanted to see them, didn’t I? Then why couldn’t I make the leap? I didn’t have permanent ties or commitments that had me stapled to the ground. In fact, nobody in this world really does. We choose our priorities and in that moment I was so sure of what mine were. My bucket list wasn’t going to sit in a corner and become torn as time passed me by. I needed to travel and The Fairy Pools would be seeing me very, very soon.

 
I had wondered for quite some time how I would possibly be able to reach the pools. The Isle of Skye is a located  in a very remote and very northern part of Scotland. This place is a secluded and beautiful paradise. Everywhere you look you’re protected by a wall of the Coolin mountains or a forest of brightly coloured Autumn trees. It surrounds you daily and calms your soul. I felt so many emotions as I stepped off that bus and noticed that this town of Kyleakin was about ten buildings long with a view of the Loch right outside the hostel windows. A vibrant rainbow dipped into the bridge across the way and welcomed me in. After settling into my friendly hostel with one of those roaring fires I enjoy so much, I walked with a smile on my face along the rocky beach and took in the clean, untouched air. Every rock was a unique shape and colour and the sun continued to shine. 
 
The sky darkens very quickly at 5pm around here so I made the most out of the three hours I had until evening took over. I took a beautiful walk up and through what they call Fox Hill located directly behind my hostel’s backyard. I had found myself a dream land entirely separate from the rest of society, how else can I possibly describe Skye? Every view point had me starring like a love sick puppy and feeling so, so lucky to be there in that moment. 
 

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Grateful that my temporary home offered free hot chocolate, I cuddled up with a cup that night and met a wonderful lady named Sarah who had just started working at the hostel that week. I explained my story and desperate need to see the Fairy Pools while here. She responded with a smile. That was exactly the same dream that brought her to Skye a few years ago and she had nothing but amazing things to say about the affect it has on her soul. “If you’re into energy, what you feel while there is incredible and will hit you the second you step into the realms. The minute I arrived, I knew right away that I needed to stay in Skye for just a little longer.” Our whole conversation had me jumping in my seat with excitement and anticipation for what the pools would hold for me. Sarah and I connected and bonded over the magic that drew us to this Island with just one glance at what it has to offer. We sat on the couch by the fire and shared our lives, views and love for our similarities. Most of all, I was thankful for her direction. She explained in perfect detail how I would be able to reach the main hiking point and then take the stunning walk to the home of the fairies. I was a little discouraged at first. The only way I would be able to enjoy this experience without rush would be to hitchhike as early the next morning as possible. “Don’t worry”, she assured me. “People on this island know how hard it is to get around. You’ll get picked up no problem and you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.” I had never hitchhiked before but had met so many travellers who had and ended up meeting very interesting people in the process. The thought always made me nervous as much as it intrigued me. It seemed like such a risky adventure and I’d secretly hoped I would be faced with it just so I could see for myself how thrilling it could be. 
 
The next morning I took a scrawny scrap of cardboard from the bin and wrote my destination in thick sharpie on the front: Sligachan. With my heart held high, I made my way to the roundabout and stood at the side of the road looking as helpless as possibly and praying to God someone would take pity on me. Well, that’s how I started at least. I soon realized that I needed to be a little more prompt with my sign and stuck it out confidently. Within minutes of standing there in the rain, a car pulled over and I peaked inside. I saw a man, a small woman and a little white dog. Using my judgement, I was sure they were the least threatening people that could have stopped and I hopped in. The two of them were passing by Sligachan on their way to Portree and were happier than ever to give me a lift. Gotty, their sweet and soft puppy affectionately greeted me in the back seat. They introduced themselves as Savine and Dan, a couple from London who had taken time to visit friends in Scotland. Savine had done a ton of backpacking and hitchhiking during her younger years so she related to me right away. I answered every question they asked about my journey and we talked non-stop through the hour long drive. Dan, I found out, is an illustrator and former teacher in Glasgow which explained his respect for the artistic career I’m planning to take on full force. Both of them are such incredibly generous and warm people and I couldn’t thank them enough for empathizing with my need to navigate around this desolate land. They were so interested in everything I had to share and I felt support from them for all I was doing seconds after we met. I’m always saying that everything happens for a reason and it just keeps proving itself. Savine has a good friend based in New York, a photographer known for her portraits who has been known to take assistants. Who knows where it will lead or if it will amount to anything at all. What I do know is that the exact amount of time I overslept that morning, the minute I pushed open that door and the cars that passed me by all lined up so I would meet this amazing couple. Hitchhiking wasn’t so scary after all and it really does bring a big, big thrill. 
 
Arriving in Sligachan, I asked the man at the one and only building in the entire town for directions to the path and set out for my trek. The sign reading: Glen Brittle, 4.6km had me giddy with excitement knowing that the pools were just a few hours away. I was shocked at the beauty of this walk. I had no idea that the hike to the pools was going to be just as amazing as the final destination. The Coolin mountains that surrounded me were snow capped and captivated me every step. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. You think about how many people are on this planet and how busy everything seems. The world keeps moving but through it all, there are places of absolute peace and stillness and I felt like I was the only soul in the world that had found it. Nobody was around me for miles and I was two inches tall against a backdrop that could have been snatched out of a postcard. I walked for over two hours, following a rickety wooden sign with the words PATH painted on the front. It wasn’t much of a path at all, really. Much like Mount Croagh Patrick, it had me jumping over rocks and scaling the sides of hills dropping down to waterfalls. It sure wasn’t for the weak. I took my sweet time and thanked the sun for once again shining brightly on a day when I needed it the most. 
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Finally, I found someone walking toward me on the trail and we stopped to photograph the same pond reflecting the peaks. He confirmed that I was in fact heading in the right direction and the pools were waiting for me at the end of the path. I continued on and had been wishing several times for a tripod. The lighting cast a shadow over almost everything and my photos weren’t having any of it. It was as if someone had heard my thoughts. I suddenly approached a beautiful waterfall and knew that I had arrived. A man sat crouched in front of it, balancing a tripod on a jagged rock. “Would you like to have a go with it?”, he asked me. I kid you not, this man proceeded to connect my camera to his tripod and let me use it for as long as I needed to get a clear and bright shot of the beautiful sanctuary in front of us. As Santiago in Paul Coelho’s The Alchemist always says, 
 
“when you want something, all the Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” 
 
They directed me to a path that ran through at least eight different waterfalls within the canyon. These were the Fairy Pools and that energy that Sarah had talked so highly about was just as incredible as she described. You really could feel it as you walked up and over each hill and skipped along the rocks to reach the other side of the flowing rivers. Being set beside such a grand backdrop never had me feeling so safe and protected. Sure, you can blame it on my imagination. I really did transform the little fluttering bugs into sparkling fairies with wings. It was hard not to in a place like this. It had my mind running wild with inspiration and nothing beats the feeling you get when you know you’ve checked another item off the list of things you’ve been dreaming to do for so long. 

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 I decided to find a secluded spot and take in some moments before walking back. I traveled as far as the trail would take me and spotted a patch of crystal clear water shimmering with turquoise touches. This is another aspect of the pools that make them such a wonder. If you find a section of water that’s stayed calm amongst the rushing falls, it glows several shades of blue attributing to its name and purpose. I almost gasped at the sight of it. The funny thing is, what I was looking at right then wasn’t at all like the photo that is posted on my vision board at home. Aside from the blue waters, what I’d first laid eyes on had been an extremely colour enhanced version of what I was seeing. You would think this would disappoint me but in reality, where I was could never be captured at all. It was much, much better than any google image out there and nothing could have prepared me for it. Everything boiled down to how my heart and mind felt while I was there and that was something I needed to be present for. 
 
I carefully took off my shoes and tip-toed across the rocks to the paradise I had found. Sitting on the grassy ledge, I dipped my toes in very slowly and the ice cold water took over my whole body. I had originally thought to take a quick swim but was very glad I didn’t attempt it after experiencing how freezing cold it was. Swimming in the Atlantic last month was one thing, swimming here would have been stupid. All I needed was a bit of time to make my mark and place just one part of me into the magic waters. I sat there, looked around and smiled. This was definitely the moment I had been waiting for. 
 

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For the first time in hours I decided to check the time. Sure enough, I had been so lax about my pace that it had already reached 3:30 and the bus from Sligachan left at 5pm. Not only that, but the sun was going to start heading down soon and I wasn’t about to be hiking through this with no light. Still, I took my time walking. Regardless of what happened with the bus, I would get home. I wasn’t about to rush the one thing I had come here to see. But as the sky began to dim and the beautiful red sunset that I couldn’t stop admiring faded away, slight panic set in. I had to take my time so I wouldn’t fall into a ditch from running, but I sped up my pace as much as possible and prayed I would make it on time. I arrived in town at 5:10 and at this point it was so dark I was sure no one would be picking me up if I hitched my way back. The hotel that had given me directions to the path was locked up and every light was out. The bus had clearly left. There was no one around for miles and I was literally in the middle of nowhere. The lesson of “everything works out” that I learned with the sunflowers in Pisa has done me well every single time but this was one of the first moments where I was almost certain I would be stuck out here all night long. I even began brainstorming how I would keep myself warm overnight. Drama queen, I know. I was shocked at how down I suddenly became. I felt so helpless standing in the dark and the rain, entirely lost and with little hope for a rescue. Before things escalated too quickly, I snapped myself back into reality. Things do always come together if I believe they will. Why did I need any more proof?
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I remembered the small piece of cardboard in my bag and pulled it out. It was crumpled and wet but I did my best to scribble a sloppy  KYLEAKIN on the front in big, bold letters. Only one or two cars passed by every five minutes but it was worth a shot. I stuck out my sign once again and held my hope high. Whatever did drive down the road passed me by for the next ten minutes. Then, out of nowhere, a white car pulled over and two people in their mid-twenties were inside, asking me where I was headed. They were going to a hostel in Broadford which was on the way but not quite where I needed to be. Regardless, it was still closer than I was and they agreed to drive me there. The two of them, Anya and Fabia are from Hungary and are cousins traveling the area to visit friends. Both of them were very sweet and soft natured. When we arrived in Broadford, they wished me luck on picking up my next ride and drove off. I was a little bummed about having to hitch for a third time at that stage but had a little more hope this time that it would work in my favour. 
 
Seconds later, the Hungarian cousin’s came driving back and pulled up beside me. “We read our directions wrong”, they said. “We’re actually headed to the same place you are!” They laughed and pointed at the hostel photograph, wondering how in the world they mixed up the cities. “Hop in”, they told me. I was so relieved. What were the odds that out of all the cars (or lack thereof), they one that stopped was heading to my hostel in the middle of nowhere. Everything falls into place. I should have known. 
 
Skye also brought me a few other sights. The next day I took a tour to The Fairy Glen (I’m sensing a theme here). This island is quite well known for their inhabitance. In this area, everything surprisingly seems to shrink down in size. The hills get smaller, the trees get shorter and there’s no doubt it feels like a sacred place. According to the myths, no one should ever leave or take anything from the premise or you’re bound to have bad luck for the rest of your life. I was just as captivated about this place as I was the pools but in a very different way. We didn’t end up staying long. The rain began to poor, the hail began to fall and we rushed into the bus for shelter. Just for good measure, we still ended up taking a hike down to a gorgeous waterfall and something at the end of our walk made the whole thing worth it. Those rainbows, they always shine down at the end of every storm. 
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Before I left for Edinburgh, Scotland at the end of October, I stayed with yet another Camino friend and her family (which you will eventually read about). Mary is an incredible lady from Derry in Northern Ireland and her hospitality blew me away like all the rest. When she heard I would be heading for the pools the next month and wasn’t sure how I would find my way, she came downstairs holding a small pin. It was a tiny golden fairy. “I hope you find the fairies”, she said as she clutched my hand around it. Mary, I promise you I did. I really did. 
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Ain’t no Mountain High Enough. Ain’t no Valley Low Enough

The Cliffs of Moher and Mount Croagh Patrick added to the list of stunningly beautiful scenery that had been consuming me day after day in Ireland. Each being situated in a very small and quaint town, I’ve almost been turned off by the city life I enter in between tiny destinations (which is saying a lot coming from myself whom I’ve deemed a “city girl” time and time again). I just want to stay in the little towns forever these days. I think it has to do with my mental state. The environment I’m in matches the inner workings of my brain. Clear, free and peaceful. 
 
Laurie, a woman from Montanna was my angel and traveling friend for my trip to The Cliffs and the town of Doolin. As I mentioned in my previous post, I met Laurie in Dingle beside the fire in that cute little living room. She had rented a car for her vacation and when she heard I would be taking four busses to reach the town just outside of the cliffs, she offered to give me a lift. After all, we were heading to the same place, staying in the same hostel and every solo traveler enjoys a little bit of company now and then after days of solitude. Still, every part of me was grateful for her generosity and I practically bowed at her feet for saving me the hassle of almost a full day of travel. 
 
We drove and stopped along the way for almost six hours and never once did we run out of things to talk about. Laurie may have been old enough to be my mother but her age didn’t once dictate how I saw her. She acted like a friend. Her openness to get to know me and youthful spirit had me seeing her as someone who could have been twenty for all I knew. The two of us road through a few “ghost towns” as we called them since things seemed to completely shut down outside of tourist season and we even took a small back road to stop at a mysterious castle that I had to hop the stone wall to get a closer look at. She leant me the ingredients to make a PB and J sandwich on my lap in her car. That was pretty much the deal breaker. This lady was cool. 
 
