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Going the whole hog: The Grand Traverse, New Zealand 7-12 Nov, 2019

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… So Nov 5, I flew into Queenstown 27 years after I’d last visited with my ex-husband and the in-laws. That trip was to hike the Milford Track but sadly it was just before we were to tell both of our parents that our marriage was over. The scenery was breathtakingly beautiful but the interaction was emotionally painful trying to pretend to the in-laws that all was well while looking across the emotional divide at each other when we were alone. We were together for nine years before we split up.

So I flew into this place again, this time to hike the Grand Traverse which ironically is nine years into my happy and loving relationship with my partner, Tender T. This couldn’t be a coincidence. Feels like an opportunity to be here in this special place to enjoy its beauty and my connection with him and friends in a way which I couldn’t experience back in 1992. A second chance.

We had a whopper of a first day. We are hanging out with our buddies, Bopping B & Equipped E. We are doing the hike together and playing in Queenstown and Dunedin once the hike is over. On our first morning in Queenstown, we did 6.4kms straight up along the Tiki trail, totally 470 m of elevation to the top of the Skyline Gondola. Then onto the Luge for a crazy, fun ride which curled around the gondola pylons. Then to lunch, shopping and a pre-briefing on our Grand Traverse Hike scheduled for the following day.  The day ended with a walk through the botanical gardens and a Thai meal. We wrung everything we could out of Queenstown in one day. Tomorrow we are off on our hiking adventure.

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Six days five nights, 66 kms in total ranging from 400 m above sea level to 1255 m at the highest point.

Day 1 Queenstown to Steele Creek Lodge 18kms

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We had a great start. Four wheel drive bus along the side of a monster lake , Lake Wakatipu, across mountain streams along a windy, single lane road clinging to mountain edges and then following a very stressed mama sheep and her two lambs racing in front for their lives. No where to go. Just bleating and racing for a safe spot somewhere in front of us.

Our walk was beautiful. Windy beech forest paths with drop aways to the racing glacial gorge below, aqua and emerald greens. Lots of bird calls and a carpeted floor of delicate beech leaves, cushioning each steps. At about 10kms my pelvis spoke loudly to me, ‘Elizabeth, you have given a task to me which is challenging. I’m now packing weight I’m unfamiliar with… good god!’

I acknowledged this then thanked my pelvis and kept walking.

And speaking of thanking, as I walked, I was ‘home’ with myself, wandering in mind, thinking of all that I was thankful for. My thoughts went to my children, all adults now but all still babies in my heart. My eldest is at the top of her game, making a contribution in her profession and now planning a business of her own. It doesn’t just happen, it takes gumption and planning. She is dealing with this and most likely a bit of self doubt. But that is part of the journey and I have gratitude knowing she is up for the challenge and has the skills to succeed. And then there is son number 1. He has discovered his path. An academic life of learning and pushing the boundaries of his discipline. But to get there he has to prove himself through writing and creative performance. He has to run the gauntlet of his teachers and examiners. But I’m full of gratitude for him as I know he has fallen for the love of Learning and is now taking the ups and downs in his stride. And I’m full of gratitude for our number three. He is committed to his work and doing what is expected of him, smashing his KPIs and knowing his strengths. He has overcome a childhood of challenges, of confusion and misunderstandings. I look at him and feel pride. And then there is the baby, the towering young man, urgently wanting it all, wanting it now and feeling the pain when his edifice crashes. But he picks himself up and learns.  As they mature, I feel gratitude. So as the wind howled around me, so as the sun beat down with the moments of rest between, I was grateful.

And I was grateful for the gluten, diary free donut topped with hundreds and thousands at morning tea.

Day 2 Steele Creek to Mckellar Lodge 14.5kms

So today wasn’t sunny like yesterday. But it was perfect for hiking. We were warned that we would get wet so the existential decision was ‘to be wet-weather geared up or not to be’. I geared up.

We then watched the morning helicopter run deliver the next day’s supplies as we headed off. The logistics of this hike are impressive.

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My head wasn’t so full of thoughts of family and home this day. I was more centred on my surroundings and the track. We walked along valley floors, along steep river gorges, across dramatic rock falls and more beech forests. As I walked I saw the evolution of forests before me. The rocks fall down the valley walls. They sit and wait for the wind to bring particles and seeds. Lichens, moss and ferns begin to establish themselves as the beech seeds germinate and saplings grow spindly and tall towards the sun. The saplings grow stronger but with season upon season of snow, they splinter under the weight of snow and break like matches. But many survive and grow taller and wider with age. They are statuesque with a wise presence. They stand. They are. I felt their strength and their stoicism. Testament to long life.

And there was a lot of little things to notice, too. Mottled lichens forming patterns on rocks were there to see. Mosses that, on closer inspection, were delicate, miniature ferns. Pancakes of lichens with frilly edges. Delicate red, yellow, and brown beech leaves coating the paths, the rocks , roots and stones.

I loved the beech leaf carpet on the path. It was soft on my feet, spongey and gentle. Such a contrast to the gnarly roots tangled between rocks, offering a trip hazard for the tired mind. Deft stepping, deliberate choices of foot placement for safe walking. My mind was totally occupied by where to place my next step. ‘No rolled ankles for me’, was my mantra.

I was starting to get to know our fellow hikers. Aussies, kiwis and Americans (no Trumpers!).  We are all talking about climate change, politics, retirement, farming and hiking trips around the world. Our guides are awesome. Fit, helpful, knowledgeable and good humoured.

Day 3 Mckellar Lodge Rest day

The night was an endless rain storm. It rained vertically, diagonally, horizontally, loudly with thunder and lightning. The thunder thundered so loudly that it shook the lodge multiple times. Equipped E lay awake catastrophising an exit scenario in case of flash flood, avalanche, rock fall, alien invasion, zombie apocalypse. …You name it, she had it covered, all ending in death and destruction. But we survived!

Our rest day was spent inside watching the rain bucket down, listening to the thunder and flinching when lightning struck. This was our official rest day but it was also enforced. We rested. I participated in my first Tai Chi class and blogged…. this.  Also played Bananagram. A lot of fun. Equipped E very kindly repaired my rain trousers and I found time for a nap. She also supplied second skin for my little toe and reassured me I could call on her at any point. It rained and rained. But we were snug inside with a wonderful wood stove. Yay. The guides reckoned the weather report will state up to 200 mm in 24 hrs. Woo.

