Fog City Boy #3.1 (Republished)

Fog City Boy on the Camino Portugués

Lisbon, Portugal – April 1, 2014

The transit from San Francisco to Lisbon was pleasant enough. Virgin Atlantic and TAP (the Portuguese airline) did everything they could to make airline travel what it used to be! Both flights met my definition of "good flights." In my lexicon, "good flight" translates as "uneventful."

When I arrived at Lisbon, I cleared immigration and customs quickly, found a cambio and exchanged USD 50 for € 28 and change. The 10 percent commission charged by the cambio (this in addition to the spread on the transaction) was exorbitant but I accepted it as a necessary evil. I didn’t want to get caught without at least a few euros in my pocket until I could find an ATM that would provide exchange at a more reasonable rate. And a good thing, too. The kiosk at the entrance to the Lisbon Metro would not accept a charge to my US issued charge or debit cards because neither sports a smart chip that is universal now with European issued cards. Most businesses and ATMs still accept the US based swipe card technology, but kiosks don’t. I understand that US banks and card issuers will go to smart chip technology within the next 48 months. So, using some of my euros, I bought a transit pass and loaded it with € 10 to get me into town and around town for the next couple of days.

The Metro got me to Santa Apolonia Station swiftly enough. It was late afternoon and I walked the short distance to my pension through a charming section of Old Lisbon, a rabbits’ warren of streets, alleys, stairways, and passages. The last image is the entrance to my pension (on the left).

I checked in at the pension and was taken to my room, small but comfortable, with a clean bed, a shower and a sink to myself. Other needs were met down the hall. The building was certainly over 100 years old and was built before electricity and other amenties were commonplace. Water pipes poked through the ceiling and after serving my sink and shower continued through an adjacent wall to serve another room. A perfectly satisfactory, even elegant, setting for a peregrino to begin his Camino!

I flopped down, showing the signs of sleep deficit and transmeridian travel – aka jetlag. In due course, I got up and wandered outside. I found an ATM that happily vended me € 200 and tapped my bank account back home. It was Saturday evening and I wandered the central part of the old city. There were many folks – old and young – out enjoying the evening. There was a bit of rain, but nothing troubling. Many broad plazas and streets that had been turned into nicely paved "malls" sported outdoor cafes. I wandered back toward my pension and found an inviting restaurant that featured fish for dinner (essentially all restaurants in Lisbon feature fish all day) but it also had live entertainment. A guitarist, a fellow playing what I take to be an early form of mandolin, and a middle aged woman who sang Portuguese songs with gusto. She didn’t need a microphone to fill the room! The food and the entertainment were good, and appreciated by the crowd.

The next day I rode one of the little yelow trams that are the Lisbon equivalent of cable cars in San Francisco. The traditional trams are single-truck and very narrow guage. They ascend and descend the hills of this very hilly city at high speed. They don’t slow much for blind intersections. They are crowded at all times and a fun experience. Lisbon gift shops all carry a supply of models, drawings, and figurines celebrating the little yellow trams.

In the old part of Lisbon, streets and sidewalks are made of cobble stone. Often with interesting designs in black and white stone.

Because Portugal and Spain were neutral during World War II, many historic structures remain to be enjoyed today.

Again, Lisbon is a city of hills. Entrepreneurs built elevators to service the hill climbing and hill descending population charging more to ride up than the fare to ride down! Here’s a famous one built early in the 20th century. There is an observation deck at the top. I rode it up for a normal fare on my metro card. (The elevators are reminiscent of the esclators Ginna and I found in Hong Kong several years ago – serving the same purpose for the populace, though using different technology, and for free!)

The people seem busy and happy and quite fit, though there are signs of discontent with the economy and the austerity measures demanded by Portugal’s EU partners. Graffiti is ubiquitous and even more common than in San Francisco. Most is simply in the form of individual tagging and thus quite oppressive, but some carries a political message. Here’s a government office building that has been pelted by bags of red paint, reflecting some of the discontent.

I have had a good time in Lisbon and am ready to set out on my Camino in an hour or so, after posting this chapter to the blog. Not all the experiences in Lisbon have been positive, though. I was pickpocketed on one of the trams on Sunday and spent part of Monday cancelling a credit card and a debit card. Fortunately, my passport was in the safe at the pension, and I have a standby debit and a standby credit card that will get me through until the replacements arrive. I bought a new sim card for my cell phone which gets be connected to the web – that’s the good news. The other news is that calls to and from the US cost € 0.60 per minute (that’s about 78 cents per minute). I’ve instructed my family not to call to tell me they love me. Just think good thoughts!

And it has rained every day, not alot though, until yesterday. And there was a robust thunderstorm last night. But, hey, I haven’t melted yet. And I have a poncho to protect me and my backpack.