I had almost let the idea of seeing The Cliffs of Moher pass me by. I saw signs everywhere in Dublin, advertising day trips and deals to see these things. I didn’t see the big deal really. It just looked like a few cliffs and some water…the photos weren’t that breathtaking really. I thought to myself, “must be just another tourist trap…I think I’ll skip it.” After having seen them there, presenting themselves so proudly, I want to go back in time and shake myself silly. The Cliffs of Moher almost became a seventh wonder of the world. I’m not sure who the idiots are that grant that sort of prestigious status but they must have been having an off day because this true wonder didn’t make it. That’s okay, they’ll be an honorary eighth in my mind forever. Because we didn’t arrive inside a huge, honk’n tour bus, Laurie and I were able to walk a trail that took us right over the cliffs and through a less traveled walking path. I was so thankful for this because it helped make the experience my own without the distraction of clicking camera’s and chatty kids. Wow, don’t I sound like an old lady. It’s true though that this is something you need to experience with a completely open space and a clear head. The only camera I wanted to hear clicking was my own. ImageImage
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We walked all the way to a place titled “Hags Head” and couldn’t for the life of us figure out why. Anyway, the castle that sat as our destination stood perfectly on the edge of the cliff in all its beautiful loneliness. We passed by sheep and cows in the fields and I fell on my butt in the mud one too many times because I was stupid enough to wear Berkinstocks when I had a perfectly good pair of hiking shoes in the back of the car. Lesson learned. There was this one moment where we passed by two elegant, white horses. They rested there silently chewing on grass. I was mesmerized by their presence. Horses have played some magical role in my journey. I always encounter a few in each country and feel so in tune with them, like they have secrets to share or wisdom to give. Through the rain and the wind, I walked along this beautiful path and looked behind me every second to admire my surroundings. 
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The two of us left feeling happy and accomplished. Just down the road stood the little hostel we were to call home for the night. It couldn’t have looked more picturesque amidst the open land, rushing creek and tiny little flowers. After the cold day, a warm fire was exactly what I needed in a place like this. Doolin is a town that is alive for three things. Accommodation, music and drinking. It’s probably the tiniest town I’ve been in so far since you could walk from one end to the next in five minutes. Laurie and I spent the night in two very cozy and traditional pubs. I’ve heard recently this town is also very famous for its music and I would never question it. Particularly the second bar we went to had two men playing the uilleann pipes and a banjo. They put on an incredible show like it was nothing and you could tell they really loved and felt passionate about what they were doing. I’ll never tire of that sense of comfort I feel when I sit in a toasty pub surrounded by singing strangers and flowing beer. It takes you away to a place where everyone is accepting, equal and happy and you can’t help but feel the same every moment you’re there.  It was a great wrap up to another unexpected change of plans and a perfect day. 
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I took a bus to Galway the next morning so my time in Doolin was short. When I awoke, the world had blessed me with another beautiful morning. The sun was shining and the sky was nearly crystal blue. The weather in Ireland had been listening to me consistently since I arrived. When I needed a gorgeous day, my wish would be granted. I had heard there was a pier at the edge of town with yet another lingering Dolphin named Dusty. With only a few hours until my departure to Galway, I decided to take the walk there. The stroll through the back roads was lovely enough. I passed by some more beautiful horses who I stopped to pet and feed and admire. There were rushing waterfalls flowing into the sea and in the distance sat the rocky pier, glistening in the sunlight. Without a second thought, I climbed over rock after rock until I reached the nearest point to the shoreline. I was surrounded by stones of all shapes and shades and the sun continued to beam. The waves in front of me rushed and crashed then simmered down before the ocean sucked them back in. It was there that I decided to meditate. I hadn’t really focused on it seriously since Nicola and I attempted to practice it every evening. I didn’t have an audio guide but practiced a type of yoga I had read about where the yogi sits, smiles and does nothing else. I worked it into the techniques I had learned a month ago. I sat with my legs crossed, my eyes closed lightly and my fingers forming an O shape on my knees. I took breaths as deep as I could breathe and I focused on every single sound that entered my ears. First it was the obvious sound of the waves and the way they settled so beautifully before crashing rapidly against the rocks once again. Then it was a flock of birds playing in the sand. I took note of every animal call, every word spoken by a passerby and I even concentrated deeply on the sounds of the construction to my left which contrasted so drastically with the environment I was in. I wasn’t angry with it. It had become a part of where I was in that moment and helped keep my senses alive. Before I knew it, I had been absolutely present for close to ten minutes. A record breaking feat.  I opened my eyes slowly when I felt I had reached what I needed for that day. Nothing in the world could beat the relaxation I felt perched on that small rock by the sea. I spent time taking in the senses and sounds with my eyes open this time and watched every move so acutely. I took one final look for the dolphin who didn’t want to show herself that day and took the walk back to my hostel, practically floating on air. It is my goal to experience every sight with just a small amount of mediation from now on. There’s really nothing like it. 
 

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I’ll come back to my time in Galway soon enough because it gave me some pretty magical memories. I only spent one full day there because I was anxious to head to Westport and climb Mount Croagh Patrick. This Pilgrimage is climbed by many each year and only takes about three hours to complete round trip. I was itching to walk again, believe it or not, and this hike had me missing the Camino the whole way up. I stayed in a beautiful bed and breakfast right at the foot of the mountain the night prior. I decided to splurge a little bit since I wanted to be as close to the mountain as possible and for just one night I wanted my own bathroom. After far too many connections on the bus, I made it to the adorable home of Linda where I would be spending the night. I looked down at my watch. It was already close to 6pm. The climb would have to wait until the early morning. I happened to be the only one booked in that night so I felt like I was just spending the evening at a friends house. It was so beautifully decorated. Linda made me a cup of tea the second I walked in and showed me to my room. I think I let out a little gasp as I walked inside because the size of that bed screamed luxury and my bathroom was bigger than most of the rooms I’ve slept in over the past little while. Everything had such a personal touch in this house and she really cared about making sure people felt welcomed. We ended up talking in her kitchen for a while about travel and her dream to walk the Camino one day. The little town just outside of Westport that holds the mountain is just far enough away that nothing is within walking distance. I was ready to accept a quiet night in and an early bedtime until I heard a knock at my door. Linda was heading into town to watch her son in a boxing match and wondered if I wanted a drive to the city so I could explore and get something to eat. I jumped at the offer, suddenly not quite as tired as I was before. As we entered the town, she pointed me in the direction of a quaint Italian restaurant run by a man named Innis and we planned to meet at a famous bar called Matt Malloy’s around 10pm. 
 
This restaurant couldn’t have been more perfect. It was made for me. I was alone and one hundred per cent okay with that. I don’t think I would have wanted to be with anyone else in that moment. Twinkle lights sparkled in all places, candles were lit on each table and I sat in a little booth covered in silk, cushiony pillows. Innis was quite the character. He is a tall, bald, very fit and very gay Italian man that will win the award in my mind for the best waiter in the world for an eternity. I think I had an out of body experience with my food for a solid two hours. I enjoyed every bite like it was my last. 
 
Matt Malloy’s followed where I was able to sit by the fire (man I love the Irish) and listen to two men on an accordion and a mandolin. A group of at least ten friends were traveling together and took up most of this back room. The musicians let everybody know that they were welcoming singers to their corner to accompany the next few songs. One woman pointed frantically at her husband yelling, “he can sing! He can sing!” and at first this man looked less than pleased. He ended up laughing it off and joining them for a few classics. As soon as he opened his mouth I started to smile. His voice was beautiful and pure with a bit of an Irish twang as he sailed from one note to the next. He absolutely stole the show and I was so disappointed when he returned to his seat (looking proud and happy to be in his element). I enjoyed a few pints listening to this while I waited for Linda to arrive. Unfortunately she was eager to leave pretty quickly but I thanked her multiple times for taking me out so I could experience all of that in just a few short hours. It beat staying in, even with that damn beautiful bathroom.
 
I was up early the next morning and was ready as I could be to begin the climb. I was greeted in the morning by a smiling face and a full Irish breakfast which had me even more prepared to take anything on. The weather had once again cooperated and given me one of the best mornings I could ask for. The wet ground was just beginning to dry from last nights rainfall and the air was crisp, the sky clear. Linda even leant me a small backpack to use and left me the house key which continued to put her in my good books. What an amazing woman. It was 8:30 by the time I stepped out and made my way to the start but there wasn’t a soul in sight taking the trek with me. I was oddly okay with this. I felt like I had the whole mountain to myself. 
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ImageImageThe first few steps were a bit of a shock. I was honestly planning to walk this thing like it was a casual morning stroll. I had a train to catch heading North at noon and I figured I would be back with plenty of time to spare. A three hour hike? Not a problem! Nothing like 500 miles (I promise I won’t play that card too many times). I was surprised to find that there wasn’t much of a path heading uphill. I was forced to become a temporary mountain climber, jumping over trickling streams and climbing (using both hands and feet) over a rocky terrain. It proved to be quite the adventure. There were sheep just roaming about on these hills, nothing there to fence them in. Might I add again that it was just me? I was alone with this beautiful piece of nature. It was just me and Croagh Patrick, alone, spending a Friday morning together. Every time I turned around, the town below became further and further away creating a stunning picture and I stopped several times to breath in that clear air and admire everything around me in my solitude. The only sound I could hear was my own voice, traveling in the breeze as I sang every song about dreams I could think of. 

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I was hesitant to continue climbing when I reached what I thought was the top of the mountain. Cranking my head upwards, the rest of the climb seemed extremely unsafe and instead of a small path here and there, I couldn’t see one at all. An entire hill full of sharp and jagged rocks stood before me. Maybe this was the end and I had no idea of knowing. Suddenly, I spotted the one and only person I had seen so far in the distance. When he came to meet me, I could tell he was an experienced climber. He assured me that it was entirely safe to keep going and “no, there wouldn’t be any rockslides.” So I walked the last 25 minutes which tested my strength and endurance to its fullest. A cruel, cruel mistress it was. Like almost everything else I’ve been through, the hard work lead me to the light at the end of the tunnel. Although it was very foggy way up there, it had me feeling serene. A small church sat at the peak but I took my seat on yet another small rock in the very centre of it all. I decided to forget about my scheduled train. I was already cutting it close at that point and I didn’t want to rush these moments. They were meant to be savoured. 
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What seemed like hours later, I headed back down. I remembered very quickly the lyrics of a Tom Petty song I saw scrawled on a sign heading down a Camino hill. 
 
“I’m learning to fly but I ain’t got wings, coming down is the hardest thing”
 
And how true that is, Mr. Petty. But all that didn’t seem to bother me. I ended up running into several lovely faces on the way down. I guess none of them were morning risers. One man and I talked about Machu Picchu which I plan to climb on my 30th birthday and he had walked a week on the Camino a few years back. He insisted we take a photo before parting. It was adorable. 

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 See, look at all you can do before noon! Slap me silly if I ever sleep past 7am ever again. 
There are too many mountains to climb. 
 
 
 
 

They Liked it So They Put a Ring on It

The Ring of Kerry and The Dingle Peninsula pretty much speak for themselves. This week has been filled with an overwhelming amount of beauty and gratitude. I barely know where to begin or how to express what it’s arose within me and how it’s impacted my heart and mind.
Before I begin, in the spirit of my inpatient nature, I’m going to give you the Coles Notes version of my time in Cork and Cobh. This isn’t to say that they were any less significant than my time in the places I’m about to share but something was ignited when I traveled to Killarney and Dingle. They broadened my mind and opened my heart and pretty much made me feel the warmest and fuzziest inside that I could possibly be.
The city of Cobh (pronounced Cove) is known for something very special and holds a unique history. The Titanic set off sailing to New York City just a stones throw from a dock by the cities pier. Hundreds of passengers gathered by the harbour to take a small ferry over to the unsinkable ship in 1912. The building in which each person passed through to collect their ticket and board was just recently renovated last April and was previously kept in its original condition. It now stands as a museum that guides you through the exact steps taken by many so long ago. I’ve had the privilege of going through a similar tour at the Children’s Museum in downtown Kitchener and this one was just as shocking. Even more so knowing that so many of these steps were their last and once so real. I could feel it in the air. It was a looming and eerie feeling of sadness. The whole experience took you back in time perfectly. We were even given a ticket with the name of a real passenger and were able to find out our fate when the exhibit was over. This time I was a seventeen year old girl named Emily in third class and unfortunately (because of that factor), I didn’t survive. It hit close to home knowing she was nearly my age. I thought about her, this girl that I never knew as I looked out over the dock drinking tea, imagining as best as I could who was standing where I was. I wonder what they may have been feeling and thinking in that moment with so many hopes and dreams just a sail away.
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I only spent one day in Cork to experience a few important things and the feeling of a new city. The hostel I stayed at was situated above a bar so I had no problem meeting a great group of people the second I walked in. Having just left Jess and Tomas (who joined me in Cobh), I had that feeling in my stomach again that comes and goes quickly when I enter a new place. Much like the feeling you would get on a first date. It isn’t bad, it’s just uncertain. You’ve yet to ask them their favourite colour and exchange music taste. You just never know what the vibe of a new environment may bring but a part of that is super thrilling. Truthfully, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I was comforted immediately by the faces of new friends from Canada, America and Australia. We played a wickedly intense game of beer pong downstairs until the wee hours of the morning and that warmed me up to Cork right away. The butterflies disappeared within seconds.
 Blarney Castle was certainly the highlight and turned out to be a much fuller experience than I expected. Blarney Castle is just one “small” section of a huge national park. The castle itself is the main attraction but there are gardens and caves surrounding it that are worth checking out just as much. Rock Close is the name of one section and is trail that takes you through a magical and mystical land of fairies and the Blarney Witch’s territory. I loved the quirky little signs that lead you through the Fairy Gland and the Witches Kitchen. My favourite spot was what they called the Magical Staircase which was given as a gift by the Blarney Witch in exchange for fire wood from the forest. If you walk up and down the stone steps with your eyes closed and think of nothing but your wish, it will come true within a year. They mention below that they’re not liable for any accidents and I didn’t blame them for the disclaimer. It was dangerous! Nevertheless, I walked them all. Every single wet and slippery step. All we do now is wait!
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ImageImageClimbing Blarney castle was exciting because the spiral staircase was very narrow, dark and mysterious. Climbing up it alone felt like an adventure. Each opening lead you into a new room labeled bedroom or kitchen, whatever they thought it may have been used for six hundred years ago. At the top of the castle there sits very special stone. It’s said that if you kiss the stone, you will be granted eternal eloquence. I didn’t realize how much of a tourist attraction it had become although maybe I should have assumed. The Discovery Channel has named it one of the 99 things to do before you die. I also didn’t realize how difficult it was to reach the stone and give it a smooch. Seriously, this thing was located underneath the bottom edge of the castle’s wall. I had to lie down on a padded surface while a man held me tightly as I cranked my head all the way back and planted a peck on its slippery surface (I hoped to god it was because they had washed it). Not only that but a man stands on your other side with a huge camera and snaps photos of this event which end up being extremely overpriced. Of course it’s all worth it in the end. Eternal eloquence will do me some good! I chuckled as the lady behind me very loudly expressed to the man, “You better watch where you put your hands there mister.”
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 These were a few highlights from the two C Cities as I call them. Those definitely weren’t Coles Notes either. Sorry guys, you all know how much of a lie “I’ll give you the short version” can be when it comes from me.
Walking into Killarney and Dingle had me falling in love with these cozy little towns that often belong to the West. Killarney is home to the National Park and The Ring of Kerry, both spectacular sights to see and each of them take you away to a different world full of peace and tranquility. I spent at least four hours walking around the national park on my very first day. I practically bolted from my hostel so I would have enough time to see as much of it as possible before darkness swept over. I walked somewhat of a ring around that park too and took in the smells of the trees, the sound of my footsteps. It took me right back to my Camino days which suddenly seem so far away now. I found myself walking by a gorgeous backdrop of rolling hills and decided to sit down on a bench so conveniently placed right in the middle of the whole scene. I sat there for a long time and took everything in. I kept on noticing a disturbing sound coming from the distance like a cow in distress. I thought to myself, “wow, those cows sound really upset!” When I looked a little closer, I could see that it wasn’t coming from the cows at all. It was a herd of deer. The noise I continued to hear was the males mating call and I remembered the woman at the hostel desk telling me it was that time of year. They looked so beautiful out in the open and I wanted to get closer. This probably wasn’t a very smart idea on my part but I hopped over a fence and tried to get a better view and a clear photograph. Their little ears perked up as soon as they heard my crunching steps and I ran back just in time. I’m sure they wouldn’t have been happy had I come any closer. I didn’t get the photo I wanted but a man told me to head to a path called Deer Run where there were even more running free and you could get a much better view.
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Before heading there, I made my way to Ross castle which sat beside a beautiful lake filled with ducks and a few docked boats in the distance. I didn’t bother taking the tour of this one. I just wanted to enjoy its beauty by myself and run my hands along the stone walls. I ended up walking to the very last marked point on the trail and came upon a lookout that they call Governors Rock. The view stretched for miles and was dotted with little islands. I let the wind blow around me and relaxed overlooking natures gift. That’s what it felt like to me. A gift. Every time I look out at something beautiful, I always want to thank the Earth. I want to kiss the ground for giving me something so inspiring to surround myself with. Deer Run ended my 15km walk around the park. It really was incredible how many seemed to flock here.  I was nearly in a trance watching them all interact and stand so proud and delicate.
ImageImageIt had been a full day and it didn’t stop there. I was exhausted from my walk and travel but decided to go to a pub for dinner and some live music. As I was sitting there waiting for a table, I had a strange instinct to head back and grab the friends I had met earlier that day. See, my plan had been to rent a car and drive around The Ring of Kerry. I would have done it by myself if that had been the only option but I was hell bent on finding someone to split it with me. Driving on the opposite side of the road seemed a lot more comfortable with someone else in the passenger seat. I posted a sign in the lobby advertising “a car ride and a new friend” and the second I barged into my room, I asked the girls there if they were up for the challenge. This was all done before any introductions.I know, it was a little forceful but it was a good ice breaker! Two of them had seen the Ring the previous day, but we seemed to connect well and they were who I wanted to be with that night at Murphy’s Pub. I told my waiter I would be back in a few minutes and walked back to the hostel to see what they were up to. It seemed a little crazy and impulsive at first but everything fell into place as it usually does. They had been wanting to go out for a few drinks anyway so we all went to the pub together and several others followed. They all played some beautiful and traditional Irish music and I was once again in awe at our diversity. Austin, a guy from South Carolina, had wanted to see The Ring of Kerry the exact same way and when he agreed to take a car with me, I was thrilled. Hanna from Michigan said she wanted to join as well. We had a great group going but as soon as we arrived at the car rental, the man told us we needed to have had our license for eight years before legally being aloud to rent in Ireland. It was a bit of a bummer, but we found out just minutes before the tour bus was leaving. Despite my negative view towards tours in general, it was that way or the highway. Image
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Whisky before breakfast. Irish coffee stashes are the best stashes

The tour didn’t end up have much of a “tour feel” at all. It felt more like one giant road trip with a bunch of strangers who eventually became friends. Our driver was an older man with a funny hat and a polka-dot bow tie who had a wicked and quick sense of humour. John was his name and he took us around that ring with laughter and ease. I was almost grateful for his driving instead of my own. It allowed me to really concentrate on what was around me without the worry on the rainy roads and let me tell you, there was a lot to look at and process as we cruised along. John let us stop at all the key photo opportunities and take as much time as we needed to enjoy the breathtaking beauty that is Killarney. It was raining hard almost all day but it reminded me of my walk through the Pyrenees. I liked the vibe that the misty horizon brought to the atmosphere. It was magical. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing half the time. Am I really here? Is this really happening to me? It was one of those moments I’ve found myself experiencing now and again on my travels. I needed to remind myself of my whereabouts. “Okay Sam, you’re in Ireland. You’re actually in Ireland.” It’s not like the scenery wasn’t enough of a reminder alone but it’s so incredible that you just have to pinch yourself every once in a while. It was, in fact, all real and I was really there as a part of it. Things like this exist in the world. Like I said, I think the photos can do the most justice although even then, it needs to be seen and felt with your entire body.