Day 4 Lake McKellar to Lake Mackenzie 15kms

Ok. So the best way to describe today is to start off with … this was the best day of my life! At the end of the day as I stood under the shower with a torrent of delicious hot water drowning me, I decided that this was the best. It started out in rain with torrents of water and the track shallowed by run off, with our precious dry boots drowned by water on the track. No option but to walk through gushing run off. We walked beside Lake McKellar which lost its banks, now swelling beyond its boundaries with beech trees and ferns submerged. At this point it was in the tea leaves, in the hands of the gods that I would slip and come a cropper! Slipped on a log. Lucky for me I had a pack. My snail shell. It saved me. No damage just another reminder to be careful. On through the rain but behold, the clouds lifted and the sun emerged and there was light.

So we sloshed along. Rocky path, creek, tree roots, creek, rocky path, creek, roots, logs, big creek, rocky path, bigger creek now requiring assistance. Guides lending a happy helpful hand up to their shins in ice melt. Still smiling, ‘watch your step. We don’t want you to slip’, they wisely said. Little did they know, it was too late. I was now a member of the Grand Traverse-Slipped-Over-Brigade.

We walked beside McKellar Lake, crossed over a saddle and found ourselves beside Howden Lake and then, BAM it was lunch time at Howden Hut. A warm wood stove, tea and coffee and… omg… miso soup. Luxury.

After an hour and a half of rest and recovery we headed out for an short up hill, three hour tramp. We were now officially on the Routeburn Track – one of the most famous and picturesque tracks in NZ. Our first stage was a walk to Earland Falls. Same drill with the tramping (very NZ speak) but the track was wider and we met more individuals going both directions.

Earland Falls was heard well before we saw it. We turned a corner and there it was. Roaring over the cliff above. Roaring and smashing our track. Raining water, spray, sheets of water. Holy moley. There was no track to follow. But we could look in awe while getting saturated. So exciting. I was like a kid playing in puddles, loving the moment and loving getting wet. But the fun wasn’t over. The guides had to guide us below the falls to get around it. Down we went into a side gully. Deep. Wet. Slippery. Crazy. And so much fun. We clambered and inched our way down and across. Awesome. We popped out and there was a bridge to cross the biggest section of the gorge. I was pumped. And we were off again, tramping towards Mackenzie Lodge. We hugged the sloping hills through forests rich with mosses and lichen. And we saw the Kea or Kaka (not sure…), a big parrot with a beak that makes the sulfur crested cockatoo’s look meek and blunt. We saw a group of five fly past and one branch-hopping, seeking out insects.

The end section for the day was a long downhill into the valley where we were to lodge beside an alpine lake, Lake Mackenzie. I started to hobble. Without much warning my right groin muscle said, ‘Enough’. It was a slow, tedious downhill grind to get to the Lodge….. but hey, my spirits lifted when we arrived. The valley was beautiful, the Lake full and overflowing into the scrub below the Lodge. The Lodge was shiny new with cathedral ceilings, floor to ceiling windows looking out on an entire snow capped mountain range, the Hollyford Range. I was dumbstruck. We were met by our hosts who showed us to our room. ‘Is this for real?’, I squealed. ‘Are you kidding me? This is our room? This is our front row view?’ I have never, and probably will never ever sleep in a room with a view like this again! We snuggled and watched the sun set on our mountain range. We watched the clouds close in and then clear, the sky turn pink and the contrasts increase. The sun light waned as night fell in front of us. Nature at its most special.  It was the best day of my life.

Day 5 Lake Mackenzie to Routeburn Falls Lodge 11kms

As described the Lake beside which we lodged was overflowing. As a consequence but only after the group photos, we set off through the overflow, ‘ET of the Overflow’ along with the rest of the crew had to walk straight through. Our beautifully dried boots were saturated 5mins into the tramp… over my knees! Crispy cool water.👍

Our path was only tree-lined briefly. We were already so high into the mountains that it wasn’t long before we burst out of the trees into the light. We were above the tree line. We were looking down upon the world. Wow. We kept climbing, switchbacking along the steep cliff line. Up and up, looking out rather than looking down, keeping the vertigo at bay. Up to the top and around the corner and BOOM (Boping B’s verbal exclamation mark), we were looking down into another valley, out into the distance to a lake and the sand of the sea shore of the Tasman Sea! Blues, dark blues, purples and violets of hazy colour dissolving into the distance. 

The walls of the valley opposite us were snow caked. We could see the tree line on the other side and understood just how high we were. We were almost at line of sight of the helicopters cruising up and down the Hollyford valley. We walked and laughed, elated and feeling privileged. I also marvelled at the engineering that went into building this trail. We walked along the side of our mountain to the highest peak of the trip, Conical Hill -named aptly- well, just below it at 1255metres where we had lunch in wind and sleet. After a good rest and some more miso soup (BOOM) we geared back up and set out ready for some wind chill and maybe snow. After a few more winds of the track we found ourselves looking down on an exquisite alpine lake, Lake Harris and a distant U-shaped valley, ribboned vertically by waterfalls. I took a deep breath of wonder.

It was steep. Any missteps would result in a long falls down into a cold lake. I stepped carefully. We started the walk down at the point in the lake where its waters escape its boundary and fell out to freedom as a cascading,  tumbling  roar of water. We walked slowly down for the final hour through a meandering  river created by the escaping water of the lake. Huge vistas and views. As my groin muscle started to remind me of its existence again, we arrived at our destination. Our Lodge was beside the massive Routeburn Falls. Another classy Lodge in the clouds.

Day 6 Falls Lodge to Routeburn Road 9kms

Today was the last day. As is my habit, final days always arrive with of bout of sadness at the thought of it all ending. We completed our morning breakfast routine and then set off for the final dose of wilderness. We walked down to the Routeburn Flats, a river of ice melt with reflections of the valley walls. Then we stopped for another break beside the river further down the valley only to witness a family of endangered Whio ducks (Blue Ducks) swimming, ferry gliding across rapids and diving for food – an absolutely precious experience. And then we walked quietly out of the forest and back to civilisation. First stop? The Glenorchy Pub.

