Thursday, July 13, 2017

On the Camino, Part 2: Atypical day in Pamplona

There's a certain rhythm on the Camino. Alarms start waking people up at 5 am, sometimes earlier. The sun rises. The hostel clears out by 8 am. You grab breakfast at the hostel or on the road. You walk a couple of hours. Stop for water. Walk an hour. Stop for lunch. Walk a couple more hours, taking breaks as needed, and soon you'll arrive in time to settle into a new hostel. Check in, shower, laundry if you need to, dinner, downtime, sleep.

Repeat again the next morning. And the following morning. And every morning for the next month. Even if the views are spectacular and you meet amazing people on the way, the schedule can become a bit monotonous.

Pamplona broke all of that for me.

I honestly didn't think I would even have the chance to stay the night in Pamplona. Everyone warned me there would be no beds. Hotels and hostels get booked months, if not a full year, in advance, and charge exorbitant prices. I took a chance.

As I walked into Pamplona I started walking alongside another solo pilgrim. We talked about Pamplona and whether we had any chance of finding a place to stay. We both went in with the same plan: find the one open hostel we knew about, ask for a room, and move on to the next town assuming we were denied.

Instead, we arrived at a German-owned albergue and were told we would be guaranteed beds for the evening and at the regular pilgrim's price. That changed everything. We could hardly contain our excitement as we started chatting with other pilgrims sitting around the bench outside, also waiting for their beds. Since I never thought I would make it this far, I realized I had no real plans for Pamplona. See the running of the bulls, I guess? Wander around and explore?

We wandered around for the day. The sea of white outfits and red bandanas was incredible. This is not your typical Pamplona. Any other week of the year and the streets would look entirely different. When I say everyone buys into the Fiestas de San Fermin, I mean every single person on the street. I felt completely out of place in my black shirt and khaki shorts but it didn't stop my from exploring the city. I sat with two Canadian friends I had made that day and we downed two pitchers of beer, just enough to get us in the spirit of the week-long party that is the Fiestas de San Fermin.

It truly is a 24-hour party that lasts a full week, with people drinking into the night and well into the morning and continuing on the next day. The streets were ravaged with trash and the stench of piss and stale beer haunted the alleys. Small bands paraded the streets at random. Street performers gathered crowds around them. We made our way to the large stage in the Plaza de Castillo and watched musicians pour their hearts into a medley of pop hits sung in chunky English. It was a blast.

Between the light showers and the 10 pm hostel curfew, we couldn't stay out as late. We also had tickets for the next morning's festivities at the Plaza de Toros.

Another pilgrim who had stayed the night before had encouraged us to pick up the 6 euro tickets for the show at the arena. From there we could watch the running of the bulls live on large screens and would be able to watch as the bulls and the hoard of runners with them poured into the arena.

It was a sight to see. The excitement was electric as the pack of bulls charged in through the gates and the arena filled with a sea of white and red clad runners.

The large bulls which will go on to fight later are herded away and then, in an entertaining yet still dangerous show, smaller bulls are brought into the arena one at a time and the runners face off with the animal, goading it and running out of the way when it charges. The more acrobatic among the runners will square off against the bull and manage to leap completely over it when it charges at them. These usually elicit the biggest cheers from the crowd.

While I only saw one serious injury during the show, I can clearly see that this has a more gruesome side. I can't imagine that the festivities in Pamplona will continue the same forever, especially the bull fights. I was having dinner the next night at a local bar frequented by the locals. Men from the neighborhood and some of their wives came out to drink and watch the fights. I sat, cutting away at my pork cutlets, watching the bloody mess on the screen in front of me. I can understand where sportsmanship is involved, or at least a level of athleticism mixed with artistic expression. I can see how the men appreciated that aspect, while remaining numb to the pure and plain animal cruelty on display. Bull fights are rare and I imagine will one day be history. I know people will disagree with my choice to partake in any part of the Fiestas, but I was there at a time to witness what many have heard of but few actually get to experience. So I did.

It was a welcome break from the grind of the Camino. As one of my Canadian friends and I walked out of Pamplona after everything, I said, "Back to reality."

She laughed.

"Whatever that means," I added.


Saturday, July 08, 2017

On the Camino, Part 1: The first day is the hardest

And the second day is pretty tough, too.

It's raining in Pamplona right now. It's really the first time I've had the chance to sit down at my computer in a week. So let's take a moment to catch up.