And then there was the couple next door to me in the pension. An older couple and no doubt quite deaf. They spoke loudly to each other, and through the thin wall, to me. They talked all night long (or at least until 3 a.m. on Sunday night). I didn’t go to sleep until 5 a.m. and then slept only until 10:30. The same had been true on Saturday night, though they knocked off early – about 1:00 a.m. Yesterday I asked for a different room and the house responded graciously. I slept well last night.

Part of the pilgrimage is encountering adversity, accepting it, and continuing on the journey. Row all the way to the finish.

Here are pictures of the Lisbon Cathedral Se, the starting point for my Camino. Last night I asked a passer by to take my picture standing by the first way mark on the Camino Portugues. It is rather unobtrusive, So I have included a closeup.

As soon as I post to the blog, I will head to the Cathedral to get the first stamp on my Credencial del Pregrino.

With that, I’m off!

Knute Michael

Fog City Boy #2

 

Fog City Boy on the Camino Portugués

San Francisco, California – March 28, 2014

Today is the big day. I leave for Lisbon from SFO (by way of London Heathrow) in just a few hours. I’ll arrive there about 4:00 pm tomorrow local time and then make my way to the small pension not far from the Cathedral from which I will begin my Camino three days later. (35 euros per night gets me my own room with a bathroom and shower! Does it get any better than that?)

And so it begins.

The question arises for all peregrinos, “When did you actually begin your Camino?” In my case, the practical answer is that I will begin the Camino when I get the first stamp in my Credencial del Peregrino (the pilgrim’s passport) at the Lisboa Cathedral Se and take the first step on the 613 kilometer Way to Santiago. [I am training myself to think in kilometers rather than miles.]

But as our daughter who has walked the Camino wisely observed, you begin your Camino when you form the intention to do so. That is when the spiritual journey begins.

Thus, my Camino begins Tuesday next, but also began about one year ago.

I had mulled the idea of walking the Camino ever since we met Elizabeth in Santiago at the conclusion of her Camino in 2010. We heard the many stories of her experiences. I was intrigued, but could not imagine breaking away from my duties as a member and president of the California Board of Pilot Commissioners to take a lengthy hike. But, on March 1, 2013 I was termed out and by statute could not be reappointed. That freed me to consider undertakings of greater duration than had been possible for the previous eight years. Shortly after that, I determined to walk the Camino.

Preparing for the Camino has been a journey in itself. Part physical, part intellectual, part practical.

I have done a fair amount of walking, with my pack and in proper hiking shoes. I have kept up my aerobics regimen. Not as much as I had intended, though.

I read a history of Portugal and surfed the web a lot. And I enrolled in a beginning Spanish class at San Francisco City College. I was not able to finish the semester, of course, the Camino holding sway. But the weeks I spent in that class will prove invaluable on my Camino. Muchas, muchas gracias, Profesora Babylon.

And I have collected all the stuff that I think I will need. A trip to REI is great fun!

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The scallop shell – la concha – is the best known symbol of El Camino de Santiago – the Way of St. James. The striations on the surface of the shell begin at various points on the periphery but converge at a single point – as do the several Camino ways. Some begin at multiple origins in Spain and Portugal. Others begin in France, Germany, Italy, and elsewhere in Europe. But all the Caminos end in exactly the same place – the plaza before the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

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There are other symbols of the Camino. The yellow arrow as a way marker along the chosen route. The Cross of Santiago which can be traced to the time of the Crusades. And thebotafumeiro in the Cathedral of Santiago. At a pilgrim mass held on Friday evenings at 7:30, the botafumeiro is swung across the transept, high above the congregants and dispenses incense that permeates the Cathedral. For the peregrinos who have just completed their Camino, the incense wafts around them, signifying an embrace, welcome, and blessings.

In 2011, Ginna and I traveled to France, Norway, and Russia. While taking a hike from Viriville in France (about half way between Lyon and Grenoble), I came upon the way marker below. Apparently the Camino in question led down the stone steps out of the picture to the left. The way marker instructs peregrinos to continue to the right up the country lane. At the crest of the hill is a church and an alberque.

I am encouraged to find that a Camino runs through that part of the world because certain old salts of my acquaintance, when engaged in ship handling training at a nearby lake, might consider jumping ship and setting out on a Camino of their own. From Viriville, it is only 1400 kilometers to Santiago. It can be walked in 291 hours. . . if you don’t stop.

So now, as I embark on a wholly new experience, I think about how best to relate to a new challenge, a physical, endurance challenge. This won’t be a sprint. I don’t do sprints. I don’t have the explosiveness to do sprints. This is an endurance challenge. And, I’m fine with that.

But, how to relate to the physical challenge? To the mental challenge? And the spiritual overlay?