We have made friends with some wonderful people, seen some breathtaking places and had some unforgettable moments. A big thank you to the guides and to our buddies, B and E. I will do another round with you guys any day! Hey, let’s do Dunedin (BOOM). Great. We have the itinerary sorted. We are off tomorrow (BOOM BOOM).

The End

  

Carship Enterprise: 4-10th August, 2019

A 4,971 km (3,089 miles) road trip across the United States of America with some very special people – my daughter, Embo; my friend, BC and her daughter, Toots.

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Our mission?  To move Toots across the country to Providence, Rhode Island where she would spend 5-7 years completing a PhD in Political Science.  We thus hired a car from Enterprise Car Hire and got ready for the adventure.

So, BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front), this was a driving trip first, with sightseeing, second.  We traversed the following 13 states:  Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York State, Connecticut and Rhode Island in 7 days.

What does a road trip like that feel like?

A bit like … lots of sitting, stretching, lots of conversation, podcasts, naps, moments of marvel as something breathtaking flashed past, many fuel stops, coffee stops, wee stops, picnic lunches, yawns, aching hip bones, sitting bones and knee bones, headaches, music and crocheting (in my case).  Oh, and driving.

How did it feel?  Frustrating. It was kinda like ‘look but don’t touch’.  As the sites passed by, we all wished at different times that we could stop and take in the site, the event or the new and sometimes strange experience we happened upon for just a bit longer.   But instead, we pushed on.  Always driving for the day’s destination, having to give up on the desire and urge to explore more.  “Something to see next time”, we’d say to each other and push on.  For example, we drove past the Cody Rodeo – one every night of the week <www.codystampederodeo.com>.  We drove past the biggest motorbike rally in the USA, in Sturgis, South Dakota <www.sturgismotorcyclerally.com>. But thousands of the drove past us …. Like noisy ants, so it wasn’t really disappointing after all.   We sailed past the world’s only Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota <cornpalace.com>.  Yep, you guessed it.  A palace made of corn.  Corn on the cob and corn fibre.  That’s right, you got it.  And we missed it, dang it.  Oh, well.  I wasn’t too upset.  Corny, if you ask me.

But we did see some pretty special things.  We played, had fun, laughed at the absurd and marveled at the majesty and scale of natural America.  So I’ve recorded the highlights of our journey as it unfolded every day.

 

Day 1: 4th August, 2019

Eugene, Oregon to Idaho Falls, Idaho – 1,131 kms (703 miles)

Anticipated drive time: 12hrs; actual drive time: 15 hrs.

Today was to be a big driving day.  With BC and Toots coming from the Pacific Northwest, they were familiar with the terrain.  No need to stop and look.  It was known country.  It was familiar for me, too.  Embo, on the other hand, was pretty awed with the tall trees, the pines, the lichen and mosses.  It is a magical landscape of pine forest bowers reaching out towards you as they encircle their trunks to compete for sunlight.  Apparently, ponderosa pine bark smells like butterscotch when you peel it back.

We stopped at Salt Creek Falls for two things: the Falls and the toilet;

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had lunch in Riley;

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and then afternoon break at the Starlite Café in Vale, Oregon for homemade pie.  I sampled my beloved, all-American pumpkin pie.  It didn’t disappoint.

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We left in 40 degrees C (104 F).  We were glad for the aircon after that.

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Driving, driving, driving…

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Conversation turned to podcasts and so we listened to our first of many – the Q-anon conspiracy theory https://gimletmedia.com/shows/reply-all/n8homa/122-the-qanon-code.  Apt, as America seems to be the home of conspiracy theories.  This one is about Trump and Mueller conspiring together to take on the deep state and win.  Seems, the investigator and the investigated can align and work together for the common good.  Who’d have thought. But believe me, it is more complicated than described.

Other comments related to the aggressively kind driving behavior of Oregonians.  They stop mid highway to let a driver onto the road.  Thanks, Toots for your great braking.

We weren’t going to get to Idaho Falls in time for dinner, so we stopped in a gorgeous little town called Glenns Ferry in Idaho, beside the Snake River, surrounded by vineyards and farms.  With the sun setting we indulged in local trout and local Rose.  Very, very nice.  Saw this number plate as we left…

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Puta is Russian for bitch, I believe.

Driving, driving, driving.

Finally, bedtime was midnight in our first AirBnB in Idaho Falls.  Embo and I had the pink and blue, mermaid and dolphin wall-papered room.  A little scary, but once we turned the lights out, we were OK.

Day 2,  5th August, 2019

Idaho Falls, Idaho to Cody, Wyoming via Swan Valley, Jackson, Grand Tetons, Yellowstone Park and the Wapiti Valley (Absoroka Range of the Rocky Mountains)

5hr drive, 240 miles but it was 7.30-11pm (15.5hrs on the road)

This was the day of the big outdoors.  Our comments all day sounded a bit like this, … “It’s so beautiful’,  ‘I love that ….’ , ‘This is absolutely stunning’!

We drove through the Swan Valley which was a Morman community, through to Jackson, in Jackson Hole Park, and then beside the Grand Tetons range which is a massive fault line, and on up into Yellowstone National Park.  We moved through a valley floor and climbed steadily up into the mountains.  The Parks were high plateaus with still higher peaks above.

 

Winding up towards Yellowstone, I noticed lots of eagles nests perched on power poles.  They were given a helping hand to build their nests as the top of each pole had a neat wooden platform on it on which they could stabilize and build their nests. We saw birds in most of them, scanning their environment, looking for prey and tending their families.  It was a hopeful sign of future, safe, healthy eagle populations.

Coffee stop at Jackson, a playground of the very wealthy.  Then, lunch at the Visitor’s Centre in Yellowstone on Yellowstone Lake before making our way to the famous geyser, Old Faithfull.  She goes off every 90 mins.  We missed her by 5 mins.  Bummer. But we saw the steam from the road.  Close enough.  We got the idea.  Then onto hot springs, most notably, the Sapphire Pool.