I'm sitting in the corner of the office belonging to a hostel owner, an imposing guy with a thick German accent to match. He's opened his hostel up to pilgrims--and pilgrims only--during the Fiestas de San Fermín in Pamplona, when he could easily fetch 50 or 100 euros a bed. For a mere 7 euros, I have a bed and a place to get away from the rain.

I'm in the office, which is also the living room, which is also the dining room, while the German scrapes some dinner from his bowl and some German pilgrims play cards across nearby. How did I get here? Let's back up.


If you haven't figured it out it by now, I'm walking the Camino de Santiago. Specifically, I am walking the Camino Frances, a pilgrimage of 790 kilometers, or about 480 miles, which starts in Saint Jean Pied de Port in France and ends in northwestern Spain at Santiago de Compostela.

It's no easy undertaking. Many pilgrims don't start at Saint Jean Pied de Port, opting to begin in Pamplona or even closer to Santiago. I can understand why. The first day kicked my rear. It starts with a long and steady incline followed by a deep and difficult downhill into Roncesvalles. There were moments when I didn't think I would make it. I rested often, especially before steep inclines, struggling to catch my breath.

It's also as beautiful as it is difficult.

I ran across sheep, cows, and horses, with many coming right up and across the road. The road changes from paved streets to dirt roads to rocky paths cutting across the Pyrenees. Good boots are a must, especially on the first day of walking.

At night, I sleep in albergues, hostels for pilgrims on the Camino. The accommodations vary greatly but usually consist of a bunk bed as well as showers and a bathroom. Anything on top of that is luxury. On the third night I slept in a medieval building from the 12th century. I did not complain when the WiFi wasn't working.

Sleeping in a different bed each night keeps monotony well at bay. Part of the reason I haven't had time to sit and write is I'm often busy setting in, unloading my bag, setting up my sleeping bag, discovering how the showers work, seeing if there's anywhere to do laundry, and trying to get a bite of food, all before the hostel closes for the night.

The rain in Pamplona today has forced me to to stay in for the evening, a good change of pace for me. I cannot promise I'll be able to blog as often as I wanted from the Camino, but I have been snapping plenty of pictures along the way and look forward to sorting through them and sharing them with you. The average pilgrim takes about a month to walk the Camino Frances, so I'm sure there'll be time for another update somewhere along the way.

For now, I need to log off and head to bed. Tomorrow, I see the bulls!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

In honor of my 30th birthday, here's what I managed to do within 30 hours in London

I flew into London around 1 p.m. local time. Since then, in the span of roughly 30 hours, I've had quite the eventful time and very little sleep.

Within 30 hours I managed to... up with friends from back home fresh off their flight from Dublin.

...throw back some pints right after checking into our hostel--conveniently located upstairs from a pub.

...check off sightseeing opps including Buckingham Palace, Parliament and Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, and a full tour of Westminster Abbey.

...get a quick beard trim and laundry done at some nearby businesses. in three different clubs in SOHO, starting around 11 p.m. and leaving the last one after five in the morning. steak and kidney pie, fish and chips, lamb biryani, chicken tikka masala, saag paneer, and a full English breakfast which included streaky bacon, sausage, tomatoes, mushrooms, baked beans, blood sausage, and scrambled eggs on toast. Don't worry, most of it was shared.

There's more I could add to the list but I only have 45 hours altogether in London before moving on to my next destination: Madrid!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

What have I done? My favorite moments from San Francisco

San Francisco has been AMAZING. A lot has happened in the five days I've been here. These are some of my favorite moments...

Most delicious thing I've eaten: Clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl

Let's be real, what really makes this dish both unique and tasty is the sourdough bread. A newfound friend from the Bay area recommended I go to Boudin while in Fisherman's Wharf. It was a solid suggestion.

The focus at Boudin is on the sourdough, which you can watch them roll and bake from a glass wall while the strong smell of fresh baked bread is pumped through air vents to entice you inside. Why on earth anyone would opt for the Applebee's across the street, I'll never know.

I noticed others around me who had the same dish would politely sip their soup from a spoon, leaving behind the bread. Not me. I used the tangy bread to dunk and slurp up the chowder and proceeded to rip apart the bowl itself, leaving no trace of it behind.

Most unexpected thing I've done: Walking in the Trans March

When it comes to travel, I am not a big planner. My favorite thing to do is arrive with a very basic idea of things I'd like to do while staying completely open to new and unexpected experiences. My favorite so far happened while I was exploring The Castro and headed toward Mission Dolores Park where, upon arriving, I quickly realized the Trans March had just started.