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I didn’t realize how tiring a bus ride could be but we traveled around the entire ring that day and were walking in and out of the bus for at least six hours. Hanna and I spent the night in and decided that the two of us were going to head to our next destination together: Dingle. I should note that the alternative title for this post was I bet you can’t say dingle without laughing. My Mother sure couldn’t. I had heard loads about Dingle from Jess’s family who praised it constantly. When I told people I was planning to visit for a few days, their faces lit up. I knew there was no way I could be let down. Needless to say, it didn’t disappoint me one bit. If anything, it was even more beautiful than I imagined. Dingle was a harbour town which always drags me in. It’s full of sweater stores and fish and chip shops. A famous dolphin named Fungi has been hanging around for years and no one really knows why. She’s become a huge tourist attraction and probably sustains half the town from the looks of it. We explored the area around the harbour for a while which had such a distinct feel from the rest of the town. It felt like Dingle had been plopped into the middle of the wilderness unexpectedly. Did anyone even live here at all? Looking around you, there wasn’t a skyscraper in sight, only lush fields of green and the sound of sheep munching on grass. That particular moment brought us just a sprinkle of sunlight through the dark clouds above. I’ve been focusing a lot on smells lately and I wanted more than anything to bottle this one up and keep it forever. I don’t think we spoke much as we walked, only smiled and photographed silently and completely at peace.
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The hostel we stayed in will probably be top on my list regardless of where I go next. This little place called the Hide Out Hostel is someone’s home. It hasn’t been converted or renovated, they’ve just placed extra bunk beds in the rooms. It was the warmest and coziest place alive. There was a roaring fire in the living room that I could have lived in front of and I enjoyed writing in my journal by its toasty light. Hanna and I made friends right away with two beautiful Australian girls sharing our room. Ruby and Rosalie are two lifelong friends taking the trip of their dreams and were perfect roommates for the nights that we stayed. Laurie was another wonderful soul we met while there. She was taking just a small vacation by herself and had rented a car for the two weeks she was away. Laurie became somewhat of an angel in my journey when she invited me on her car ride to Doolin and the Cliffs of Moher. We realized we would be heading to the same place next at the same time and she saved me one hell of a travel day. I don’t know what I would have done without her. You’ll hear more about this in my next post! Hide Out had that atmosphere that invited friendship and love so easily. It made my stay in Dingle extra special.
I wanted to see the Peninsula more than anything. National Geographic had named it one of the most beautiful places on Earth. I needed to see it for myself. The two of us rented bikes for the day and set off to ride as much of it as we could in a day. Although we didn’t finish the entire 40km route, we biked for eight hours straight (stopping to take photos every second it seemed). There was just so much to capture. I have to say, this route was even more breathtaking than The Ring of Kerry. The air was so crystal clear and pure with every breath. I could smell the ocean again which brought me back to Paros, Greece when I would walk to my scuba lessons every day by the pier. I rode down the hills with the breeze rushing around my whole body and focused so hard on being present. That’s been something I’ve strived to achieve over and over again while I’ve been away. On the Camino, I would find my mind wandering so far away from me that by the time I’d snapped back into reality, who knows what sights I had missed. It’s okay to dream, it’s okay to think about the past and the future but all in moderation. I’ve managed to reach moments of complete and utter participation in the “now” but it fleets away before I can grab ahold of it for more than a few minutes. This acted as perfect practice and as my bike took me faster and faster down that hill, I payed close attention to every inch of my surroundings. I took in the sounds around me and dammit, I was present in each millisecond that passed. So there. It really was beautiful. My camera took the digitals and my mind took the feeling and images that nothing could possibly capture.

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This feeling held as we biked to the Dunbeg Fort which is a site where construction of these stone forts began in 6th century B.C. It held as we biked around Slea Head Drive and out to the peak where ocean and islands stretched for miles. As we rounded the bend, we met a woman named Kirsten who was selling pans of dessert squares out of the back of her van. She had picked the perfect spot. Behind her was the most breathtaking panoramic view I had ever seen. She was trying to save money to go to Grad school and then eventually open up an animal sanctuary. We chatted for quite a bit about life in Dingle and how difficult it is to make enough money to sustain yourself over the winter. She moved there after falling in love with the city while spending her summer holidays in the town. We had planned to just retrace our steps and head back after this since it had been four hours since we started but Kirsten insisted we keep going. “You can’t go back that way”, she told us promptly. There was no question. We just couldn’t. Apparently, the most beautiful section was yet to come.
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If it hadn’t been for Kirsten, we wouldn’t have discovered the walking hills that lead us up to the peaks and the best view in all of Ireland. One particular hill lead me up to the highest point possible. The little bodies of fellow travellers were far from where I had climbed and Hanna sat content on a peak of her own. I was alone for a moment and felt like I was the only human in the entire world. I hadn’t seen a view like this one before. Looking out I could see The Sleeping Giant, The Three Sisters, the roaring and bright blue ocean below, the entire town of Dingle and beyond…I once again was reminded of how small I really am against what the physical world holds. I took a little time to meditate up there as best I could. I couldn’t really sit down so I sort of did it standing up but it was my first instinct when I thought, “how can I experience this fully.” Shortly after, families arrived and my little paradise was discovered. I was okay with this. I had my moment with the world and now they could experience it too. I wished that everyone could. It reminds you of what’s important. What’s worth worrying about in the grand scheme of everything.

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The Sleeping Giant. Can you see it?

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After asking directions several times and climbing up one giant hill where we couldn’t bare to ride our bikes any longer, we made it back to the cozy little nook we called home. We agreed that it would be totally reasonable for us to sell t-shirts that read, “I broke my ass on the Dingle Peninsula” because we seriously ached afterward. We had another quiet night in, full from seeing yet another gift of the universe.
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Ireland, you’ve got me wrapped around your little finger.

Thanksgiving in Trim

It was my very first day on the Camino and the spiteful Pyrenees had introduced me to a downhill slope. My legs strained to keep their strength. The sound of steps followed behind me for quite a while before I turned around and noticed a father and daughter duo, arm in arm, walking my pace. Jess and Tomas had to have been the sweetest pair I had encountered yet. You could feel the care they had for each other and it was so special seeing it between a teenage daughter and her father, someone who a lot of eighteen year olds wouldn’t dare be seen with. I related immediately to their connection. I couldn’t stop thinking about how wonderful this trail would be if I was able to experienced it with my own father some day. We talked the whole way down and all the way up into Roncesvalles and I learned that Jess was planning to study Irish in school, a language I wasn’t at all familiar with. They taught me a few phrases on the way down and the usual conversation topics flowed. After we were assigned rooms, the fates placed us together again in the same little nook made of four beds. Jess and I were roomies for the night and after meeting the two of them that day, I continued to run into Jess and Tomas several times throughout the Camino. They unfortunately were only walking for a week and I had hoped to spend more time with them, especially as their departure date neared and I knew they wouldn’t be around the trail much longer. I remember the very last morning before they planned to head to the airport and back to Ireland. It so happened that we stopped for coffee in the same cafe at the same time and said a teary goodbye. “If you ever need a place to stay, our house is open”, Jess told me. “You can sleep in our treehouse”, piped Tomas. He was kidding of course but I seriously would have taken him up on that offer! For the record: the treehouse is awesome (and I slept in a bed…just to keep things straight). 

 
Before I knew it, I was heading out of Dublin and into a tiny town called Trim in County Meath. I never would have found Trim had it not been for this visit. The little village had so much charm and its surrounding area held some absolutely beautiful sights and scenery. As soon as I walked through the door of their cozy home, Jess’s mother Judy greeted me with a huge smile and warm welcome. Their son, Adam, is such a cool kid and together this family couldn’t have been more down to earth, hospitable and truly, genuinely good. I felt safe and comfortable from the second I sat down at the dinner table with all of them as we ate Chinese. I was lucky to have arrived on a Saturday where their family tradition included an evening mass, a Chinese food dinner and Baileys coffee by the fire. The mass was such a great experience. All the hymns were sung by a man on his acoustic guitar in a gorgeous and pure Irish voice. The church itself was stunning and intricately designed, covered in golds, blues and whites on the inside and beautiful stone on the outer walls. I was excited to eat a type of food that I had been without for a few months. Switching things up felt great and it was nice just being included in something they do together as a family. I shared the stories of my Camino as Jess and her Dad listened with bright eyes. The two of them are going to split up the trail over five years and I’m so excited to continue to hear about their journey.

I don’t even know where to start when I think about how much I appreciated that fireplace. After the shock of a new season and a slightly “roughin’ it” mentality over the past few months, a warm and cozy fire was exactly what I needed. With my Baileys coffee in hand, wild horses couldn’t drag me away. It was the perfect homey feel that filled my body until the nights end.

 
Jess and I became really close over the few days I was visiting. The family let me know I could stay as long as I needed which I was eternally grateful for. Every night I would look forward to what we called “half two chats” by the fire which lasted until at least 2:30am and sometimes later. Jess has such a kind heart and is a thoughtful and beautiful person inside and out. She’s dedicated and loving towards her family and friends. It was a joy getting to know her and I am sure that we’ll be in each others lives for many years to come. We laughed our hearts out and shared stories about the past, trying to grasp the layers of who we’ve been and who we are. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect in so many ways. Not only was this weekend the celebration of Canadian Thanksgiving but Jess had recently made a huge decision that I could relate to more than anyone she knew. She wasn’t really happy studying Irish in school. Although she has a passion for the language, she was forced to take classes she wasn’t interested in alongside her major and it wasn’t how she wanted to pursue it nor was that her number one dream. What she really wanted to do was become a P.E Teacher due to her love of the athletics. So, after many nights of deliberation, she decided to de-register from the program and is now working out her next steps. I’m so proud that she chose to listen to herself and create goals in order to achieve what she truly wants to do with her life. We had some great discussion about it and I assured her that everything was going to be better than okay. It was going to be great. She’s got some perfect goals ahead of her and is taking on just the right attitude to make her dreams come true. I’m thankful that we were able to be together just days before she walked into that office and made it official. I know that I would have loved just the same kind of example during my times of uncertainty. Go at it with all your heart my girl. I know you’ll make it happen. Image
 
The next day was spent driving around the County and seeing what it had to offer. Tomas, Jess and I piled into the car and set off for a little tour of their homeland. On our first stop, we wandered into a field called Bohermeen Bog where you could find something called turf. It’s a very common substance used as kindle for the fire and is exactly what has kept me warm over the past few nights. As a fun fact that you’d probably rather not hear…occasionally a dead body is found in a bog dating hundreds of years back. They call them bog bodies and some are displayed at the National Museum in Dublin. An interesting thought but if you saw the photos I’m certain you would be disgusted. Sorry I don’t have any of those to show you…Image
 When I visited Dublin, I was able to see the book of Kells which is placed in a glass case and preserved at Trinity College. The Book of Kells is a latin manuscript depicting the four gospels of the New Testament.  Its scripture is beautiful and the colours jump right off the pages. There’s a little town in County Meath which is called Kells and is where the book originated. We payed a visit there and were able to see the statue of Maureen O’Hara placed in the centre of town in honour of her visit to the city which represents her Irish heritage.
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The Spire of Lloyd is a mock lighthouse created in memory of the first Earl of Bective Sir Thomas Taylor and was my first real taste of the Ireland scenery I had imagined all this time. As we walked up the hill and looked out over the fields, I could feel that spirit Ireland often holds sweep over me. The tower stood with its spiral staircase and wooden door proudly beside me and a few dogs ran up and down the green slope. I was anxious to continue through the back roads and see more history and landscape like the sights that stood before me. It always amazes me how these castles and landmarks were once built by hand long before the release of technology, machinery and architectural advancements. What a story they all seem to hold. Image
Image On the way to my favourite stop, we pulled over to look at the High Cross of Kells and Slane Castle which holds an event known as Slane Concert featuring artists such as David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Queen and The Rolling Stones. The Conyngham family have lived there for centuries but it’s still frequently used to host concerts and events. On this particular day, they were holding an auction (hence the cars obstructing the view) and we had to hoist ourselves onto a ledge and peak over the fence in order to see it. All very secretive and completely worth it. These castles never cease to amaze and capture me. 
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Newgrange still stands as one of my favourite sights so far. This old passage tomb sits in County Meath where tours are lead through each day. It’s known to be a place of spiritual and ceremonial energy and practice as well as a burial site for those of worship. The tour guide is actually necessary in this case because in order to get inside, you need to turn your body sideways and squeeze through a tiny, rocky passageway. If you’re claustrophobic I definitely don’t recommend a trip here. Only 10 people are allowed in at a time because although this tomb looks massive on the outside, there’s only a small portion of open space on the inside. Not even archeologists can figure out why it was built to cover so much land. Once I made my way into the tiny circle, I could immediately see the carved writing in the walls. Our guide told us that this graffiti dates back to the 1700’s and this tomb was built over 5,000 years ago. I wondered what it meant to them back then. Did they do it in order to be rebellious or were they trying to communicate a message to the future? I studied it for quite a while and ran my fingers along the lines they created. What drew me into Newgrange the most was its connection to the Winter Solstice. On December 18th-23rd, the sun aligns perfectly with the front entrance of the tomb. Keep in mind that as you walk inside, you begin climbing uphill so as the sun rises, it’s slightly beneath you. Somehow, someway, the people who built this creation were able to design it around the sun’s rise during that time of year so the golden rays would shine in such a way that they’d creep through the entrance and cast a line of light that would eventually illuminate the entire space with a bright, orange glow. Isn’t that incredible? Isn’t it almost hard to believe? There’s a lottery held every year and thousands of people enter their name hoping to get a spot inside on one of the six days. Even then, the sun may not shine that day and you would be out of luck. I entered my name, just for good measure and an excuse to come back. Regardless, I got the next best thing. Our guide turned off all the lights and we were in complete darkness. She used a special flashlight so we would be able to experience this magic as best as we could and even without the natural glow of the sun, it was incredible and I had goosebumps the entire time. 
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ImageImageThe Hill of Tara was our next destination, a place I had been highly recommended by several locals and had heard plenty about through talk of Ireland’s greatest attractions. I didn’t realize quite how large this was going to be. I guess I just expected a single hill instead of a whole field. I couldn’t believe this was an open and free space that the public could take advantage of whenever they pleased. We arrived just as the sun was setting slightly over the town. Jess told me that her friends like to have picnics around here in the summer. There were kids and their families with dogs and others who were just out for a stroll and some thought. I could imagine myself lying with a good book in hand, sitting in a space like this. You could see for miles in every direction and there was no way you could miss a very special tree that stood on the hill proudly. This tree was covered in memories and special keepsakes from thousands of visitors. It was yet another place for offering and release to go along with the many I’d come across already. A lot of children leave their childhood soothers there to symbolize a new step. I didn’t have anything to leave which was fine by me. I had done what I needed in that department. I just enjoyed looking at what everyone else had thought special enough to tie to the tree’s branches. It was really something else from afar. A real sight to see and full of stories. I wanted more than anything to bring certain people back to this hill so we could sit and talk and enjoy the open space together. I know so many who would love it just as much as I did. ImageImageBefore driving back, we made a surprise stop at Bective Abbey, an old but charismatic Cistercian Abbey that held scenes from the movie Braveheart. The three of us ran from the car and spent a quick time exploring the inside that was open freely to anyone that wanted to spend time there. That being said, there wasn’t much of an inside at all. The walls were crumbled in several places and the staircases had deteriorated. I personally felt like that was what gave the Abbey its charm. We hopped up on the various levels and poked our heads through the windows until it was time to head back to the humble abode. Image
Image When we arrived home, Judy had a huge dinner all prepared and ready for us as we walked in. I was overwhelmed with how generous they had been already and this was more than I could ever ask for. In honour of Canadian Thanksgiving, we had on our table mashed potatoes, croquettes, yorkshire pudding, chicken, homemade stuffing that was truly to die for, vegetables and gravy. A beautiful meal with all the fixings. It was absolutely delicious and even more enjoyable sharing it with such a remarkable family. I had been wondering how I would be spending that day and had hoped I could find a place where I felt surrounded by love and good company. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be sitting at a table in an Irish home with all that and more.
 