The second half of the day was punctuated by animal sitings.  The first was elk. Earlier in the day, we had seen a herd from the distance.  Then in the Park, we saw one very large loner elk beside the road.  This was soon followed by an even very larger, lone bison bull.  We couldn’t stop to observe it but I certainly immediately respected the size and majesty of the beast.  As we started to drive out of the Park, we were stopped by a long, snaking traffic jam. Why?  A herd of bison meandering near and across the road.  Oh, my goodness.  We saw bison charging, playing, nursing and just grazing all right beside us.  Bisons being bisons in the wild (at Alum Creek, Hayden Valley).  I imagined how the original Indians would have relied on these herds for food and shelter and recalled the movie, Dances with Wolves and the edgy bison hunt scenes that it depicted. And then once the cars started to pick up speed, we went up and over a hill, only to find ourselves in another mess of traffic.  This time it was two black bears playing in the meadow beside a river.  I kid you not, it was special.  One of the bears was running along like a monster puppy, skin wobbling from its lumbering gait as it mucked around with the other more sedate bear.  So beautiful to see.  And all the while, as our day unfolded, we were watched and entertained by eagles on the thermals, scanning and observing us.

 

As we left Yellowstone Park, we settled in for a long 4 hr drive to Cody, Wyoming – the home of Rodeo.  What we weren’t ready for was the beauty of the drive.  We drove through the North Absaroka Wilderness, breathtaking red mountains, outcrops, valleys, peaks, plateaus and windy road.  You didn’t know where to look.  Another ‘look but don’t touch’ experience.  And once we made it to Cody, it was as flat as a tack.

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Spot the two bears!

Dinner in Cody will remain with me for some time.  We found the famous Irma’s Restaurant (by chance) and stepped in for a meal.

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I wanted prime rib – the American steak to die for!  Ordered it straight away.  It was Tony’s birthday and the time difference was favourable, so I sat down and called him to wish him happy birthday.  We were then baled up by a cowboy in full regalia.  He locked onto me, stared at me, said nothing, just looked and waited.  Confused by his behavior and intimidated, I stopped talking and gave him my attention. He wanted a conversation.  So I couldn’t get back to the phone call easily. I was feeling more and more weirded out, until BC distracted him, gave him the attention he wanted so that I could get back to Tony.  It wasn’t pleasant.  It felt like I had broken a rule…. no talking on the phone in this restaurant.  What annoyed me about the incident was my compliance.  I was stared down. Consequently, I stopped what I was doing and gave the man my attention.  Viscerally, I felt dominated.  I wished I had just got up, walked away and continued my conversation with Tony.  Instead our brief moment celebrating his special day was taken away by a man in a cowboy costume.  I resented that.

That night, we slept in a tent under a big sky with stars and the sounds of nature all around us.  A fitting end to a big day.

 

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Day 3 6thAugust, 2019

Cody, Wyoming to Rapid City, South Dakota, 628 kms (390 miles),

An estimated 6.5hrs drive, but the drive took 15hrs, arriving about 10.30pm

Before I get into the details of the day, I want to list the podcasts that we listened to along the way throughout the trip.  It was great listening, covering politics and feminism.  Embo had a wealth of podcasts in her phone, so we were totally up for her suggestions.  They included:

  1. The Daily Crackdown on Kashmir
  2. The Daily. Why Hong Kong is still protesting
  3. ABC Big Ideas: Why Scott Morrison defeated Bill Shorten
  4. Revisionist History: The Lady Vanishes
  5. The Cut on Tuesday – Elizabeth Warren
  6. This Land – Native American Tribe
  7. 99% Invisible – invisible women
  8. More Perfect Album episode 1: The Gun Show Reprise
  9. Trump Inc. Emoluments
  10. Ladies we need to talk: Discharge, the gooey taboo
  11. Ladies we need to talk: Body image — why do we hate our bodies?

We would listen.  One of us would be prompted to respond either with fierce agreement or fierce outrage. Whatever reaction we had, it was always fierce.  After animated conversation, we would then return to the podcast until the next need for a discussion.  Interruptions also occurred when the google map Voice interrupted us with her directions.  This would prompt discussion, questions, itinerary checking and laughter.  Then back to the podcast…. until…. around the next corner came something that totally took us out of our heads and into the now, the environment and majesty of natural America.

So to return to the trip, we got up on Day 3, stiffly; untangled ourselves out of our tent to be greeted by the most beautiful morning sun and vistas of plains and mountains in the distance.  Uplifted, we started the morning with some yoga stretching and headed off to find breakfast and coffee.  We found an early opener in Powell and energetically entered the diner.  The few locals just looked at us in silence.  So we quietened down, ordered breakfast and built a tower of charging mobile phones while we waited.  By the time we had finished, the locals had thawed, had found out where we’d come from, had warmed up, had shared their stories of Aaastralia and had even poured our coffee.  We left with the entire diner saying, ‘goodbye’ and ‘best of luck’!  Fabulous. International diplomacy at its best.

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Little did we know that we were heading across the Big Horn Basin, only to climb up to Big Horn National Park.  The drive was spectacular and mesmerising.  Lots of stops for photos, coffee and wee wees.  Up and over the elevated plateau to Sheridan.  It was that this point that I decided it was time to drive.

Got in the car, started the engine, then … our Dodge Caravan’s Check Engine Light came on.  O, oh…..

  • Calls to the hire company, ‘Carship Enterprise in trouble, HQ’;
  • advised to go the office in Sheridan;
  • waited for three hours for a car check;
  • gave up waiting;
  • requested a car swap. Nothing suitable just a pickup truck;
  • Gave up pickup truck. Waited longer;
  • Decided the unsuitable pickup was looking mighty suitable;
  • Decided to take it….;
  • Rapid unpack then repack of all the gear into the open tray;
  • Secured it;
  • Stuffed ourselves into the right cabin;
  • Drove off to Gillette to pick up a bigger van waiting for us there;
  • Rapid unpack then repack into a 10 seater bus. Forgot to buy razors.

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On the road again…. Driver seated high, big engine, smooth ride, very comfortable experience.  We came to love our bus.We got a recommendation to drop by Devil’s Tower, a massive, vertical volcanic plug, on the way to Rapid City.  It didn’t disappoint.