Jim is with me. I recall his training me for the Peninsula Indoor Rowing Championships (PIRC) several years ago (a 2000 meter rowing time trial). On the last day of the training, three days before the event, I asked him, “when I am sitting on the erg, waiting for the starting horn, what should I be thinking about?”

“Gratitude,” he responded.

Yes. Gratitude. It worked for me at the PIRC. I didn’t bring home any metal, and didn’t expect to. What I did bring home was a new PR – a new personal record. And memories of the experience.

So now, as I ready my pack, and prepare to leave for SFO and the adventures that will follow, I think about gratitude. Gratitude that I am strong enough to undertake this journey. Gratitude for family and so many friends who have supported me in this quest. Gratitude to have the opportunity to walk the Camino.

With that, I’m off.

Knute Michael

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Fog City Boy #1

Fog City Boy on the Camino Portugués

San Francisco, California – March 18, 2014

Thank you for visiting my blog. I hope you will return to it follow my progress on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela (Portugués)!

I depart San Francisco on Friday, March 28th. I will fly to London and then on to Lisbon. The total travel time will be about 34 hours. I have a room reserved in a small pension in Lisbon, near the river and in the historic district. I will spend three nights and two days there, recovering from jet lag (aka transmeridian travel). And then on March 32nd (I have been cautioned not to tell people I am starting a 400 mile hike on April 1st), I’ll be off.

The Camino is a pilgrimage that many thousands of people from all over the world have made. There are many routes with waymarkers in stone, or simply painted yellow arrows, starting in different locations, but all ending in exactly the same place: The plaza in front of the Cathedral de Santiago in Santiago, Spain.

Most peregrinos (pilgrims) walk the Camino Francés, usually starting in St. Jean Pied de Port in southwest France, as did our daughter, Elizabeth, in May, 2010. That route is 500 miles. She did it in 35 days. I am planning to do my 400 mile pilgrimage in 45 days, more or less. (Elizabeth is somewhat younger than I.) I will stay in the albergues (pilgrim hostels) where they are available and in inexpensive lodging when not. I’m packing two changes of clothes (one on my back, the other in the pack), three sets of underwear, four pairs of socks, two pairs of shoes (one to walk in and one to walk about in after arriving at the day’s destination) and assorted other impedimenta – all of which will be useful, but all of which weigh something. I will do my laundry nightly in a sink wherever I am staying – usually washing with shampoo. It will dry overnight. My pack and contents will weigh no more than 17 pounds – 10 percent of my body weight.

Peregrinos undertake the Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James) for differing reasons. Many do so for religious reasons. The Camino de Santiago is often thought to be the most important pilgrimage in the Roman Catholic communion. Others undertake it for other spiritual reasons. And many do it for the sightseeing it offers.

My motivations are a mixture of the latter two reasons. I enjoyed riding my motorcycle through Spain and Portugal some 48 years ago and wanted to go back and see more of those countries again. But there are other reasons, reasons that are related to an athletic, physical, and spiritual journey I have experienced over the last seven plus years. Without too much elaboration, suffice it to say that upon returning to my native San Francisco from Washington, D.C. in 2004, I discovered that I had gained an uncomfortable number of pounds and I decided to do something about it. I got into a program that was quite holistic, involving strenuous but enjoyable exercise based on an athletic training model, combined with nutritional counseling and behavior modification counseling.

I am pleased to report that in 11 months I lost over 10 percent of my bodyweight (net of increased musculature) and have kept it off. But there is another aspect to the program as I and others experienced it. There was a philosophical element, indeed a spiritual element, with which our trainer imbued us. And that spiritual element will be an important part of my Camino.

Our trainer’s name was Jim. He’s not with us here on earth now. But there is good reason to believe that he is in heaven – training the angels and the cherubs to ride celestial double centuries and row 2Ks and marathon rows on the erg – the indoor rowing machine. (My friend Bob would dispute the latter report. He believes that ergs only exist in the other place, where they were invented to train the boatmen who rowed the unfortunates across the River Styx. But no matter.) Jim will be with me on my Camino.

You can learn more about the Camino de Santiago by searching on that name on your search engine of choice. You will get many thousands of hits. Martin Sheen made a very good movie about the Camino called “The Way.” I commend it to you. A good and funny book about the Camino is “I’m Off Then” by Hape Kerkeling. Also, there is a recent and good documentary showing in theatres from time to time called “Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago.”

As I write this, I am 10 days from getting on the big bird and heading off to the Camino. I’ll post again on March 28th before I head to SFO. Hope to see you here! If you wish, you can toggle on and my posts will be sent directly to your email when I click on “publish.”

With that, I’m off.

Knute Michael

Fog City Boy showing off his backpack stance!

Fog City Boy on the Camino Primativo