 We piled into the family room once again and shared warm apple pie with custard by the fire. As if that wasn’t enough, Tomas came in about an hour later and popped open a bottle of sparkling white wine, pouring it into four champagne flutes with a strawberry garnishing the bottom. They’ve now been inspired to celebrate a Canadian Thanksgiving themselves every year. Hopefully I’ll be able to join them once or twice  again along the way. We sat chatting together for a while until Jess handed me a tiny pin holding a beaded Canadian flag that dangled down. “Happy Canadian Thanksgiving”, she told me and handed over the pin. I was so touched by their respect for this celebration. The Irish have something very similar that takes place on our boxing day and celebrates St. Stephen (the first martyr of Christianity) but this was still somewhat of a new concept. She told me that while attending an event full of cultures and countries, each person was told to exchange a gift that symbolized where they came from. Jess had received this pin from a Canadian girl. “It’s for you. To take back to Canada again.” I will treasure it forever. Another half two chat ended the perfect night and lead into our final day together.
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We spent the last afternoon exploring the town. It was just Jess and I while her parents were at work for the day. I love the tiny town of Trim with its tea rooms, cozy shops and brightly coloured doors. In the middle of the town lies a beautiful castle that they are so lucky to have. The sunshine decided to poke out for us that day and cast its rays on the gorgeous stone and vibrant green grass. Wouldn’t it be beautiful having a castle to sit by and enjoy every day? It seemed like such a gift placed in the middle of such life and civilization. We spent some time sitting on the grass in the sunshine taking photos. Seeing where Jess had grown up and where she lived really allowed me to get to know her on another level. You can tell  a lot about a person by walking through their hometown. She even took me to a spot by the river where her and her best friend sit and have chats. It was like a special inside view to her world and I am thankful she let me in to see it. 
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ImageImageImageSaying goodbye to this bunch was difficult. They welcomed me in like I had been a part of their family for years. The only thing that helped me walk away without aching deeply was my certainty of returning here very, very soon. I know that their doors are open for me and I will always have family in Ireland. Thank you for being angels on Earth and I’m so lucky we crossed paths. Image
 
 

Beneath Beautiful Dublin Lies a Story or Two

Dublin didn’t even need to try to win me over. When I stepped off the bus at Trinity College the connection with this city hit me like a speeding freight train. I noticed right away what made it appealing and different from any other city I had been in. There is a very distinct culture that lingers in every shop, street corner and little cafe. It seems so deeply rooted in the art of being comfortable, healthy, down to earth and happy. I stayed in a hostel right beside the famous Temple Bar. This area is flocked to by not just young travellers looking to drink Guinness but the locals as well. When the sun goes down, this part of the city is given breath and life. Every second shop is vintage and you can be sure to find “Whisky in the Jar” being played on a different instrument in each classic pub. I felt at home walking these streets, almost like I already lived there to be honest. After a long day of travel, I took it easy and decided to explore the town. The smiling lady at the tourist office greeted me with a “what can I do for yeah love” and I nearly jumped over the counter to give her a huge hug. These were my people.  Just like I knew they would be. The friendly Irish stereotype was entirely real. She kindly circled all the key squares and streets on my map and I was off.

ImageImageIt was strange being alone to tell you the truth. I had just spent such a long time being surrounded by people and almost forgot what it felt like to navigate my way around a new country by myself. I’ve been getting pretty good at using these big maps (which are usually mangled and ripped in half by the time I’m done with them). Luckily, Dame street ran right through the centre as a clear landmark. Most of my evening was spent peeking into shops and drinking tea in Temple Bar. I was so content on those cobblestone roads. The sound of live music and passion filled the streets with warmth. Warmth was something I needed…did I mention a whole season had come and gone? I know, I barely noticed it myself. Dressedin my sandals, kapri’s and a tank top, I clearly wasn’t prepared for the bone cold Autumn weather that had thrown itself on the Earth.  I ignored it as long as I could until I ducked into a little fish and chip shop to eat. Man did they ever know how to make a mean meal. As I waddled out (yes, waddled), I noticed a cute little coffee shop down the street that read “Brick Cafe”. The man working at the counter was the happiest barista I had ever seen and taught me how to mix Turkish Apple and Peppermint tea to create the perfect combination of cozy with a refreshing twist. I’ve since been in eight times. Leave it to me to become a regular in a Dublin cafe after only four days in the city. ImageImageI was up bright and early Tuesday morning with many plans. There’s so much you can do in Dublin but only select attractions really interested me. The best thing about this city is there is plenty you can see and experience without a tour. There are a ton of famous streets, buildings and homes of iconic writers. Just walking down Grafton street made me feel like I was a part of something important. I think Ireland is a country that needs to be experienced in a local way. I didn’t feel like I needed to visit every museum to get a true impression. Actually, I was the most excited to visit the famous Grafton stretch. A movie that speaks to me in such an exceptional way is called Once. I’ve talked about it and shared it millions of times so if you know me, you’re aware of my deep love for this film. This entire musical film takes place in Dublin and a lot of the main busking scenes are performed on Grafton. Walking down this street had me smiling like a love sick puppy with my tongue hanging out and it wasn’t just my inner fangirl freaking, I was in awe of this entire atmosphere. The vibe of that street was out of this world. The most amazing musicians played every two steps you took and all the sounds they made mixed together into an addictive melody themselves. Everyone seemed happy to be there. I certainly was. I stood where Glen Hansard poured out his soul singing “Say it to me Now” at the top of his lungs. I ate a berry tart from Brewleys and took a stroll through Stephens Green. All very simple things but oh so pleasurable. I ended up taking my own Once walking tour since I’m shocked they don’t have an official one in place. I wandered around inside Walton’s Music Store where the two actors played Falling Slowly and sipped a hot tea in Simon’s Cafe in the exact window seat they sat. Maybe it doesn’t seem as grand to anyone else but for me, it was a dream come true. Image
The opening scene of Once with Glen HansardImageImageGrafton Street, Dublin
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St. Stephens Green 
The Guinness Storehouse couldn’t be missed. I took a local bus down to the famous Thomas street, one of the oldest in Dublin and explored the unique people and markets before heading in for a tour. Each person is lead through a mock brewery and shown through photos, videos and big white phrases written on the walls how the beer is created and the story of Arthur Guinness. They treat “the black stuff” like God and don’t let you forget its significance in Irish culture. It was a really cool experience seeing how this beer I had in my hand 90 per cent of my time there was made and produced. I met a great girl  named Sarah there from Vancouver who kept me company through the walk. Towards the end, we were able to pour our own pint and received a certificate when we achieved the perfect pour. I keep saying I’m going to place it right next to the certificate saying I walked across a country…which one I’m more proud of, I couldn’t tell ya.Image
My pint lies right in the middle
There’s a beautiful one woman show I’ve been blessed to see called Myra’s Story by Brian Foster. The plot features a witty and eccentric homeless woman from Dublin, Ireland as she so soulfully tells the story of how she found herself on the street, bottle in hand. The role of Myra was originated by Carmel McCafferty. I had the pleasure of seeing this role performed to its fullest so beautifully by Jennifer Cornish and this production has taken off successfully, winning awards and traveling from my community of K-W to the London Fringe and beyond. I remember sitting front row during one of the early performances and even sitting in a rehearsal where Jen began mastering Myra. I was moved by the way it dug beneath the surface view of somebody living on the street and showed in such a raw and real way that they all have a story to tell and a wicked journey behind and ahead of them. A lot of the time, they need love more than anything else. There’s often a stigma behind the homeless. We’re so quick to judge a book by its cover. I was so inspired by Jen’s flawless interpretation of the role and the ride that it took me on that I wanted to dig behind the surface too. The story had touched me. I wanted to open up the minds of others to a new point of view with my writing and photography. Image
As I walked down Grafton searching for inspiration, a woman reached out and touched my shoulder gently. “Please love, please”, she pleaded. “Please buy me some food. I have four babies at home, one is desperate for an operation and welfare won’t give me what I need. Please.” I hesitated at first. The story could have been a ploy and the baby carriage she had beside her could have been filled with balloons for all I knew. But there was something about her. She even looked like Myra. Her hair was tattered and her teeth were worn. I decided to open my heart and mind and give her a chance. “What is your name?” I asked her. “My name is Miranice”, she replied. I just about fell over. Whether or not this woman was telling the truth I didn’t know. All I knew was there was at least a chance that she could truly need someone to care about her for just a moment. I wanted to be someone that believed in her story.  I lead her into the nearest store and told her to pick out the food she needed. She proceeded to buy four sandwiches and gratefully thanked me as the line dwindled in front of us. I assured Miranice that it wasn’t a problem at all and asked if I was able to chat with her for a little longer and take her photograph. She suddenly put a guard up, refused my offer and seemed eager to rush away. She thanked me several times again and rounded the corner with speed. I know little about her life aside from her children and desperate need for food. I didn’t end up walking away with a photo but her thanks was genuine and real and I needed to respect her nervousness towards interaction. Perhaps there was a story behind that too.
I was luckier the day I met Keith. He approached me on Chatham in between the ladies selling flowers and asked for two Euro’s in order to take a bus and see his son. This time, I decided to get to know him right away. He assured me that I could ask the flower ladies behind us if he was someone who could be trusted and quickly called them over. The two of them had obviously gotten to know this man over the years and patted him on the back while telling me he had lived quite the life and yes, was roaming the streets without a home. “Although he shouldn’t be”, the white haired lady said. “You’re a good looking man.” Keith leaned in and whispered to me, “did you hear what she said? She said I was a good looking man and I shouldn’t be homeless. Everybody says that. My Mother tells me this all the time and I want to believe her but I don’t know what in the world I should be living for.” Keith told me about his wife and son and how they were ripped away from him as he spiralled deeper into drugs and alcohol. Most of his family, aside from his Mother, had given up on him long ago and he was sick over it. “I’ve walked in these shoes and they keep telling me that I’m doing something wrong. I know there is a reason I am here but I can’t for the life of me figure out what that is. There are people in my life who would walk to the ends of the Earth for me but I don’t think they know where to walk to.” What I saw while speaking to this man was someone who was very lost. He seemed helpless and spoke to me with such a hope that I would give him the answers that he had been searching for. I couldn’t. All I could tell him was I had faith he would find his way if that’s what he truly wanted. “If you’re going to quote me or post this in your writing, go wild. Maybe someone will find an announcer that can tell me what it is I need to do.” Several times he told me that he hadn’t opened up like this in front of anyone else before and tears filled his eyes, afraid to fall. He was angry with God. Confused as to why it was him that was chosen to lead this life. I listened and nodded and continued to confirm my belief in him as he expressed his deepest feelings. As we parted, I asked him what he would want to say to a large group of people if he had the chance.
“Be happy. If you’re happy in this world, everyone else follows.” 
I wished the same for him and made sure he had what he needed for bus fare. Just keep him in your thoughts. He’ll most definitely be in mine. I plan to continue to uncover the stories behind people like Keith more and more as I travel through this country. Image
 The people of Ireland didn’t stop showing themselves in the most unexpected ways. Neil was sitting at his tiny desk in the George’s Street Arcade concentrating on a very detailed drawing of a tree. He was surrounded by sketches and photographs. I told him that his drawing was phenomenal and he said to me, “Oh this? Just a doodle. Something to keep my brain going on a Tuesday.” If you had seen this drawing you would have gawked at his modesty. I looked over at the framed sketches. “Oh those aren’t mine”, he said. “I take the photographs over there.” His photos expressed the exact style I have been striving for. He captured the candid moments of human interaction so perfectly and put such a unique spin on what the city had to offer. Even with his photographs he was still a modest man and shrugged off most of my praise as I flipped through each of the matted prints. I was shocked to hear that all of these were taken with an old film camera. He was very much against the modern digital world and refused to even create a website for his work. He thought that the images on a digital camera were too crisp and had him focusing on the wrinkles in a ladies dress rather than the picture as a whole. “If you’re on a photographers website and you see one image that you don’t like, what do you do? You click away. You don’t really get a chance to know their work that way.” Neil then pulled out his well loved camera and showed me a special, rubber device that he created in order to produce a unique blur technique in some of his photos. You could tell that he really saw people through a different light than the rest of us and captured moments in time that were so full of life and colour. I was inspired by his work. He so kindly told me I could pick out my favourite print to take home free of charge and he even wrote a few key must-see’s in Ireland on the back of it. I was so lucky that he took the time out of his day for a chat about something we both love.Image
I walked through the George’s Street Arcade and marvelled at the shops and stands in this cute permanent marketplace. Pat was the next crazy human to cross my path. Or perhaps I crossed his. A series of poetry books leaned against a mucky wall on College Green. Pat Ingoldsby sat on an upside-down milk crate with a funny brown hat on his head writing on several old bus stubs. I stopped for a second to catch a glimpse of the covers.  He yelled at me over the roaring traffic, “hey! Girl with the camera. Do you want to hear something I’ve written today? I didn’t have paper so I had to write them on these bus tickets.” He then read to me the simplest poem I had ever heard about a spider and his web. It intrigued me to discover more. “When did you start writing?”, I asked. He shook his head and told me that was such an American question to ask and how everyone seems to start off with that one. “How long have I been writing? I don’t know…since ten minutes ago?” He had made quite the name for himself with at least 7 books published and features on several popular radio stations and television programs.  He pointed to the stack of them and said, “All just as weird, wacky and bizarre.” Except he used even crazier words to describe his work, I just can’t remember them. Pat made a point of telling me that he lives without access to a lot of the modern world. He doesn’t have a cellphone or a computer with internet. He doesn’t even know how to internet. He doesn’t use credit cards, “just the money I make off of my book sales each day.” I liked his personality. He was blunt and honest but very confident in himself in a way that you just respect because he has a reason to be. We talked for quite a while and he flipped through some of his favourite creations and read to me a few of his favourite wild poems. Yes, they were weird but all of them outlined an aspect of the world that we usually don’t focus on. The littlest of thoughts and moments. Very much like what I try to achieve in my photography, actually. Here’s a little sample just to give you an idea:
BLIND COWS CAN’T HEAR: 
In the land
behind the wardrobe
in your bedroom
all the cows moo
at one another
with speech balloons
so that you won’t know
they are there.
He even told me about the love of his life and how she lives in an entirely different country with her husband but comes to visit every so often. “We’ve been having a wild and passionate affair for 8 months now and I’m just smitten by her.”  I couldn’t even argue with the man about morals. He looked so happy just telling me about this woman.
Every stop he travels to he carries with him a book and gets each of his customers to sign it with a message. He has sentiments from people all over the world and I was really happy to add to his collection. I asked if I could take his photograph after several minutes of chatting. He looked at me and said,
 “I would prefer it if you bought a book to be honest.” I hesitated. “Well, I’m just a photographer and…”
“And I’m a writer”, he interrupted.
Touche Pat. Touche.
I did buy a book and he was right when he said it was going to be my traveling companion.
Before I left, he signed the inside cover and told me to crouch in as he read me something important. “This is a poem that I don’t think you need to read at all. So skip it, okay?”
VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY FEW PEOPLE WILL EVER TELL YOU THIS
You don’t need permission to be free
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As I walked away he called out to me,
 “You’ve got the freshness of youth on your side. Surf it.”
 That night was spent at a recommended vegetarian restaurant where I met Aly. I usually eat alone which I seriously don’t mind doing at this point (it’s all about owning your choice. Anyone familiar with the scene from the movie Hope Floats? You totally planned this). Aly was just finishing her meal and since the empty tables were scarce, she told me I could sit there while she packed up. We started talking and sharing by candle light and before I knew it, I had made yet another friend. Aly is finally following her dreams after much struggle wondering what following her heart really felt like. She traveled a lot in the past too but has since become busy with marriage and school and thought that her backpacking days were over. Our conversation inspired her to give that a second look and continue to check in with herself to make sure she’s always doing what makes her truly happy. I received an email from Aly last week saying that if I ever needed anything at all, she has a car, a house and a family in Ireland and she’ll always be there if I need her. Seriously, this Irish hospitality is overwhelming. Oh and it’s worth mentioning that I ate at this Veggie restaurant called Cornucopia about four times…so….every day. I love changing it up but when you have a good thing going….
A night out in Temple Bar ended every evening with a bang. My hostel wasn’t overly social this time so it was up to me to find the party. It’s never a problem and I’ve gotten so used to just sitting at the bar sipping a beer or mingling around alone until someone pops into my life. It happens every time without fail. There’s a series of lines that I stringed together in Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love which says:
“I can make friends with anybody. I can make friends with the dead. If there isn’t anyone else around to talk to, I could probably make friends with a four-foot tall pile of sheetrock.” 
Yes, I am confident in my ability to meet someone anywhere I go, and I did. Temple Bar brought me friends from Germany, Colorado and Texas. The Auld Dubliner brought me three beautiful people from Germany and Switzerland who I ended up meeting up with twice and we partied hard at a three floor gay bar called The Dragon. Those friends are the best kind because there’s no better place to know someone as they are than in an Irish Pub while the music plays.
I spent one of my days taking a tour of Trinity College which is a classic landmark in Dublin and holds the Book of Kells as well as a monumental library. The Library is what I went to see but the tour (which was only a euro extra) taught me some interesting facts about its growth and development over the years. Plus, the tour guide was hot and you can’t get enough of those Irish accents, am I right ladies? I payed a visit to the New York Library last April and was blown away by its size, elegance and grandeur. I was sure that would be the most stunning library I would ever lay eyes on. This one took the cake. My favourite part was the smell of old and musty books that blew toward me as I entered the doorway. The gorgeous wood kept the tattered books safe within their shelves and created a curved ceiling way up above. Original music scores from composers and copies of novels from late authors sat in little glass cases lining the walkway. I stayed in there for as long as I could just studying every inch of the place and going wild with my camera. There was nothing like it. How lucky these students were to have such a piece of history right in the middle of an even bigger piece of history beyond that.ImageImageImage
Each morning I awoke and tried out a new pub’s Irish Breakfast. The full Irish is where it’s at! I couldn’t even tell you which one was better because they all had their flare. Pair that with a Bailey’s coffee and my mornings were sweet. On Wednesday I got a chance to see Olivia who is a friend of mine from home. We met through Theatre and ended up attending Windsor together. She’s now Aupairing for a family in Leixlip and took a train to see me in Dublin. It was so nice seeing a familiar face and meeting these adorable little boys she had the pleasure of looking after. We all shared coffee and dessert while Finn, the older of the two, was eagerly wanting to snap pictures of his own with my camera. I loved hearing about her Irish experience and sharing a bit about mine. A friend from home was just what I needed as the three month mark slipped on by. ImageImageImage
 My final day was busy and far different than I expected. I’d spent my time here experiencing a lot of things I didn’t think I would before I started. The no-plan plan really leaves opportunities wide open. I took a look at a small photo gallery and walked to the old stomping grounds and home of Oscar Wilde. The house is now a section of the University of Dublin where you can study Liberal and Performing Arts. To think that those steps could have been sat upon as he wrote…
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I was even able to squeeze in both a Tarot card reading and a night at the Theatre. The Dublin Theatre Festival was on over the next month and I chose a new play called The Hanging Gardens. It was a clever mix of humorous and absolutely depressing content about a man with alzheimer’s struggling over the battle with his family. It was enough just to be sitting in a Theatre again. That smell was just as cherished as the old books in Trinity.
I have always wanted a Tarot card reading. I came across an independent shop called Black Rabbit on Crow Street in Temple Bar and the lady who owned it talked my ear off about Thin Lizzie, Paul Linen and Jameson whisky for hours. Amanda was my card reader and was just as sweet as this shop lady had described her. We only had a half hour session but it shocked me how much she was able to guess about my current life right off the bat. I didn’t ask about anything specific but the cards chose a few topics for me. Career, love and my life when I return home. I’m quite happy with what they told me and am prepared for a few things I didn’t expect. I don’t believe that anything or anyone can predict what will happen to you in the future. These cards can only speculate options based on your energy and of course these are potential events relevant to that exact moment you’re being read. The course of your actions can change anything. It was just a really exciting experience and if what they told me ends up becoming a reality, my life is heading in all the right directions.
There’s no question that I will be back in Dublin a lot sooner than I planned. It stole my heart and won me over in so many ways. Everyone has that place where they feel connected. Ireland is definitely mine. Incredible people entered my path wherever I stepped. I felt safe and at home in each coffee shop and pub I sat and enjoyed music in (and trust me, the amount of places I ate and drank here was ridiculous). I seemed to have packed in all of that and more in just four days and there is still so much waiting to be seen and experienced. Take me away, up and around to the North.