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We got in very late to Rapid City, but not before we stopped to do some food shopping and snapped the Trump Shop.  I kid you not, a Trump merchandising shop.  Never have I seen a politician sell their own merchandise – hats, flags, photos, posters…. You name it.  POTUS is a brand; voters are purchasers of a fiction based on fear.  Chilling.IMG_2846

We had roast chicken for dinner and some wine after an action packed day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 4,  7thAugust, 2019

Rapid City, South Dakoto to Sioux Falls, South Dakota via Crazy Horse Memorial, Mt Rushmore and the Badlands, 1,050 kms (653 miles)

Estimated 4.5hrs drive but we took at least 12 hrs.

This was another day of grandeur.  We were expecting fabulous vistas, super famous, grand sites and then flat driving to our destination. All came to pass. Also, we spent the day dodging and gawking at the thousands of big-touring-bike bikers, all gathering in Sturgis for the biggest biker rally in the US. Bikers on all the roads, in groups, as singles, with and without pillions, men and women all expressing themselves through their bikes and their affiliated clothing.  On the road to the national parks they were spooky and eventually annoying as they took corners too close, veering onto our side of the road, leaving our big rig with nowhere to go.  We just had to hope and drive carefully.

We were on our way to the Mt Rushmore https://www.nps.gov/moru/index.htm via the opposing Crazy Horse Memorial crazyhorsememorial.org.  Crazy Horse was unexpectedly ginormous.  In the 40’s, the local Indian chief, Henry Standing Bear commissioned a well known sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski (and his wife and family of 8 children) to design and carve the mountain.  OMG…. the whole mountain.   He has since died but the project is ongoing.  We arrived and sat through a video explaining the project, the vision, and the positive impact on the Lokata nation.  It was a fascinating experience, if not a tad vexing as the memorial and the facilities have all been funded and developed by the white man on behalf of the Lokata nation.  Seemed to contradict the messaging of autonomy and indigenous development. One thing that was without a doubt was the size and grandeur of the carving. It dwarfs Mt Rushmore and the presidential heads.  It spoke to me: ‘Our head is bigger than your heads’ ; ‘We were here first’; ‘And don’t forget it’.

 

Then onto Mt Rushmore via a street walk in Custer City.

Yep, we were in the land of Cluster’s Last Stand.

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The town was chokers with bikers.  There was even a bike with ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) memorialising all over it.

We stopped for lunch beside a mountain stream, chatted up some lunching bikers and headed to Mt. Rushmore.

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In a phrase, Mt. Rushmore was ‘the Temple of POTUS (President of the United States of America)’.  Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln were all looming above us. We were directed to move through a valley-like, outdoor cathedral-like structure towards the alter of POTUS rising above us: Something to worship, to be in awe of, to be understood as sacred.  Very interesting, I thought.

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But Crazy Horse was bigger.

We were pretty tired by this time in the afternoon, but we still had Badlands to see and a long straight drive to Sioux Falls.  We mulled over whether or not to take the detour to Badlands, but we decided to tough it out and go and see it.  It was breathtaking.  Way more than anyone expected.  Miles and miles of wind eroded, hardened and striped volcanic ash mountains, peaks, mesas, valleys, gullies, on and on. We drove around and between the sentinels of endless shapes and towers. I was awestruck.  So glad we took the detour.

With the sightseeing behind us… literally … we hunkered down for some straight driving with podcasts.  We listened to the one on Gun control and the 2nd Amendment which states,

A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

The Supreme Court of the US has had to rule on the interpretation of this grammatically incorrect amendment.  The commas and the verbs are the problem.

Can’t help myself. Here’s my grammatical analysis:

  1. The clause ‘being necessary to the security of a free state,’ can be interpreted as either
  • a modifying clause which qualifies a well regulated militia, as in, A well-regulated militia which is necessary to the security of a free state…..is or does something. But the ‘is or does something’, that is, the rest of the clause is not stated, so I rule out being necessary to the security of a free state as a modifying clause, or       
  • an included clause which is adding an additional process in the clause complex. Again what is the process/doing or being?  Seems there isn’t one.  If you assume it is the verb, shall not be infringed, I suggest that an militia can’t be infringedRights can be infringed but not collective nouns of people such as militia or group.

However, neither work logically, suggesting ungrammaticality.  To make the clause grammatical, I propose:

  1. That being necessary to the security of a free state be expressed using the finite verb, ‘is’ and the comma after militiabe deleted and the comma after …state be maintained as follows:

A well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state,

  1. In the second half of the sentence, I would delete the comma after arms; and insert a logical conjunction between the two, new finite clauses, adding either and or but to the start of the clause.  The choice of conjuction will depend on what relationship was originally intended by the author.

but/and the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

  1. I like but as it sets up an ‘replacive’ relationship with the not in not be infringed Essentially this means that saying a well-regulated (implying armed under command/supervision) militia is needed for state security doesn’t negate the rights of individuals to be armed.  My version of the 2ndamendment clause would read:

A well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state, butthe right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

On was in my head for most of the drive to Sioux Falls.  Yep, slept well in our own cute little AirBnB abode.

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Day 5, 8th August, 2019

Sioux Falls, South Dakota to Madison, Wisconsin via the state of Minnesota.

699 km (434.5 miles), estimated 6.5hrs, actual drive time 9hrs.

Our stay in our own place was very nice.  I think we needed the time with just ourselves.  So I decided that it was time I had a go at driving.  It was Day 5 with only two days to go.  I had to give it a try, at least.  So I took the first leg and drove for 2.5 hrs on the interstate. No dramas.  It was fine. The speed limit fluctuated between 55 and 80 miles per hour, that is 88 – 130 kph!  130 kph isn’t a speed limit you find in Australia.  I was driving the fastest I had ever driven.  We stopped to get fuel, and change drivers.  BC had the privilege of watching TV while she pumped fuel. Yep, the petrol bowser had a TV screen on the front.

We basically drove across Minnesota on I90 without stopping.  We then had a picnic lunch on the banks of the Mississippi just prior to crossing the border into Wisconsin.

