Preparing for Camino – Part 2

A travel experience can be undertaken in good or not-so-good health. The choice is ours. However, when the travel adventure requires a level of physical exertion and effort, I will need to ‘up’ my usual exercise regime. Our Camino Portugues will be approximately 274 km/164 miles of back packing. Our longest walk will be 34km/20.4miles on Day 1 (when we are fresh, ‘naïve’ and bursting with energy). This Camino will take us 11 days/10 nights on the trail. Our target back packing weight is about 10% of our body weight. So, the target for the physical conditioning has been established. As of late Jan 2018, we will have about 3.5 months before our Camino walk.

Unbeknown to us at that time (of the impact of this on our Camino), we had switched to a mainly pescatarian diet about 3 months prior to deciding to walk the Camino. That nutritional change came about for health reasons, Joon wanting to manage her blood pressure, while I was seeking to manage my cholesterol levels. A couple of documentaries recommended by our son, Matt, was the trigger. This may be a future post. By also eliminating dairy and going gluten free, we both found that we were able to lose about 12 pounds each! Our BMI has always been in the normal range. This dietary change is going to give us a leg up over our old selves.

The primary focus was on building our cardio vascular endurance. We have different approaches, so, I will share mine. I picked the rowing machine, as I know a CEO who took that up. Rowing is reputed to be a complete exercise, similar to swimming. Rowing exercises the arms, legs and the core. Being a Virgoan-analytical, I found a YouTube video that showed the proper and improper ways to row. That visualization became a challenge to me, to see if I can emulate and execute the perfect set of movements in a fluid fashion. During rowing, I can close my eyes, focus on various body parts and movements, and get my breathing into a rhythm. I can adjust the intensity and speed of my rows. Sometimes, I push for longer rowing sessions, but after losing all the pounds, the ‘natural cushion’ on my buttocks starts to wear thin after an hour’s rowing.  😊

There’s also a need to switch one’s routine to avoid boredom, and keep the interest commitment in going to the Y three times a week. The elliptical machine is one of my favorites as it mimics the walking motions without the impact on the knees. I love how I can vary the incline as well as the resistance. The last machine that I use occasionally, is the stair master. This is probably the hardest as it works the glutes and calves. On rare occasions, I carry my back pack as I use the stair master. If we ever walk the Camino Frances, which requires crossing the Pyrenes mountains, this will be a must-do machine.

Most adults achieve their peak muscle mass during their late 30s to early 40s. After middle age, adults lose 3% of their muscle strength every year, on average. So, we consulted a trainer to help show/demo the machines to build/maintain our muscles, and we now fit that routine in during our visits to the Y. Interestingly, I heard from a friend, who swears that one has to pick increasing weighted dumb bells so that one can only do 6 reps. If one can do more than 6 reps, the bar bells are not heavy enough. The belief is that the 6th attempt will result in some micro-tears in muscle tissue, thereby encouraging more tissue build up. I couldn’t find anything to substantiate this on the Net.

Some other routines that our trainer got us doing were planks, lunges, squats. The movements and routines are easy, but doing three sets of 10 reps, is not a walk in the park.

We have started taking hour-long walks in the hiking shoes that we intend to use on the Camino. And that’s when the hip discomfort struck me during one of these walks. It had happened many months ago, during a trail walk and on a golf course. Clearly, there was some mis-alignment and stiffening joints. This prompted us to sign up for a Yoga class at the Y. It was my first Yoga class and it was like, my first ice cream! Or so I imagined. How my joints really relished the treat of being stretched. Straightening the ‘bends’ that had slowly crept into my knees over time. Feeling the ligaments, the muscles getting pulled, like stretching one’s back after hunching over a laptop. A release of accumulated knots hiding in the joints. During Yoga, the breathing, the relaxing and freeing of the mind is the icing on the cake. Flexibility, balance and mental calmness are just as important as the hard regimen of cardio vascular and muscular maintenance.

B

2/3/18 update. Our Yoga teacher, Alisa, recommended David Procyshyn’s videos on Youtube. Seems he has one for runners/walkers. Here’s a link.

 

Preparing for Camino – Part 1

As with any significant undertaking, planning and preparation helps increase the odds of a desirable outcome. Planning and preparing for a Camino has basic commonalities with other travel adventures, but it does involve its own unique dimensions (if so chosen).

Our Camino planning and preparation can be considered in several categories.

  1. Awareness and understanding of the Camino journey and experience.
  2. Equipping oneself with the right gear for such a hike.
  3. Physical preparation of one’s own bodily endurance, stamina and strength.
  4. Mental preparation, including picking up Spanish.
  5. Planning the travel, transportation, accommodation options.