The Pride parade may be the big showy spectacle most people come for, including myself, but the Trans March is a reminder that there is purpose behind it all. It's important to remember that there are people still fighting for acceptance and we still have a ways to go for the trans community.

By luck, coincidence, fate, or whatever you believe in, the march's path lead me right back to my hostel. The people in the parade were a beautiful mix of everything under the rainbow. I was proud to march along with them.

Scariest moment of the trip: The loud boom outside the bar

Before leaving Albuquerque, I made a promise to my mom that I would take my safety seriously while traveling. I've done my best to stay in touch every day and keep aware of my surroundings at all times.

Staying alert got put to the test on Sunday night while at a little bar near my hostel. It's a tiny narrow space with drag on the weekends and drinks strong enough they made me think of SOCH back in Albuquerque. I was having a great time, enjoying some whiskey and ginger ale, making new friends, and dancing on the tiny dance floor. As I was sitting talking to a friendly drunk and her girlfriend, a loud boom sounded from outside.

I've never seen a group of drunken revelers sober up so quickly.

I know we all had the same thing on our minds. We've seen the news. We know San Francisco Pride is a potential target. We were all on edge in that moment, even while we tried to put on brave faces.

In an attempt to reassure me, the girl I was talking to leans in to let me know she has a pistol in her bag, just in case. Not exactly comforting but I recognized she meant it to be.

One guy at the bar volunteered to go outside to see what was going on. We waited around, dance tunes from old musicals playing in the background, until he came back to let us know there wasn't any sign of danger.

Some speculated it was a firework, maybe a car crash. I'll likely never know. But what I'll remember was the moment when everyone banded together, eyes set toward the door, ready for whatever might happen next. Yes, it was scary, but at least I knew I was surrounded by strangers who were ready to take care of each other.

Most emotional moment: Seeing the church ladies walking the parade

The entire parade was really one big emotional roller coaster for me. I happy cried at least half a dozen times. After the Dykes on Bikes opened the parade, the first the round of marchers were mostly activists, with strong, provocative messages displayed on poster board, banners, umbrellas, and other creative means.

One group that stood out to me were the church ladies for gay rights. Growing up religious has made it difficult to reconcile my faith and my sexuality. I still don't know if I've really come to full acceptance but I'm a lot further than I was even a few years ago. Seeing images like these women in their Sunday best loudly proclaiming acceptance gives me hope for myself and, let's all hope, for everyone who needs it.

Overall, this city has been wonderful to me and I hate leaving it, even though I know I have newer and bigger adventures ahead. For five days now I have been surrounded nonstop by positive messages of affirmation and acceptance that I never want to end. I will take these memories with me, I'll look through the photos, I'll remember my newfound friends, and I'll look forward to more in the coming months.

Next stop, London.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Okay, fine. Maybe I am a little scared.

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I've been putting on something of a brave face leading up to my trip overseas. I readily admit I watch too much cable news and much of what I've seen lately has given me more than a moment's pause to reconsider exactly how safe it is for me travel. Is it a good idea to visit Europe's biggest cities right now? Should I avoid tourist areas and sightseeing? Should I even go?

And then I get over it.

I never have more than a moment of doubt over my travel plans. If there's anyone who sustains their worry over my trip it's my mother. I get it. What mother wouldn't be worried when their child says they'll be in London in two weeks while CNN breaks in with news about another car plowing into a crowd? I won't pretend like there isn't any danger but I won't let it deter me from pursuing what has been a dream years in the making.

I've taken some solace from a travel book I'm currently re-reading for the fourth or fifth time. In "Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel," Rolf Potts writes:
"Should political violence or terrorism capture headlines, however, the secret to avoiding it is not to cancel your travel plans but to simply keep yourself informed. Just because the evening news shows unrest in a southern Lebanon refugee camp, for instance, doesn't necessarily mean it's dangerous to visit Beirut or Galilee (or, for that matter, other parts of southern Lebanon). By the same token, the evening news might habitually ignore the political situation in West Africa, but that doesn't mean it's safe to visit Sierra Leone or Liberia. Obviously, the, planning on monitoring your destinations will require that you look past the evening news." 

So here's my promise to mother:

I will be careful. I will be mindful of my surroundings. I will leave a situation if I feel unsafe. I will keep you updated of my day to day plans as much as possible.