Thank You For Giving Me The World

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favourite celebrations of the year. I get a tingle in my heart being surrounded by family on any occasion but there’s something special about gathering together in the spirit of thankfulness for all that you have and gratefulness for one another. Every moment I experience in life, I know I am privileged to be a part of. There are countless moments where I close my eyes and say to myself, “Remember this. You are so lucky to be here.” It’s moments like those where I smile and know that I live a life that I have every reason to feel exceptionally blessed about. As I sit here and write this post at Simon’s Cafe in the George’s Street Arcade in Dublin, Ireland, those words are on repeat.

Much like the pieces of a puzzle, there are many different aspects that contribute to the bigger picture. I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am if it weren’t for my parents, my friends, my family, my health or the country I live in. Each of these people and things shape my undying thanks every single day.
To the people who are there for me through every stage of my life, my amazing parents…thank you. You just might be the number one thing I feel grateful to have in my world. You have both given me more support than I ever could have dreamed. Through my struggles you provide laughter and relief.  I can count on each of you to give me the perfect advice and help me to uncover the answers I already knew deep down. Through my moments of great achievement, you’re both sitting front row. There isn’t an accomplishment or performance of mine that you both haven’t been there for with proud smiles. There’s never been a moment where I’ve felt like I can’t call you in tears for a shoulder to lean on, ask an opinion without feeling judged or talk to you about taking on a new life adventure. I know that you’ll always show me support and love with whatever I decide to do and wherever I decide to go. In fact, you’re often encouraging me to live large, take risks and discover through success and failure. It’s a gift I know a lot of people don’t have and I don’t know where I would be without it. You’ve been selfless and giving and I know that you want me to be the happiest I can be. You’re the two people who have raised me to be the woman I am and continue to teach me by leading such a flawless example of the people I want to live up to. Through both of you I’ve learned to work hard for what I want and even harder to get to where I want to be. I’ve learned to be self-aware and kind to everyone around me. I know that it’s okay to fall down and experience high’s and lows because that’s truly what life is all about. You learn and grow from every end of the spectrum. Thank you for knowing me, for taking the time to know me. I am grateful that as I get older, my relationship with each of you becomes deeper and even more wonderful. Thank you for letting me be independent and for letting me soar and for giving me the world. Really. It’s been one year now since I decided to leave school, move back home and then jet off for a trip around the world and not once have you lead me away from these choices. You’ve only pushed me to keep making them. When people ask me how my parents are taking all this, I honestly can’t stop talking about how amazing they’ve been through it all and how much that means to me. Of course I could write pages but I’ll spare them the tears. I just want to say that I love you and thank you for everything.
I’m thankful for my friends and family. Coming from divorced parents, I have a family tree with many branches. I’ve always loved holidays and family functions because they’re only ten times richer when I have four sides to visit! I feel lucky to have aunts, uncles and cousins that I feel so close and connected to. I love that I can be the baby of the family on my Dad’s side and the older role model on the other. They’re people I feel loved and supported by and I’m so lucky to have them.
My friends could be classified under family too. There’s no question. Friends are the family you choose. I feel like the people I surround myself with have played such a huge role in who I am today, especially over the past few years. I’m lucky to feel so deeply connected to such a large group of people and know that every one of them would pick up their phone at 3am if I ever needed their help. I’m so happy to have friends who support my every move, who I can laugh with until I’m in stitches and act like a complete goon around at all times without feeling judged. I have friends who can so lovingly put me in my place when I need a kick in the butt because they really care and I thank them for that. They know that I do which is why they don’t hesitate. I’m thankful that everyone I’m close to is smart, beautiful, driven and passionate. I am grateful to have some pretty fantastic and powerhouse woman role models to look up to in the Artistic community. They’ve been there as mentors and friends as I’ve taken each step toward loving and practicing a new art and having them has been a dream. Having examples like them in my life only helps me to reach for even higher heights and goals. I made some pretty strong choices last year and I would be lying if I said they were all made alone. I would run out of fingers and toes if I had to count the friends who chatted with me on the phone or over Skype for hours while I cried and debated about where to take my life next. Yes, I knew in my heart what was right and when it was time to leave that chapter behind, I was the one took the steps. But it was their guidance, love and soothing words that held my hand as I did so. I am grateful for every one of you that continues to leave their handprint on my heart. You’re all rock stars to me.
My country has become a part of my identity while I travel. “How’s it going Canada?” is something I hear so often from my  backpacking friends. When you meet people from all over the world, names slip from your mind the second you hear them. I’m not kidding. I’ve hung out with people for a whole day and still don’t know their name by the end of it. Whoops. But I do know where they come from and that’s often how we identify each other. My eyes have been opened lately to how little I know about where I’m from because I haven’t traveled outside of Ontario. I know, it’s embarrassing and every time someone asks me where they should go when visiting I just smile and say, “well…I’ve heard the West Coast is nice…” My next trip is definitely going to involve traveling West to East. It needs to be done. I have, however, realized even more than I already did how lucky I am to live in a place like our home and native land. As a Canadian, I’m able to travel to all of these countries for at least 30 days without having to purchase a travel Visa which has been a blessing. If anyone is having trouble finding work, I wouldn’t complain too much. In Spain, restaurants and shops can’t afford to hire more than one or two people at a time right now. We had waiters serving and cooking for an entire restaurant on their own many times. We can live safely and freely amongst some pretty rad people. I’ve always loved our stereotype. How can you not be proud of a place where the people who live there are known for being nice and saying sorry a lot? Mostly though, I feel grateful for the roof over my head and the opportunities available to me because of where I am proud to live.
Which leads me to my appreciation for this entire planet. I have an opportunity that I haven’t taken for granted once. I know that traveling the world is something we all feel a strong pull to do at different stages of our lives. When I felt mine pulling, things just fell into place at the right time and I was able to take that dream and run full speed ahead while it wrapped itself around me. Seeing four countries so far in the past three months has been an unbelievable experience. There is so much exquisite beauty out there showing itself in big and small ways. I’ve been immersed in it and a part of it and man, it’s always just as breathtaking every time I come across a new gift of the culture. This is an education that you can’t get anywhere else and the lessons I learn here will do great things for me and for my career. I just want to scream at the sky every second, “Thank you! Thank you so much for your diversity and grace and colour and deep beauty! What can I possibly do to repay you?” The world answers back, “nothing at all. Just live it.” And I am. I can. That makes the thankfulness pour out of my soul at a rapid pace.
I’d like to send a thank you up there to my Great Grandfather Donald Stark who without, I would never be at this cafe in Ireland. I wouldn’t have gotten lost in Venice, scuba dived in the Greek Mediterranean or walked across a country. Thank you for your gift and I’ll only continue to send love as I head to Scotland where your soul probably floats around happily.
As I finish the last of this post, I sit happily in front of a fireplace in an Irish family home. Jessica and her father Tomas are two amazing people I met on the Camino. They live in a little town called Trim in Co. Meath, Ireland and have allowed me to stay for as long as I need, wash my clothes, drink tea and showed me around the whole county this afternoon. Tonight we cozied up by a gorgeous homemade Thanksgiving dinner cooked by her amazing Mother and they so generously celebrated with me. There are no words for an experience such as this. They make me thankful for something very important. The present. There’s nothing more beautiful than right now.
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Walking Forward

The thought of my anticipated last moment walking the Camino has been lingering in my mind since day one. Naturally, we all looked ahead now and again when we realized what we were traveling towards. Or better put, what we thought we were traveling towards. In the beginning, it was just a cathedral in our minds. A historic building that has been walked upon by pilgrims for centuries. As we developed friendships and experienced breakthroughs, it became a new beginning. The end of the Camino de Santiago began representing a lot more than any of us believed from the start. Still, the questions circled. Who would we be linking arms with as we took those final steps? What thoughts would be repeating in our brains? Would the moment live up to all we had dreamed? None of these could truly be answered nor should they. I wanted to keep all those doors wide open for possibility. Having expectations never seemed like the way to go.Image