The drive concluded as we found our hosts Karen and Larry nestled in diary farming land on the edge of Lake Mendota, in Madison.  We were introduced to Moscow Mule cocktail, then went for a walk, a merry walk (!), and then started chatting (at speed and at volume) until dinner, then through dinner and after dinner.  Traditional American home cooked meal: fried chicken, corn on the cob and home made cherry pie. OMG. Lots of laughter. We fell into bed grateful for a good mattress and great pillows.  BC even had a bath!

Day 6, 9th August, 2019

Madison, Wisconsin to Pittsburgh via Interstate 90 through the states of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio into Pennsylvania. 976 kms (606 miles)

Estimated drive time: 9.5 hrs, actual drive time 15 hrs, arriving 11.30pm.

Embo and I got up early for a walk.  And breakfast consisted of politics and Karen’s classroom stories.  It was a great start to the day.  Great catching up with our Camino friends.

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We headed out of Madison but not before we hunted down Embo’s father’s childhood home.  It hadn’t changed a bit.  Still the same but now occupied by a new family.

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As we prepared to head off, I announced that this was going to be our hardest day.  We still had a sizeable chunk of the US to drive across; we were all tired and there wasn’t going to be lots of wonderful sites along the way to distract us from the reality of driving, driving, driving.  We were getting tired of being cooped up in the van and all of us were wanting some down time.  But instead, as I anticipated, we would all feel the stress of the second last day.  To add to the stress, we also were warned that the traffic would be heavy as we drove around the edge of Chicago. “Better than driving straight through it”, we were told.  This proved to be precisely the case.  But it was hours in gridlock.  Thank God for aircon.

The day was punctuated by state boundary signs. We traversed five states in one day.  Recorded the state border signs – but that was about it.  However, we stumbled across the Indiana Dunes, a beach on the shores of Lake Michigan, where we had a picnic lunch and could see Chicago city skyline looming out of the distance.  The Lake was like an inland sea.  I had never seen a lake of such proportions…. as far as the eye could see.

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Getting into Pittsburgh seemed never to arrive.  In the dark we picked our way through the city freeways, on and off ramps, and noted that we were probably driving through a valley with a “The Burgh’s” city skyline moving in and out of view as we wound along and up and down the valley and its walls.  We pulled into our quaint AirBnB, exhausted.  Toots did all the hard driving in the dark, in a complete state of tiredness yet patient with all of us. I doff my hat to her.

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Lesson for the day?  It would have been a good day for a day off!

 

 

 

Day 7, 10th August, 2019

Pittsburg,Pennsylvania to Providence, Rhode Island via New York State and Connecticut 885 kms (550 miles)

Estimated drive time: 9hrs, actual drive time 9.5hrs!

We had arrived at our final day of driving.  Now we were excited.  After a restless sleep, we left at the crack of dawn, ready to finish our road trip. We were now well and truly close to the east coast.  There was more traffic, the geography was rich and green, there was more traffic and the drivers were more determined, drove faster and with more unexpected driving behavior which was edgy and precise.  We stopped for lunch in a cute little diner in Newfoundland, Somewhere (I lost track of which state we were in, but I know it wasn’t Canada).  So as we drove along I wondered why Providence was called Providence.  It was founded by a preacher man who was escaping persecution from other emancipated, persecuted puritans!  Providence meaning, guardianship of God’s creatures, was established on the basis of religious and political freedom but not before it was negotiated away from the Narragansett Indians.  It is a very old city with buildings dating back to the mid 1600s.  We were anxious to arrive and feel the satisfaction of having driven across America from west to east.  We made terrific time and arrived in time to meet Embo’s friends and have a seafood dinner of local fresh prawns and scallops.

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We all slept like babies.  All that remained was for us to unpack the van, drop off toot’s belongings at her new apartment and return the Carship Enterprise.  Enterprise had served us well.   She was comfortable, reliable and we were grateful for her easy driving.  She was the first (and still for the moment only) car/van that I have ever driven in the US.

 

 

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Game, Set, Match.  Thank you Drivers, thank you Special Friends.

Fraser Island paddle 5-18 July, 2019

cropped shells
Sunday July 7, 2019

We are into Day 3 of the drive to Fraser Island to meet some whales. Day  1 was Wagga to Wollongong; and Day 2, Wollongong to Coffs Harbour. The pod is Jan, Pearson, Tony and I. Today we expect to get to Phil’s house at Hervey Bay. We’ll spend tomorrow getting ready, doing a bit of shopping and checking gear before heading out on Tuesday 9 July.

Overnighted at Port Macquarie. Our morning beach view.

 

We left Coffs Harbour and set out on a 700km drive, lunching at Caboolture fish and chip shop before arriving at Phil’s in HerveyBay about 5.30. We travelled in convoy with Mark and played musical chairs each of us spending sections of the drive swapping cars and lots of gossip. A lot of fun. We were very excited to arrive, knowing it was a new place to explore and the site from which we will launch on Tuesday. Dinner at the local Indian!

Day 4 Monday – Preparation day
First up shopping, then trial boat pack, egg boiling and water carrier disinfecting. Once all the chores were done, it was a swim for mark and Jan. Tony and I had coffee and cake at the marina. Dinner was at the Marina at Balean – a suitable name for four prospective whale watchers!

night shot on the pier

Day 5 Launch day
The timings for the day depended on the tide. We wanted to get the benefit of quieter water at the slack high tide. Our departure was thus set at 11.30. We launched exactly on time and paddle 8kms to pelican island for a rest. It was a tricky landing with standing waves meeting at our landing point. After a couple of crash landings and no injuries we headed across to FI to Moon Point and the 5kms up the west coast to Coongul camp site. We saw two wild dingoes, one cruising along the beach following its nose and another at Coongul, obviously a resident and very used to people. At midnight it howled and two others howled back in reply. Quite a surprise. All up 17kms on our first day out.

launching from Hervey Bay
just before the heading out
glassy paddle across Sandy Strait
the glassy paddle ascross Sandy Strait
mark and dingo
Mark taking a photo of the dingo
imperious dingo
the imperious dog
Coogul campsite
Coogul campsite

Day 6 – Coongul to Awinya
Another 17km day, launching at 9.30 arriving at 3pm. Pristine water, gentle sea, light wind and no whales! But it didn’t matter. We are in a paradise. Our campsite for the night had a fresh water lagoon behind our tents which was teeming with tadpoles and frogs. A sign that the ecosystem is healthy. Birds, lizards, dingoes, fish, tadpoles and frogs. Lots of natural music serenading us in the afternoon sun. Bliss.