I will also have as much fun and see as many sights and meet as many people as possible all while adhering to the above promises.

I won''t let fear dictate where I go and what I do. I will stay informed and keep aware all while enjoying three months of overseas travel.

And I promise I'll try to call or text every day, mom.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Goodbye, Albuquerque. At least for a little while.

It's time to shake the cobwebs off this old, dusty blog and breathe some new life into it. What's the occasion? My birthday is coming up. Not just any birthday, but my Golden Birthday--the singular event when the age I become and the day it happens are the same number. In this case, I turn 30 on the 30th.

How am I going to celebrate the start of my third decade? Travel, of course.

I have been fortunate enough to take time to travel on my birthday the last few years, including trips to Oklahoma and a week in the Pacific Northwest.

I had to up the stakes for my Golden Birthday, right? That's why I blocked off three months this year to dedicate to travel.

This Friday, I'll be flying out to the West Coast for a few days before boarding a 10-hour flight to London onto Madrid and more.

I don't want to give away all the destinations quite yet, partly to maintain some level of mystery but also because I honestly have no idea where I will end up. A lot can happen in three months and that's why I want to get blog back online to log updates of where my travels take me.

There will be plenty of Couchsurfing, some festivals, and a whole lot of walking. You'll see what I mean.

If you want to track along with my travels, make sure you're connected:

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You can also track along with #FollowEric on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Leave a comment if you'll be following along over the next three months!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Mugshot Monday - Bottomless mugs of coffee and breakfast quesadillas at Java Joe's

As a freelance writer, I don't dread Mondays the way others do. In fact, I usually look forward to Mondays. It's my day to sit down with a cup of coffee and organize my work for the week.

There's another reason I look forward to Mondays: the breakfast quesadilla at Java Joe's.

It's such a simple creation. Scrambled eggs, crisp bacon, melted cheese, your choice of red or green chile (green, please) all enveloped in a crisped tortilla. It's my very favorite food item at Java Joe's and it's only available on Mondays. Sure, I could probably try to replicate it at home but then I'd miss out on the great vibe at Java Joe's (bright, welcoming) and I'd miss all the consistently fantastic art on the walls.

Occasionally, I'll have a breakfast burrito if I find myself there on any day beside Monday. And for a treat I haven't encountered in other Albuquerque coffee shops, I get an espresso soda. Espresso, club soda, and a choice of flavor. Almond and vanilla work well but I think coconut might be my favorite. Top with whipped cream and it's refreshing while giving you a nice caffeine boost.

So you can guess where I was this morning. I had a pad of paper, my laptop, a mug of coffee, and a green chile breakfast quesadilla to get Monday started on the right note.

The self-serve bottomless mugs of coffee aren't a bad way to increase productivity either.
Try Java Joe's for yourself at 906 Park Ave SW (or find them at the Rail Yards Market). And if it's a Monday, you know what to order...


About Mugshot Mondays
On Mondays, I'll be sharing my favorite local coffee shops with you. These are the places I visit regularly, whether as a place to meet with friends or as a second office for writing. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter to see the next #MugshotMonday.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Mugshot Monday - Humble Coffee Company

What do you get when an architect opens a coffee shop? A sleek, well-designed cafe called Humble Coffee Company.

Over the weekend, Humble celebrated their first year in business with a big old birthday party. I checked out the Humble Bash for myself this past Saturday. Food trucks, musicians, artists, and a whole bunch of people came together to commemorate an important milestone for any local business; the one-year mark.

For me, Humble has been a second office, a place to plug in and crank out some writing. So I was happy when I saw they expanded the space, adding much-needed seating. The cold brew here is one of my go-to options, with an occasional macchiato thrown in the mix.

Humble is one of the more aesthetically-pleasing shops in town, making it highly Instagrammable. In fact, it was through Instagram that I first heard about Humble, even before they had opened their doors. I highly recommend following them; they're one of the most interactive local shops in Albuquerque. Find them on Instagram: @humblecoffee.

(BTW, you can find me on IG as well: @follow_eric.)

So if you find yourself near Lomas and Montclaire, check them out, try their cold brew, and snap a pic to Instagram. Tell them Follow Eric sent you.


About Mugshot Mondays
On Mondays, I'll be sharing my favorite local coffee shops with you. These are the places I visit regularly, whether as a place to meet with friends or as a second office for writing. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter to see the next #MugshotMonday.