 The evening before the last 15km was just as exciting as the night before Christmas has ever been. I found myself lying awake far longer than I should with the early morning rise ahead. It all seemed to have sped up over the last few days. I can’t explain how time works when you’re walking for weeks on end. The moments are savoured with more depth and you don’t have the real world to distract you. Things seem to pass by slower in a beautiful way, in a way life should be lived. Every week had me feeling like I had been walking for years.  Looking back on it now, I couldn’t tell you where the time went. Didn’t I take my first steps only yesterday? ImageMy very first early morning steps of this incredible Way
My mind sifted through the people I met and the lessons I had learned. These were things I never wanted to let go of. They had shaped me. I didn’t realize the extent of it all until I let my mind take me back through the days. All thirty-three of them took me further physically and let me soar forward mentally. I had a new way of looking at things now. I appreciated the smaller moments even more than I believed I did when I started. My mind seemed permanently stuck on Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. This whole journey has you focusing on the basic human needs your body craves to keep you going. Will it feed me? Eat it. Do I need rest? Sleep. Bandage your feet, drink at least 2 litres of water per day, strap on your life in a pack and walk. It keeps you grounded to say the least. I hope more than anything I can take back the lesson of necessity.
The things I thought I needed to let go of the most took care of themselves within the first three days. Whatever followed was unexpected and conquered with a full heart and good friends. The ways in which the Camino shaped me into who I am now cannot be explained, only shown. I couldn’t be more excited to share them with the people I love back home.
I found myself waiting at 5am for three lovely ladies from Germany that wanted to make it to Santiago in time for the famous mass. I really, truly thought that I had learned all that I could but the lessons kept on showing themselves up until the very last second. Here I was, walking on the final day with people I didn’t expect to share it with. I guess you can say I learned one of the most important lessons of all.
Always follow your own path.ImageIt’s easy to get caught up in the desires of others. When you’ve spent so long around a group of people, you begin to sway yourself in the direction of what they want to do and forget that this is your journey and no one else’s. Thinking back to my very first day, I remembered somebody telling me, “it’s not your Camino if you follow somebody else’s rules.” Up until then, it hadn’t hindered me. I walked at my own pace and we all happened to match up. Suddenly I was placed at a crossroad and the tables had turned. The mass honouring the pilgrims, the swinging of the Botafumeiro…those were all important to me and I was so close to sacrificing my final moments to do what I was comfortable with and lead out the ending I counted on. I don’t know where the initial instinct came from but I was glad that the attitude I know I normally embody took over. This was going to be a special moment no matter who I was walking it with. These three girls were just as excited as I was to be reaching the end. The moment was going to be mine regardless of the circumstances. Looking back years, days or weeks from now, I knew I would feel wonderful about making that decision. Camino, you never fail to provide insight at just the right moment.
Don’t let the behaviour of others destroy your inner peace – Dalai Lama
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We all experienced the jitters while we walked. The butterflies didn’t stop flapping their wings the entire way. I talked with Lena most of the trip there and we shared our favourite moments of discovery. Simultaniously, we agreed that “the Camino provides” never stopped showing itself. Didn’t the people you meet always come back exactly when you needed them to? Didn’t cheesecake show up at the precise moment you were craving it? Maybe that’s something we need to take back into our everyday lives. We need to be able to count on the world a little bit more. It takes a lot of strength but sending things out to the Universe works if you believe in it hard enough. Maybe it’s just about having a sense of hope that things are going to work out in the way they’re supposed to. That way of thinking really keeps you going.
We powered through 10km with only a quick stop here and there to get our pilgrim passports stamped for the last few times. When we saw the 4.7km sign to the cathedral, my heart rate picked up and we all skipped down the hill. It had rained pretty hard over the last few days and as we looked out on the distant city of Santiago, a rainbow was shining down to welcome us in. It seemed to take ages to walk through that city but before we knew it, we were just mere steps away. The four of us linked arms and Sarah played the final countdown on her phone a few minutes before arriving. A stone tunnel led us in and the cathedral that seemed so far away at first became bigger and brighter as we took steps closer.
All of a sudden, there it was. The intricate and ancient beauty of this building towered over us all. A lump formed in my throat and tears filled my eyes. We screamed and hugged and took it all in. This was it. This is what we had been walking towards for over a month. The feeling overwhelmed me as I looked around and saw other pilgrims experiencing the same sense of pure joy and accomplishment. There were tears, big hugs and heartfelt phone calls surrounding me. I felt pride and emotion take over as I watched the moments unfold. I don’t think there was a happier place we could be. Out of nowhere, people from the beginning of my journey came to greet me. I saw two amazing ladies from Canada who I hadn’t run into for weeks. We hugged and celebrated the success. Michelle, the photographer and documentary maker who I had been searching for since the second day greeted me unexpectedly. I was shocked and extremely excited to see her again as we sceamed hellos and hugged tightly. Her brother and Brittany followed and I could see the pride in their eyes even days after finishing.
For some reason, I was gung-ho on getting a photo of me jumping outside of the cathedral. I don’t know how I mustered up enough energy to jump several times in order to get the shot but as I took the first leap, something really amazing happened. Nicola had given me a bracelet during one of my down days. It was a series of amethyst stones that were said to represent a cleansing of the aura and become a bringer of new energy. As I jumped high, the bracelet flew off my wrist and sailed across the square, shattering into a million pieces. Perhaps I’m digging into it too deeply but it was as if I didn’t need them anymore. My energy had been restored, my spirits lifted and my aura cleansed. I felt free and completely at peace. It was unforgettable and almost indescribable, that feeling. It will sit with me as a constant reminder for years to come.Image
 With tears still stinging my cheeks and my heart racing, I walked the route to pick up my certificate and receive the last stamp. I continued to see people from all different legs of my journey. They greeted me with hugs and high fives the whole way. I couldn’t believe it! I didn’t think my final day would actually be like this. Maybe I had daydreamed some unfathomable scenario in my head but even though this whole experience has been almost unreal, I had no idea it would come full circle. I wouldn’t really be walking the end alone or saying goodbye to the people I loved at all! Each of them would be there to meet me at the finish line and we would all celebrate this accomplishment together as these people we had helped each other grow into.
When I rounded the corner, Nicola and Michelle were there to meet me. The two of them ran at me with full speed and Nicola wrapped me in a hug that filled my whole body with happiness and love. I giggled the whole way to mass and as we took our seats, I spotted Gustavo waving with a smile spread across his face. I ran at him and screeched a congratulations. It was endearing to see someone from my initial crew who I had chatted with about my final moments in Santiago. It was even more endearing when he leaned over and whispered to me, “you and I spent the first and the last Camino mass together.” That’s what this Way is all about. It’s about the community of people that surround you and never stop being a part of your path. It’s incredible.A gentle and sweet nun stood at the alter which was covered in gold and taught us how to sing a Spanish hymn in harmony. Several faces amongst the crowded seats sent waves and blew kisses my way. Silent congratulations escaped their lips causing me to break out into an even bigger smile. Gustavo translated what he could and I beamed as they read out the number of Canadians who had walked from St. Jean. That was me they were talking about. I had done it…
I was so lucky to have come on a day where they were swinging the Botafumeiro. The Botafumeiro is a beautiful thurible (a fancy word for metal container) that incloses incense and hangs on a rope high above in the cathedral ceiling. It takes eight Tiraboleiros (men of the service in red robes) to lift the thurible up and swing it back and forth over the heads of the attenders. Long ago it was said to cleanse the air caused by unwashed pilgrims who had just finished their journey. I was at a loss for words when it began swinging and the soft soprano voice of the nun filled the room. Back and forth it went and the little hairs on my arm stood on end. I was caught in a trance of amazement and absolute gratitude. I was thankful that this mass happened every single day. I was thankful that the Camino is a part of our world. There’s a trail that leads through a country and guides people with a common ground. We’re all searching for ourselves and together we become a part of each others journey because we help to influence one another. There’s a place in this world where people find peace, self love and eternal friendship and it’s been walked and celebrated for hundreds of years. Isn’t that the most beautiful thing you’ve ever heard? All of these thoughts circled my mind as I watched this beautiful piece of history swing high and low.
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Before leaving, I lit a few candles in honour of loved ones and lined up to hug the statue of St. James which had been so worn down from the embracing he’s felt over the years. Walking away from that service left me feeling complete about my Camino. I realized right then that I didn’t need to walk anymore. I had no reason to. Although my original plan was to continue on to Finisterre, the end of the known world, I didn’t feel like I truly needed the physical and mental experience it would continue to take me through. I had trampled through walls and barriers and discovered direction. I developed opinions and an unbreakable confidence in my art. I had let go, embraced and learned. My time on the Camino had no need to continue on here in Spain. I was ready to put it into action in my life outside of all this.
The relaxing, drinking and eating didn’t stop in Santiago. The community didn’t disappear either. A lot of my fellow pilgrims decided to spend a few days in this buzzing and lively city. What I loved the most about my time here was being able to walk down the street and wave to people I knew. I felt like I had lived there all my life with each hello to a passing friend. It touched me to watch pilgrims I didn’t know but felt like I still had such a connection with as they walked with pride down the street that lead them to the cathedral. You could see the smiles on their faces as they linked arms or tightly squeezed the hands of their friends. I knew how they were feeling and I almost relived it all over again whenever I was there to see it happen. Santiago was a city of vibrant energy and celebration. I could have stayed there much longer but before leaving, I needed to see Finisterre. I still wanted to experience its magic so we hopped on a bus and took the three hour drive out to the end of the Earth.
I carried with me a piece of my walking stick, the stones from my amethyst bracelet and a lined piece of paper filled with the last stragglers of thoughts I needed to let fly in the breeze. Nicola had joined me and the second we walked off of that bus, each of us ran into somebody we had met on the very first day of the trail and had barely seen since. Actually, the entire city was filled with people we knew. I should have expected it. I was running into friends left right and centre who I hadn’t seen since the first few days. The beauty of the Camino continued on and on.  I was excited to see the ocean after being away from it for such a long time. The rain fell down around us and there was a dark sky above but I kind of liked the grey light it cast. This was a harbour town and it added to the feeling of it all. It was one of those rain days that doesn’t upset you because it inspires hot tea and cake in a cosy room. We enjoyed exactly that before heading up the hill for the 3km walk to the lighthouse.
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We each took our time alone and headed as far to the edge of the cliff as possible. I discovered an empty patch at the bottom of a very rocky hill and made my way down with careful steps. Buried amongst the rocks I could see the articles of clothing, shoes and sentimental items that others had left here over the years. Some of them had letters attached in small, plastic bags and a few had burnt to charcoal following the symbolic tradition. It reminded me of Cruce de Ferro in so many ways as a place of love and release at the true end of the journey.  I noticed a man standing at the edge of the cliff, his hair blowing in the wind and deep in thought. I wondered what he was thinking just then and if he had found what he was looking for. When I reached the edge, I too stared out onto the horizon that was barely visible in the distance. It looked like someone had smudged the skies line into the pale ocean.ImageImageImage
 I took off my shoes and sat cross legged on the rock, holding onto my paper and items tightly. The wind was strong and the waves below me crashed rapidly and with purpose. I don’t know how long I stayed sitting there just letting my mind relax. I thought about how beautiful this moment was and how lucky I was to be a part of it. I thought about the last month and how much had been reached and accomplished. Then, seconds before I let go of my items, I thought about what they meant to me and why they belonged in the ocean instead.
One…two…three…
I let my paper fly. It flew from my unclutched hand and blew away until I couldn’t see it anymore. My rocks and walking stick followed behind and landed with the crashing waves. With a sigh and a smile I stood up and walked back up the hill.
The Camino de Frances was finished. The walking was completed and my mind was where it needed to be. I knew that this was the end of my time here but the future holds so many possibilities. I’m still taking steps forward but there won’t be any yellow arrows to guide me this time. I’ll be in charge of that.
My Camino adventure was over but the real journey…that’s just beginning.Image

Ultreïa et sus eia. Onward and Upward

I stand atop of a hill full of burdens, the wind gently grazing across my cheek and the whole world silent. The rocks that surround my feet symbolize many things. They stand for freedom, peace, bravery, new beginnings, a loved one who sits in the heart of the person who’s placed it there. Traditionally, the stones that are set upon Cruce de Ferro are ones which a pilgrim has carried from the very beginning of their journey. They’re being carried for those who aren’t able to be there themselves and when placed on the hill they are told to send alms to those that you care about. They send the energy of a healthy well being. Others are used to let go of a burden and clear the mind. I clutched onto both of my stones with the utmost care. One of them was absolutely covered in letters. I spent a great deal of time thinking about the people in my life who are extra special to me and those who have shaped who I am today. I carefully wrote the first letter of their name on the stone and thankfulness swept over me as I realized that it was now covered from front to back. I couldn’t have felt more loved. Image

I looked around me and studied how each stone was different and unique. Some were hand painted while others sat bare but still full of thoughts and memories. The iron cross stood proudly in the middle and was covered in notes, letters and photographs from top to bottom. One was an envelope titled Please drop this letter closest to God. Some were titled simply Mom. I suddenly became a lot more emotional than I anticipated but knowing myself, I guess it was expected. What brought the tears rolling down my cheeks was the fact that through everything that goes on in this world, through all the chaos and disaster, things like this exist. Places like this that are dedicated to so much beauty, love and release stand in the middle of nowhere and never move.
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It felt like hours had passed as I held my stone tightly between my fingers. When I finally felt like I was able to let it go, I placed it carefully amongst the others and released a breath as I walked down to meet my friends. I felt that feeling of freedom again. It traveled through my entire body in waves. Kate and I decided to take one more trip to the top and let out a howl to celebrate. The moment was everything I imagined it to be and more. 
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The last of the Meseta trickled off gradually last week and the gang and I found ourselves in a small little town just before our halfway point. When we walked into the albergue, a glowing woman welcomed us with a sense of calmness very similar to Mau from the Hospital for the Soul. She told us to head to the back, take off our shoes and relax. She knew first hand what it felt like walking this stretch because she had traveled the Camino three times! As soon as she told us she offered foot massages for donation, I knew we had found heaven. Her name is Judit and what I was surprised to discover was she seemed to know a great deal about joints and muscles. She was able to tell me exactly what I should be changing about my walking habits in order to fix my problems. Not only was she knowledgable in the health of the body but she was also incredibly in touch with the mind. Everything that came out of her mouth was spoken with peace, grace and wisdom. I relaxed just being around her as she told me what she did back home in Germany. I knew she reminded me of Mau for a reason. Judit runs a space from her home where she provides help to others in all different forms. She provides psychological advice, physiotherapy for injured pilgrims walking through the country, a place to sleep and cook and a shoulder to cry on. During the summer months, she works here in this village giving back to the path that shaped her life. Without having said a word she told me, “you must stop worrying about keeping the pace of others. I know you want to stay with the people you love but go your own speed and you’ll find them again. The Camino will bring them back to you.” A moment or two passed by before she added, “I know that you’re meant to do something that allows you to be creative. You aren’t meant to live a 9-5 life. This life is too short to do anything that doesn’t make you happy.” I’ve known this for quite some time but the fact that she was able to read that after we’d hardly spoken blew me away.  That was the moment I told her about my photography and asked if I could capture her. It’s funny because even the calmest people seem to become flustered at the though of being photographed. Her essence was difficult to get across but she relaxed after I engaged her in conversation. She performed some wildly effective reiki energy on my ankle before we parted and I got the feeling that she held a gift of truly seeing people that not a lot of us have. I felt very lucky to have met her. I know now that if I ever need a place to stay in Germany, her door is always open.
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It’s as if Judit knew deep down that I would be faced with a new challenge. Recently, I’ve been separated from the group that I’ve become so close to since the third day walking. I’m not sure what drove me to walk 40km one morning but my legs continued to take me through every little town because none of them seemed to feel right. I was hoping to branch out and meet some new people who I may have been missing out on while walking with others. I wanted to take a bit of a leap outside of my comfort zone and see what it brought me. I would never, ever suggest walking 40km in 32 degree heat to anyone! I was thankful that the scenery was enough to keep me sane because I had hardly seen a soul while walking that day. Nicola had decided to stay in a bigger town called Villafranca and to be honest, the fact that I knew there was a familiar face waiting there helped to keep me going. As I dragged my legs up to the city about 8km from my final destination, I spotted two girls named Tara and Tara-Lynn who I had met close to the beginning of my journey and hadn’t seen since. I couldn’t have been more grateful to see people I knew! I practically fell into their arms the second I walked over to them. They happened to be going to the same place and we agreed to walk together and boost each others spirits. ImageImageImageImageImage
 A lot of this trail took us through a vineyard and as we approached it, something magical happened. We heard music. At first it was faint and low but as we walked up the hill, it became louder and louder and we had no idea where the sound was coming from. I didn’t realize quite how much music lifts a spirit and brightens a mindset. I found my tired self skipping, yes, skipping down the hill to The Cure. We were blessed by a gift and without it, I wouldn’t have made that last 5km. Thank you, thank you to the soul who gave us the vineyard soundtrack. Image
 The vibe of the Camino seemed to change after Nicola and I were just a pair. I was thankful for her company. The time alone was pleasant but lonely. I had spent far too much time focusing on how different things were instead of the beauty that the change brought me. Little moments presented themselves throughout my days. While walking through the middle of absolute nowhere, I came across a cantina that was formed from a run down, old brick building. The walls were covered in writing and quotations from pilgrims who had sat down to rest over the years. I stopped to lounge in an inviting hammock and paused dead in my tracks as I noticed a piece of paper pinned up on the wall. I recognized the names on the torn out page right away. Pages 56 and 57 of Waiting for Godot hung by a pink paper clip. As I read the passage, I noticed how perfectly it fit the spirit of the Camino and how it described the exact situation that had just occurred in my own life. It was a sense of magic and oasis in the desert. I was beginning to think I had a guardian angel on my side. Image
 
Vladimir: Your boots, what are you doing with your boots?
 