Launching from Coongul
launching from Coongul
Some terns and I
Some terns and I

 


Day 7 Awinya -rest day
So overnight I hatched a cold. Sore throat, tight chest. A tough night’s sleep. We were supposed to head further north to Wathumba today but two things were against us – My cold and impending weather. I spent half of the day asleep or simply coughing and spluttering. The men read the tea leaves, oops, I mean the BOM and Willy Weather to discern that our final return day crossing back to the mainland was going to be into 20knot head winds. An impossible challenge for Jan and I. It was decided to go no further north but instead cut our trip short by one day to allow the crossing in more favorable conditions a day earlier. So we frolicked at Awinya for the day. We had a secret fresh water lagoon all to ourselves with zillions of tadpoles, hundreds of juvenile frogs and a couple of full blow adults lerking on the edges of their lagoon at dusk. A quiet trip along the lagoon to find a private place in lieu of a loo afforded the opportunity to spy multiple pairs of frog eyes watching me doing my thing. Not quite private after all. Apart from the rituals of ablutions, the paddlers in the pod went up Awinya Creek for a look see then played in the gentle surf waves at the entrance. Meanwhile I went for a fossiker’s walk and found lots of animal tracks – birds, lizards, dingoes and lots of tyre tracks. The four wheel, off road brigade is up here in force. Believe it or not, we can get run over if sunbaking or napping on the beach.

 


Day 8 Awinya to Woralie Creek 9kms
We headed south after breakfast and a dingo patiently watched and waited as we packed up. I was the slow poke of the pod but I made it and wasn’t wrecked. Mark and Jan landed before us and scouted for a suitable campsite. The priority was to keep away from the 4wheel drive mob – being school holidays we found ourselves sharing the beach sites with a lot of mechanical paraphernalia.

Our spot was in the trees with a beach front! Mark went fishing and caught a fish – a Longtom! Jan gutted, scaled it and cooked it for dinner. Tony took photos of eagles and ospreys! Wow. The eagle swooped in front of us and picked a fish up out of the sea. Magnificent. And then I spotted a whale just off the beach. It was little but it was a whale. A juvenile humpback.

 


Day 9 – Woralie Creek to Moon Point.
A leisurely start to the day, then off to moon creek. Again our formation- Jan and mark up front, Tony and I in the rear. But the off shore sand bar was calling to tony so together Mark and Tony went out to land on the bar and claimed it for Tombom tours.. our job was to find moon point camp site. All that was involved was to paddle down the beach until we found the sign. Well … we missed it. Instead we landed on a mangrovie island below Moon Point for an enjoyable evening of mosquitoes, mites and nasty burrs. Nice one, Women. The weather was due to turn over night so we hunkered down in anticipation of strong winds.

crab work
crab work

Day 10 – ‘mangrove’ Island to Hervey Bay Aquarium.

The strong winds arrived.  We listened to the howling of the winds through the casurina trees from 3am onwards (15-20knts SSW).  It was beatiful to hear, but worrying to know that these winds would continue throughout the next morning.  The plan was to wait out the winds, while at the same time hoping to cross the channel back to the mainland at slack, low tide.  Our thinking was that even if the headwind facing us as we prepared to cross the channel back to Hervey Bay didn’t drop, we would nonetheless enjoy the benefit of less churned water as the tide race diminished for an hour or two.  Luck was with us.  The wind dropped just as it approached slack tide.  We were packed and ready.  We launched as 12.34pm in to 10-13kts, SSW.  The wind fetch was at its worst as we launched.  Messy, bumpy, windy, grey and a little foreboding.  We agreed to stay close, reiterated our support plan if anyone was seasick or up against their physical limits, and headed off with total commitment.  I wasn’t anxious – to my surprise – but more determined to take it on and get it over with.  We had prepared as well as possible and had made the best decision in relation to launch time.  So off we went.  We stayed close; the conditions were bumpy for about three kms.  We had 7kms to do before resting at Woody Island.  At the middle of the channel, the tide was calm, the wind waves reduced and the fetch was non existant due to the protection afforded by Woody Island.  We were through the worst.  It was just then a rest on Woody Island before the last 4 kms into Hervey Bay, landing at the Aquarium.  The final leg was glassy, calm and felt like a reward for the hard work on the water earlier.  We landed, packed up and went back to Phil’s.   Time to eat well, have a drink, celebrate and enjoy the luxoury of sleeping in a bed.

final leg on last day

Day 11 – clean up.

Lots of washing, hosing, drying, folding and taking it easy.

Day 12 – Whale watching on The Spirit of Hervey Bay.

Mark, Kerri, Jan and I decided to see if we could see more whales.  We saw about five from the boat which took us back to our paddling track and we saw our camp sites from the water.  What a paradise!  And we saw how close the whales get to the beach and just how close they were to where we paddled.  According to the guide, very few whales were in the bay as it was early in the season.  We were luck to see the ones we saw and that suggested that the one, lone whale we did sea while paddling was indeed, a treat.

We celebrated that night with Kerri, and headed home on Day 13, retracing our steps, staying at Coffs Harbour again, before arriving in the Gong.

Some of the memorable lines of the pod:

There’s a lot of sand!

Not another bloody sunset!

There’re a lot of bones in this fish.

What do you think the water temperate is?  And now?  And what about now?

What do you think the wind speed is now?

Would anyone like some dried fruit?

I have hot water if anyone wants some.

How’d you sleep last night?

 

THE END.

 

Observation -13th November

Narcissism is everywhere.

Since our Camino, we have been on the more usual tourist jaunt, that is, we’ve been using transport to get around and have been rubbing shoulders with international tourists all gathering at famous sites and recording it for posterity (or their photo album, if such a thing exists anymore). We have been to Porto, Lisbon, Venice and are now in Rome.  