Estragon: I’m leaving them there. Another will come, just as…as me, but with smaller feet, and they’ll make him happy. 
 
Just steps away from there, a man strummed his guitar to a catchy Spanish tune and added in words that worked with each passerby. He sang to me, “the pilgrim is walking to Santiago with her camera!” It was fitting and a much needed giggle! A town away from that, a woman handed Nicola and I a whole bag full of churro’s (deep fried sticks of dough) free of charge because the shop was closing in a few minutes. The cafe was called Sonrisas which means Smiles in Spanish and you better believe we had big grins on our faces after that one! ImageImage
 A week or two into my walk, I met a radiant woman named Michelle. I had heard plenty about her from Nicola who had spent time with her toward the beginning and she was someone I was hoping we’d catch up to. Michelle is from Vancouver so we immediately had something to bond over. That and the Dan Mangan blasting from her iPhone. I knew her as the stunt woman before I truly got a chance to know who she was. She has performed some incredible stunts in films and has been in that industry for years and years of her life. It fascinated me at first, thinking about the thrill of a career like that. I didn’t really get to know Michelle until we met for a third time in Astorga and I asked to take her photo. I learned that from a young age she practiced baton twirling and was up to become the best in the world. The hours she practiced and perfected became the center of her life through her teenage years. The baton lead into dancing which lead her to the circus. There she discovered a natural ability to handle knives which had her thinking about stunt work more and more. The stunts took her body through a turbulence and there was a moment where she decided she didn’t want to put herself through the pain and fear any longer. She knew that her path was meant to head elsewhere and the destination was to be determined. That is how the Camino came into her life and while we deluged deeper into conversation I could hear the direction she had already found. It was in her voice and in her eyes. She’s discovered that she’s a teacher at heart with all the qualities to guide others in the right direction. She wants to be a creator of her own success in the artistic world. Recently her knee has caused her some troubles and Her Camino has involved a few bus rides. A part of her wondered if this would seem like a moment of failure to her friends and family back home. Being an athlete puts that imagine in the mind of others that something like a walking trail would be a piece of cake to complete. What I loved the most was her approach to the obstacles. Yes, she was injured but it taught her that your body is not invincible. It has limits and maybe, just maybe Her Camino was meant to involve a bus or two. Perhaps that’s guiding her to the right place and teaching her again that her path needs to head in a different direction. The fact is, she’s getting to Santiago one way or another and I am inspired by her determination and strength through it all. It’s a gift to be able to take even the most difficult moments and accept that the world wants to show you something far different than you planned. Michelle, I know you’ll find your way because you’re keeping your head held high and moving forward. She has one of the best grips on her experience that I’ve seen so far and it’s only going to lead her to beautiful things. You’ve already taught me lessons I’ll hold on to. ImageImage
 It took one final moment to realize that things had blessed me all the same despite this new Camino feel. There was a fairly steep mountain ahead a few days ago and I prepared myself to walk up the entire thing on foot. Nicola and I passed by signs advertising a way to reach the top by horseback. We didn’t hesitate to call and book two spots for the next morning! I hadn’t ridden a horse since I was a little kid and unfortunately none of the skills came back to me. The good news is, I felt like I really bonded with my beauty Viagita (translating into Old Fashioned) and after a terrifying first trot I adjusted pretty quickly to her ways. She was a slow one and we often trailed behind but she did her best to keep up and together we rode up and through the stunning mountains. The view was incredible. A man yelled out to me, “the Camino sure is different from up here!” He was absolutely right. It was an entirely different experience and I wouldn’t have done it any other way. I sat there awestruck by the rolling hills that seemed to stretch forever into the mist and the dinging of sheep bells in the distance. I thought back right then to the morning I left the path alone and was invited to sit at a campfire with two pilgrims and enjoy a tea with the sunrise. I remembered watching the sunset in a grassy patch that night and feeling entirely clear after my day laying down my stone. Moments of magic had shown themselves in my time of need and a man in Villafranca had cleared my worried mind by making me a special bed to sleep in when there was “no room at the inn.” Judit was right, the Camino will bring my friends back to me. We’ll all walk to Santiago hand in hand in the end.  Until then, special moments and acts of kindness appear again and again. I’ve spent so much time missing the vibe from the beginning of my journey when what I should be looking at is how it’s continued to show itself in new and different ways.ImageImage
 
I sit now about 100km from my final destination in a city called Sarria. I have some big days ahead of me but I’m determined to keep open for each and every one of them. After all, I’ve found the mountains again and they continue to surround me every step of the way. There’s always a silver lining and the spirit of the Camino, well, it hasn’t gone anywhere. 

Miles To Go Before I Sleep

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I  have promises to keep

And miles to go before I sleep, 

And miles to go before I sleep. 

The three of us walked side by side through the mystical forest. I will never forget the stark purple flowers that guided our way. They were the only thing glowing as the white mist loomed then drifted slowly over the gravel path. There was a familiarity about our surroundings but a complete sense of unknown at the same time. The two emotions mingled in harmony. Many of the hills we climbed lead into a misty cloud, a seemingly nowhere destination. I mentioned the fact that I felt really free. A piece of my mind had been calmed and I was at peace with areas of my life I had been holding onto.
“Let it out,” Jale told me. We had recently experienced the invigorating and cathartic release of screaming at the top of our lungs in the middle of nowhere. It’s an urge we often get in a world where it’s so easy to feel trapped. Jale, our new friend Nicola and I all let out a howl so loud that  I’m sure it could be heard from the next town over. It’s something I plan to come back to time and time again.

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 It’s been said that the Camino consists of three separate stages. The first stage focuses on the physical aspect of the walk. It breaks you down and shows your body that it’s capable of far more than the standards you’ve set for yourself. The next stage is mental and although I beg to differ that it only begins on the 12th day, once your body accepts its fate your mind begins to do the same. While faced with walks alone and the meditative sound of your own footsteps, it runs wild and free and thoughts come out of the woodwork. Growth always follows and the moment you think you’ve already found exactly what you’re looking for, it throws you a curve ball. The last stage is spiritual. Whatever you feel spirituality is for you, it will fill your mind through until your last steps into Santiago and onto Finisterre. Having walked halfway across the country now, I should be into the mental stage of the game but like I said before, it strikes you from the moment you walk through the Pyrenees. Just keep following those yellow arrows.Image

 Our days following consisted of gorgeous landscapes just the same and sleepy little towns that hardly seemed real. My body has reached that point where it’s accepted that this is how it’s going to be until October hits. It’s finally seemed to surrender. Apart from the fact that I’ve rolled over my ankle about seven times and the arches of my feet are close to collapsing, I feel thankful. I am lucky that this is the extent of my injured body. Not a blister in sight and my knees are still in working condition! It could be heaps worse. It’s funny because our days have become longer and longer and the distances that seemed daunting are now considered easy. They’re baby days. After two days back to back of 36km each, 20km is a piece of cake to any of us. Doesn’t that seem hard to believe? Our sleep in mornings consist of a 6:45am wake up and 20km is a short and simple morning stroll. Who knew I would ever catch myself saying that! It’s true though. Like a lovely friend wrote to me the other day, I guess we can get used to anything. Image
 When I’m not surrounded by the beauty of nature that can’t be ignored, it comes to me in the form of The Meseta. This particular section of the trail stretches for one hundred kilometres and consists of a completely open space with a dirt path running all the way through. I’ve heard that the olden day pilgrims used to make a point of walking this section alone because it has a way of breaking you down. When you’re surrounded by emptiness and the hot sun is beating down on your forehead, your mind can do nothing but think and your legs can do nothing but walk. It sounds tedious, yes. And if I were to express my desire for everyone to have the opportunity to walk it, you would look at me like I’m a complete nutcase. It’s been a highlight in many ways and I think it’s become even more impactful as the physical stage wears off slowly. On this particular day I was taken aback by the formation of the clouds and the open space. The sky covers you like a blanket. There’s nothing to distract you from its enormity and it seems bigger than ever before. It’s really wonderful to zoom in on the secret treasures of the world while walking along.
ImageWhile heading through a town called Viana, we had no choice but to leave our friend Gustavo behind. I knew we would eventually begin to walk at different paces and the moment would come. A common phrase we like to use as encouragement during the low moments is: “the camino will provide.” It always does. Somehow the Camino has a way of giving us and showing us everything we need. It proved itself once again only a short day after we left Gustavo behind. Nicola became a huge presence very quickly and her wisdom and light has followed us all the days since. I became enthralled by her love for meditation and have vowed since to make it a huge part of my day to day life. The more we walk together, the more I seemed to learn about myself. Her experience and advice act as my guide toward a new perspective and has been the driving force toward happy and exhilarating breakthroughs. I am blessed that she sauntered up to Jale and I that afternoon only last week…
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The people that you meet on a journey such as this become family very quickly. Somebody once told me that every day on the Camino you earn one year of wisdom and every day of friendship should be considered at least a week. They couldn’t have been more right about it. Not only do I feel like I’ve reached heights so high above the person I was when I began, but these people have impacted me on a level that I cherish as deeply as the relationships I’ve spent years building upon. It’s beautiful. It’s beautiful that time doesn’t seem to matter when it comes to a life changing friendship.
Every day we get up and walk. It’s the only goal we have in mind. Our time is measured in kilometres, towns and the nearest bar. At this point, it’s a pleasant surprise when we run into a group that has been behind or ahead for a few days. We’ve all discovered what our legs are capable of and walk only what we can handle. The nights finish with drinking and a three course meal. You would think that we would tire from the routine but as much as every day is the same, it’s also drastically different. The actions are all similar but the way we experience each home stretch or meal always changes. They’re filled with different thoughts and sources of laughter each time. If we’re lucky, some of the albergues have a kitchen and we’re able to cook which is a slice of heaven when it seems like ages since I’ve created something out of food! A friend Matt and I deemed ourselves chefs and made a gorgeous meal for the lot of us one night. It doesn’t take much to make us happy, really. A home cooked meal and good company is the definition of content. Running barefoot through the streets of Spain in the pouring rain will stay in my memory forever. Those moments where I’m lying with friends writing in my journal, drinking wine from the bottle and giggling on my back as the sun goes down…they are the simple things that keep becoming more and more satisfying each day. For once, you’re only focused on what you truly need for your body, your health and most importantly for your well being. There’s no excuse letting either of those go unnoticed. ImageNew friends. Beautiful peopleImageImageImage
ImageI’ve found the sunflowers again. Fields and fields of them every day. I think the Universe has decided to apologize for making me walk so far to find them in Florence.

 As I write about my experiences it becomes more and more difficult each time to truly express the feelings they bring me. I’ve talked to many fellow pilgrims and they’ve expressed the exact same concern. When we speak to our families, it’s easy to tell them that “today I walked 30km, ate a ham sandwich and fell asleep.” But what our hearts are dying to say is that we’ve all been altered that day! We’ve all felt community and love and compassion for one another. While walking through a small town the other day, I stumbled across a place that may help explain the unique nature of a pilgrim in the best way possible.
A sign outside the door read The Hospital for the Soul. Beside it, a small plaque said:
This is not an albergue, just a place for pilgrims to relax and feel comfortable. Please, use our kitchen. Don’t be afraid to plant in the garden, visit our library or take a rest in the beds. Feel free to view our photo collection titled “Chasing our Shadows”. 
Nicola and I wandered in and were immediately overcome with a sense of peace. Soft music played throughout the house and each nook and cranny was so thoughtfully decorated. I carefully studied each photo on the wall. They all held a quotation below that fit the spirit of the Camino so perfectly! I read that the man who owned this place had walked the Camino himself many times. He and a woman he met on the journey started this house together and the two of them wanted to create a place where pilgrims could rest and feel at ease. As I wandered around in awe, I discovered a table with painted rocks, postcards and beautiful hand-made journals. A wooden donation box sat beside the gifts and tears filled my eyes from the trust they had in the people walking through. Not a soul was in sight throughout the whole house and anyone could have wandered in and taken advantage of its gorgeous contents. Being pilgrims themselves, they must have understood the nature of the people passing through these towns. It tugged at my heartstrings when I thought about how rare it would be to find something like this back at home. Nonetheless, I enjoyed every bit of it right there and then. I wished harder than ever before that I could bottle up this exact energy and take it home with me.
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A moment of Camino magic showed itself in the form of a book in the upstairs library. Nicola had been thinking about the book The Pilgrim’s Progress which is read by the sisters in the novel Little Women. For a few days she had been longing to read again and this particular book had been on her mind as something she thought would be interesting to enjoy on a pilgrimage herself. As we studied the shelves and the books displayed that were all written in Spanish, only one English book sat quietly on the highest shelf. It was The Pilgrim’s Progress. It was as if it had been placed there just for her. As she grabbed it quickly, I could feel her excitement from this little miracle. An address written on paper was placed on the lid of a chest in the same room. Anyone walking through was able to take books they felt drawn to and post them back or send their favourites to add to the collection. Ask and the Camino shall provide.
Suddenly, a man with a long beard and an angelic step appeared in the stairway. Nicola explained about the book and he smiled telling us “of course you can post it back. People do that all the time.” We followed him downstairs and boiled water for green tea. The two of us sat there drinking and breathing, still shocked from the way this place seemed to alert every single one of our senses. It was a sense of serenity that I’ve never felt before. It heightened as the man walked by with burning frankincense. I felt the closest to peace I think I’ve ever been.
While I sat back in my chair enjoying small squares of chocolate, a cat sauntered in and was shooed away by the man who had immediately seemed so calm. I was confused at first but let it pass as he told us, “he pees everywhere.” Gotchya. I knew then that I needed to photograph him. He held an incredible presence and aside from that, I wanted to learn more about this place and thank him for what it brought me.
When I peeked my head outside, I saw that this man was now playing happily with the same cat he had chased away. His smile was big and bright as the kitten lounged in his arms and crawled around his neck. A stark contrast from their previous interaction. In broken Spanish I asked him if I was able to take his photo and thankfully, he responded enthusiastically in English. As I snapped away, I found out his name was Mau. The lady running this with him is named Nia and is also the photographer behind the series of photos around the house. He asked me where I was from and a bit about my photography before he looked me in the eyes and put his hand on my shoulder. With total confidence he said to me, “You’re going to make millions of dollars from this photo of me and when you do, I want you to do only good things with it. I want you to build hospitals and use it to help other people. Can you promise me that?” I nodded my head yes. “You have my word”, I told him. He lead me to a little cave in the garden that had been dug deep into the rocky wall. “This is where I do most of my working”, he told me. He held up a cross that he had hand painted with a smiley face on the front and began working on it instinctively, adding to the detail and colour, smiling all the while. I asked him what his absolute favourite thing was about what he did.
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 “I just want to keep my door open.”
I couldn’t stop thanking him for providing this space. I know in my heart that it’s affected people in the exact way it affected me and the world certainly needs more people like Mau and Nia. Image
Before I walked away, he reminded me again what I was to do with my millions of dollars. I assured him he wouldn’t feel let down. With a full heart, I walked away and emptied out the last of my change into the donation box. Mau told me I was able to take a post card with an address written on the back so I could send him the photos. I was drawn right away to a photo of somebody’s expressive hands lit up by the sun in a dark church. I re-read the biography on Mau and realized that they were his hands in this photo. He was the subject in all the photos from the Chasing Our Shadows collection they had created together.
As we left the house feeling full of grace and new light, Mau called out to us and said,
“Keep open.” 
We walked up the next hill with confidence and new perspective.
In the spirit of giving and open spaces, I was recently touched to read about a new project happening in the arts community back home. Rachel Behling who is now starting up the Kaufman Arts Initiative has begun a campaign titled “Project Pilgrim.” The goal is to get our tri-city community, and beyond, walking and appreciating the beauty found right in their own backyard! Rachel is right, the Camino can be found anywhere. We’re all in need of a time to feel disconnected from the living world and take part in a meditative experience. There is so much beauty in this universe and most of us walk by it without taking the time to stop and reflect. Share your stories, mark your own way and dare to inspire! Our arts community will be sparked with passion and continue to grow the more we walk, explore and learn from each other! Take a minute or two to look at the website and read more about this amazing new step! I hope it ignites something in you.
Off I go from the geographical centre of the Camino and onto the end of the known world.