My observation is that many tourists are more interested in situating themselves in new, ‘exotic’ contexts than understanding or experiencing the new and novel context itself. The context isn’t central or salient. It is the background for the portrait. The context is just circumstantial to people’s obsession with self. Self-placement is everywhere, and it is exhausting to observe and embarrassing to watch. Here are a few examples…

Or else, the fact that even though many tourists are actually in new and exotic contexts, they don’t seem to interact directly with it in the moment. More often than not, they are experiencing it mediated through the phone. Consider this example with the Vatican in the background.

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We get pushed out of the way or find a stranger’s arm with iPhone attached, rising beside or between us for their selfie. Never mind that it is in our physical space.  Shameless  posing and self placement without any modesty.  It really is a different approach to the tourist experience. It seems that narcissism is the new normal, and we are the odd ones out.

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C#46 – Postscript

We are done. The only outstanding, final act on our journey is to attend the pilgrim’s mass in the cathedral of St James. 

The mass was in Spanish. The church was packed. We saw a number of familiar faces, the beads of the Camino.

The priest listed the countries that we are all from. A nun led the liturgy and the responses. She sang most of it. A crisp, clear, resonant voice of glorification. Wow. We didn’t need Spanish to get the sense of it. 

It seemed like the sermon asked us to reflect on what we were like at the start of our journey and how our experience has changed us. Fitting.

The service is mostly renowned for the swinging of the botafumeiro – the giant incense burner which was used historically to fumigate the pilgrims, or more likely to mask their body odour.  

These days it only swings on special occasions. I didn’t expect our Wed service would be one of those times…. but if you are a cashed-up pilgrim, you can pay for your very own swing!  And for us, it was a group of cashed-up Japanese pilgrims. Go the Japanese. 600euros a swing! We got to see the botafumeiro fly. Wow. We were standing right beside its swinging line above us, going higher, longer, flaming with incense… higher and higher, until, like a swing, it reached its highest and longest swing and then lost tension and started to buckle….  and just then the swingers pull it back into line. It was impressive. A very lucky opportunity. And a fitting conclusion to the whole adventure.

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C#45 – 23rd Oct, from Lavacolla to Santiago de Compostella, 10.6 kms

So I wonder how it is supposed to feel when you finish?

We took off at 9am, planning to take two hours to cover 10kms. 

The first bit was pleasant farmland but then predictably we hit the urban fringe and trucked along hard concrete paths into the old city and then into the cathedral square. Arrived at 11.16am. 

Wow. It was over. Done. Finished. Completed. Weird. 

Within 1.5 hrs we had completed the Camino, found our AirBnB, registered for and received our Compostela (certificate of a successfully completed pilgrimage in Latin!) and picked up our parcel that we forwarded to Santiago from Pamplona.

Seeing 799kms completed on our Compostela prompted a moment of reflection. And as the clerk wrote out my Compostela he asked if it was hard… through tears I said, yes. 

I surprised myself with my tears… I had spent a lot of time coping with my circumstances but not really considering how I did it or what it meant for me. It was simple. It had been hard for about 180kms. It wasn’t the meseta, or the mountains, the weather or the distance. It was coping with illness and expecting to recover that was my personal challenge, my Camino. The lesson in it for me … ‘Call it earlier. Don’t always soldier on, ET’. Sometimes the right thing to do is stop, rest, recover and then resume.

So I’m glad I have finished. I’m proud of our effort, and I can now cross it off the bucket list.

Acknowledgement: I want to thank Tony. What a buddy, best friend, partner, tour guide, nurse, smart arse and patient man.  He was an awesome walking companion and is my lifetime partner. I am blessed. We are a pair, noted as ‘stinking cute’ by one of our Camino buddies.  

To all our Camino buddies, we’ll see you again on our travels. Thanks for the great times and special memories. It has been a privilege.

C#44 – 22nd Oct, Salceda to Lavacolla, 19.1 kms

Today was all about getting closer to the finish. Look how close we are! 1% left to go.

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We walked through more hamlets and farms with the now ubiquitous gumtrees,

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but I was more occupied by the distance markers than usual. We got down to 20km…

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then to 19kms…

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… then to the 12kms mark (at the end of Santiago’s airport runway!  We will walk the last ten kms tomorrow.

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A reflection: The Camino is noisy.

So I’ve been mulling over whether or not to share some of our more unusual experiences…. it is all about noise. 

Mostly the noise is delightful. School kids playing, shouting to each other, laughing and being cheeky, or the elderly ladies congregating in the local square for coffee and cake. They are like a flock of birds, laughing, interrupting, demanding… gossiping. Noisy but entertaining. And then the noisy pilgrims, chatting with each other, swapping stories, laughing at jokes, talking politics, talking about The Clown (Camino speak for Trump). Then there are the local men, talking across the bar to each other, cutting through the hum of drop-in pilgrims.  All noise. All ok.

…and then there is noise you don’t want. It starts with a quiet breathiness. She gets a bit louder, more rhythmic, more urgent.. OMG, we think. Now the thumping begins, regular but getting more urgent. She is louder now, oh, oh, oh, louder, faster. The thumping has increased. She is loud now and saying, …por favor. What? We sit up in bed? Is this for real? Is she saying stop or keep going? Is she spent or just warming up? He is working hard. A bit of rest and off it goes again. Louder, harder, faster. Rest. Again. Louder, harder, faster. The young men across the courtyard are staring directly across to our neighbours, agog. They are just as shocked. Being witness to the event hasn’t slowed the performance. Off they go again. They never reach nirvana! Just thumping and oh-ing. My assessment? She was faking it. He was trying really hard, and all they got out of it was mutual chaff!

Or how about a metal bed on a tile floor? As the activity builds, the bed starts banging, then grinding against the tiles, then screeching as it bounces along directly above you in the pension. She is a moaner this time, in fact, we weren’t quiet sure if she was just one moaner or possibly two. Moaning occurred in two different keys. Two hours of grinding and screeching.

But perhaps the most disturbing was my free ride. I’m not 100% sure, but lying in the bottom bunk, I started to feel like the young man above me was scratching… but it started to increase in speed. My bunk was along for the ride. Faster, faster. Stop. Phew. Nope. Off again. Carefully, then more urgently. My bed is moving with the beat. I’m moving with the beat. I’ve a free ride on a young man’s own adventure. And I’m in a convent albergue. Finally it is over. I vow to never to sleep in a convent again.

The Camino is noisy.