A Community Along the Way: A Camino Journey for Reasons I’m Still Discovering

In a fast pace universe amidst the rocks and trees of North Western Spain, I walk in a peaceful and untouched part of the world. I walk with a community that never fails to protect, guide and support me with every step taken. I walk with grace and an extra bounce during those golden hours and broken arches during those moments where it feels almost impossible to continue up that last hill. I hear the words of encouragement behind me,

 “we are strong, we are brave and we are healthy”
 It makes me feel grateful to hear it coming from new friends but most of all, it brings me to a grand realization. As I look out over the vineyards and rolling hills, I think to myself:
There is so much more in this world to appreciate than to complain about. 
 
To go through each and every person that has given me direction and wisdom on this journey would be near impossible. I knew going into this that everyone would have a story. I was sure that I would be walking alone but never really feel alone at all. All of these things proved to be true. What I didn’t expect was the overwhelming sense of selflessness from each and every pilgrim I’ve encountered. Their generosity baffles me. There could be an injury or a hungry traveler and seven people would hand out bandaids and granola bars. It’s happened to me and I’ve seen it happen to everyone else too. We all look out for each other. It’s the people you start with that you tend to stick with through each albergue and trail but it always surprises me who seems to come out of the woodwork when you’ve been walking on the same path for days.
Our first day was known to be the worst and as stated in the hundreds of books about the Camino, it was the most strenuous of them all. This 27km day took us up and over the Pyrenees. It felt like 34km if you calculated the steep incline. The funniest part is, this wasn’t my hardest day. In fact, I’ve almost wished to be hiking over the Pyrenees again through a few days recently. I was more than ready to walk on that first day and take on everything it threw at me.
I arrived in St. Jean Pied de Port last Thursday and was exhausted by the time the bus stopped in the parking lot. The clan of us coming from Pamplona, backpacks and all huddled together and shuffled along trying to locate the pilgrim office as best as possible.  This town was absolutely adorable and looked like something pulled straight from a fairy tale. Upon arriving at the office I was greeted by a smiling blonde lady sitting on the other side of a table. The table and the lady looked exactly like what I had imagined I would start with which was comforting. I took a seat and my special pilgrim passport was handed over along with a map and some general rules to follow while walking. I could barely sit still and was already thinking of getting started. Of course, no walking would be done that night but even the words 27km, uphill and no food for miles didn’t discourage me from our start tomorrow. With that same grin, the stamp came down with a thump and marked my clean passport with a beautiful symbol saying I had begun. It was monumental almost. My first stamp of the many I would be collecting over a 500 mile journey to Santiago.
It was the beginning of September and later in the evening which meant most albergues were full with no space to sleep. Every trip to a new city seems to get to me emotionally. It takes over without warning and before I know it, I realize I’ve left behind a place I was just beginning to get comfortable with. Mix that with the start of a spiritual journey where I’m supposed to be finding myself and you’ve got yourself a breakdown. The words “I don’t think I have enough space” after hearing it plenty of times before had finally hit me. Poor Sabine. The tears came out of nowhere and it certainly wasn’t her fault but she seemed to look guilty. Taking me under her wing, this empathetic owner gave me a bed in a room for two after some rearranging.  Bless her heart. My first taste of the people to come. It had been a lot to take in after a long day of travel and just as I was contemplating hitting the hay far earlier than expected, a young girl came walking into my room to take the empty bed beside mine. Sarah was the very first person I met on the Camino. She made me feel safe right away and my tears dried as soon as we started talking. She’s from Denmark and studying medicine. Neither of us had the clearest idea of why we were walking this pilgrimage. We both agreed that the question would be better asked when we reached the end.
The two of us took a long walk through this cute little village to find a super market but learned that things close quite early in a town that size. Lucky for us, we settled in at a restaurant that sold Moules de Frites. After all, we would only be in France until we crossed the boarder the next day so this one French meal was crucial. It was delicious and I couldn’t thank Sarah enough for the honest conversation we shared over the night. It was just what I needed to bring back that excitement for the big day ahead!
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The mornings from then on each started around 5:30am. It’s impossible to sleep any later because everyone is raring to go bright and early. I was surprised at my ability to rise out of bed and feel incredibly rested and coherent! Imagine that. Mornings are now my favourite time of day. Who have I become?! It’s the goal of a new destination and determination that drives you to feel right as rain each and every days beginning. The thought of watching the sun rise over the hills always diminishes any unhappy feeling that the morning could bring. The air was cool and the sky dark as I took my very first steps in my trusty Keens. The golden sun rose quickly behind us and I stopped to look out over the scenery. It was even more breathtaking than I dreamed it to be. The rolling hills and farmers fields created a stunning landscape of colour and depth. We walked past fields of sheep, shepherds and majestic horses roaming about in the tall grass and planes. To this day we still pass by stunning views and it never gets tiring. It’s the one thing that can always keep us going without fail. A soft mist was flowing across the path and into the fields. You could see it travel along in a slow and mystical way. Some people were disappointed of the obstructed view because of it. I thought it was magical and different. It added such an amazing atmosphere. One of my stand out memories from this walk will be the sound of the sheep’s bells as they ding with each bite of grass. They echo through the trees and paired with the sound of our footsteps on the rocky path, nothing could be more simple. It’s a meditative sound that I know I’ll try with everything I have to bring back in my memory. Image
ImageImageImageImageImageImageImage We lucked out big time with the weather. There was a perfect early morning breeze blowing through the trees as we walked and it stayed late into the day. At one point I was bundled up in all the warm clothing I had brought because the temperature toward the top of the hill was freezing for an hour or two. Let’s be honest though, those were the things you needed to focus on while climbing up, up, up this steep mountain. I’m talking a solid 80 degree angle at times I’m sure. They didn’t lie about it being difficult but thankfully I had enough new energy to last me the entire day.
Image It became obvious very quickly that I would always be able to find conversation and company. Moments alone are very important on a walk like this but it’s amazing how accessible a new connection can be on the Camino. I ran into couples, solo travellers, someone who grew up in Kitchener, mother and daughter duos and people well beyond my years passing me with big strides. Just because I’m young doesn’t mean the 60 year olds don’t wiz by me from time to time! We all come from very different parts of the world yet we’ve created this diverse and beautiful community as time has gone on. Each passing pilgrim greets you with a hello in their native language and a happy “bon Camino” or “buen Camino” as they bid you farewell. What’s even more beautiful is the buen Camino’s that come from the locals. People who aren’t even walking this trail themselves provide support and it makes you feel like you’re a part of something that is so deeply appreciated and important.
I was worried about getting lost but the trail is clearly marked with the scallop shell and those darn yellow arrows that tend to hide when you need them the most. Some towns even have shells on plaques in the ground or on the fence creating a guide to the next fork in the road. It’s such a supported adventure in these communities because in a way, we are such a huge supporter of them and their local businesses. Image
 Sarah had long gone after about an hour of walking which was something I needed to get used to. The trick to getting as far as I’ve traveled is this: Go at your own pace. Know that this is not a race. Everyone you meet will come back into your Camino experience on their own time, it’s a given. Don’t worry about losing anyone, they’ll find their way to you. She mentioned something I had never thought of before I left. Can your mind even go for that long alone? How much could you possibly think about without human interaction for miles? The answer is a lot. More than you know. It’s been a challenge to turn it off at times and just think of nothing for a few minutes. It opens your mind to a whole bunch of new ideas and thoughts when you walk alone. You become entranced by the sound of your steps and develop such a rhythm that by the time you reach the next town, you think only minutes have past. Time is not a concept we have here. I don’t have any reason to know the date, month or time of day on this trek. It’s a very simple life we all lead and it will take a great amount of getting used to when I enter the big city again. Image
Freshly picked blueberries from my day! Amazing!  
About three days in, an amazing group of five was formed. I met Kate and Michael on the second day and wanted to get to know them right away because of how interesting they both seemed to me. Kate is from New Zealand and Michael is from England. The two of them met in Greece at a dive shop and decided to do this hike together after just barely knowing each other. She is such a character and booming with personality. Michael is calm and happy which makes me feel the same when I’m with him. Gustavo is from Brazil and is such a generous and kind soul. Someone you just feel happy being around. Jale joined us on day four and is a definite soul sister. “Jolly. As in happy”, she told me. She lived up to her name. Jale was told by four different pilgrims that the two of us needed to meet because I was bound to be a perfect version of her younger self. The second we started talking I could already see our similarities. We shared an energy and a zest for life that clicked perfectly on every gruelling hill and long conversation into the hot sun. I’m fascinated by every single one of these people. Each of us brings something vital to the group and together our dynamic is the perfect blend to travel on such a walk. We know when alone time is needed. We respect the fact that sometimes we get separated but will always meet for a beer in the next town. It’s all smiles and laughs because what could we possibly be upset about? Every night we gather around for a pilgrim dinner. Each town offers a special that is normally three courses and no more than 11 Euros at most. The group of us and occasionally other pilgrim friends join and we drink red wine and enjoy a celebration toast for our days accomplishments. It’s become one of my favourite parts of each evening. I love sitting down with my temporary family and feeling completely happy and blessed that we’ve all crossed paths and can continue to travel on them together.Image
 The life changing moments that are such an outlined part of this experience happen slowly and carefully. You don’t notice them right away. It’s only when I’m writing down my thoughts or thinking back to the days events that I see the change in my mindset. It’s those moments when my brain goes wild walking alone that I can hear myself growing even more. When you walk up a hill titled “The Peak of Forgiveness”, it gives you a lot to think about. More than you expect pours out of you and traveling that length solo was cathartic release at its best. I’ve liked that although I’m traveling with a group of younger people, there are a lot of older adults on this trail that seem to have such a grand sense of wisdom about them. It’s those conversations that start with, “if I could go back and do it all again I would…” that I cherish the most and take to heart with all that I have. It’s amazing how much I’ve been directed with the way I want to approach my future career, my views on love and life and greeting the day. In areas where I didn’t think it was necessary to look, my mind would go and people would help me get there. It’s been refreshing to get all this advice from people who have been where I am and genuinely want to help guide me. Some of them have a very specific reason for walking and others tell me that’s what they’re looking for. I look forward to seeing them all every night. You begin to specify each person by their country and everyone looks out of place and different without a backpack on. Those things become a part of you. I loved photographing just a portion of who I’ve met so far because while clicking away, I got to know them on the level I love most. It was my goal to capture what it was about each person that made them unique to me which is so important when you’re meeting loads upon loads of them per day. Meet my pilgrim family! Image
ImageImageDSC_0080  Someone that stood out very brightly was a lady named Michele, her brother Michael and niece Brittany. Michele is a contemporary artist, photography being a strand of her work. When I saw she was carrying a video camera, I was curious about her project. Brittany is twenty three years old and autistic. She is non-verbal and is traveling this pilgrimage with her father and then later assistant while Michele creates a documentary every step of the way. Faith, Hope and Love, Brittany. This film will be used to raise awareness about Autism, give hope for Autism and focus on faith and breaking barriers. I was touched by this brilliant family and the realness that flooded out of their steps and spirit. They inspired me. Brittany inspired me and I am very excited to be a part of their journey. It has been a joy to get to know them all and I’m praying that our paths will cross for a longer period of time so I can continue to learn about their incredible story. Please follow along and support Brittany at http://www.faithhopelovebrittany.com 
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 See, it’s people like that who you meet. Those who inspire. It’s the little things that you cherish and hope you will never take for granted again. A fellow Canadian made me a walking stick that has become a part of me. I was given half a sandwich by Carol when I didn’t pack enough food. A lady studying Chinese medicine sat me down on the side of the path and worked out the kinks in my back. Taking my shoes off is euphoric. I can’t even begin to describe the sense of love I feel. It surrounds me, engulfs me even and to think this will be reality until the end of the month. I never want to let go. DSC_9903
Standing on top of The Peak of Forgiveness 
Nothing worth doing doesn’t come with a bit of struggle here and there. To make up for the lack of blisters I’ve received, I sprained the same ankle twice yesterday. I could hear the crack as I rolled over it while stepping into a nice pothole in town. We have a priest traveling in our pack. He’s very silent about it and is always smiling more than anyone I’ve seen. I heard he had been doing a few hand healings on injuries lately but I didn’t expect he would approach me. After one of “those days”, hot and endless, he saw me struggling and approached me to introduce himself. With little said he sat me down and placed his hand on my ankle where it hurt the most. I could feel him breathe in deeply and a current rushed through my foot. It was very distinct, I could feel it clearly. It was as if he was sucking the negative energy out and replacing it with what is pure and positive. It was over within seconds and he walked away smiling peacefully. You don’t need to believe me when I say I could move my ankle perfectly afterward. It was as if it had never been sprained in the first place. Call it what you will but all I know is that I walked perfectly today as if nothing had happened. A true Camino moment.
We’ve travelled close to 200km now and still have many more days to go. There are many ups and there have been several downs but with a bit of singing and solid company, each day is exciting and challenging. I wake up wanting to walk every morning.
Santiago de Compostela isn’t technically the end of our route. A lot of us are planning to head to what is known as the end of the world. Finisterre. It’s three more days of walking added onto the original path and takes you to the sea. There, you burn your walking clothes, take a dive into the sea and your journey is complete.It’s all or nothing!
One step at a time we’re all walk to the same place together.