There’s so much resources and content on the Net, that spending a few hours and several days/weeks, will richly arm one with information of the Camino. Here I would share the two Net resources that proved most invaluable to me. First is a UK blog-forum that has literally hundreds and thousands of postings from hikers and pilgrims over the years, organized by trails and other subject areas. http://www.caminodesantiago.org.uk/#information-for-all-camino-routes.12  I learned so much from the selfless sharing, about items to pack, about the optimal weight to carry (10% of body weight), about the trade offs between hiking boots, hiking shoes, trail shoes, etc. The various ways to prevent and address blisters. The alberques to avoid. Learnings, mistakes, tips from seasoned Camino peregrines who have walked several times on various trails. There’s no better resource for someone who wants to understand how to plan and prepare for the Camino.

The second online resource is the various blogs written by the various hikers/pilgrims. Each blogger has their own distinctive style and perspective. All have pictures along the trail, and thus, one does get a good picture of the Camino journey. I was struck by one blogger who took pictures of rain drops on flowers/plants. What beauty that can only be seen when one slows down, and seeks such around us. Several of the previously mentioned UK blog-forum posters have indicated their own personal blogs in their signature line, and the blog-forum administrator, Leslie had compiled a short list of blogs in 2015 – https://www.caminoadventures.com/best-camino-de-santiago-blogs/

We intend to blog about our Camino, but will likely have a different take/slant to most. Thus, this blog itself is the first step to familiarize ourselves with this media, and more importantly, to help us build our own individual ‘voice’.

For me, the FUN & ENJOYABLE part of reading all this Camino content, is the beginning visualization of what the Camino is about. Building the anticipation. How I will enjoy the scenery, the slow pace of walking and being in the moment. Being un-plugged from all the distractions and electronic devices that’s part of modern life. Being dis-engaged from the need to know the latest real time news. Just being alone with my thoughts, having deep conversations with my partner Joon, and engaging with other fellow hikers/pilgrims that cross our paths. Of course, I am sure there will be moments (hours?) of discomfort and pain as we trudged on. But mentally, attitude-wise, I view it as just being in touch with my body. Understanding what my body is capable of, and having the certainty of a good rest/sleep at the end of the day.

Stephen Covey’s second habit of highly effective people is ‘Begin with the End in Mind’. That every physical creation, every manifestation starts first in the mind before it comes into being. In that way, part of our preparation will happen on the trail itself, not at home. When we dialog about our intent for that day, prior to starting off. Perhaps a relationship aspect that needs to be deepened/strengthened. Perhaps creating a new shared dream or goal. Perhaps reflecting and being thankful for our shared journey to date. What a wonderful thought, that the day’s walk can lead to a burst of re-creation, of positivism charging through and energizing our full selves – bodies, soul and spirit. Truly a ‘journey within’ to live life as fully as possible.

Buen Camino.

B

3/22/18 update. For American pilgrims, there’s an association web site with lots of materials and resources –  http://www.americanpilgrims.org/    This same association hosts a very active Facebook group among American Camino walkers/pilgrims at https://www.facebook.com/groups/AmericanPilgrims/ 

 

Making the Camino Decision

There are as many decision triggers for walking the Camino, as there are hikers, cyclists and pilgrims that have undertaken this journey. One trigger that’s common, is the 2010 movie, The Way, starring Martin Sheen and directed by his son, Emillio Estevez.

We knew our good friend, Sim had walked it in 2016. As Catholics, we had come across this before but I had never seriously looked into it. Then, in the summer of 2017, our friends Meg and Shawn, who lived in Barcelona but were back for the summer, asked whether we would be interested in joining their parish group visiting Fatima for the 100th anniversary of the apparitions. We declined due to our travel schedules to Asia.

Like all good ideas, it percolated and bubbled. Then one day, I decided to start reading about it on the Net. And the more I read, especially the posts and sharing on a Camino UK blog, the more it drew me in. Eventually, we discussed doing this Camino and Fatima as a pilgrimage in 2018, and we both enthusiastically embraced it. We subsequently borrowed the DVD, The Way. In addition, we read several books, and everything solidified the decision.

Our reading list includes:

  • In movement, there is peace – Elaine & Joseph Foster
  • Field of Stars – Kevin A Codd (author is a Catholic priest in Spokane WA)
  • I’m off then – Hape Kerkeling (just started on this book)

To sum it up, we decided to walk the Camino:

  • To nourish and enrich our spiritual life.
  • To seek God in the people and events that will unfold.
  • To strengthen the bonds between us.
  • To experience a pilgrimage with our feet.

IMHO, any reason or motivation is a good one, as many have testified that the Camino experience has changed their outlook, their approach to life. The pilgrims/peregrine say, the “Camino provides”.

Buen Camino.

B

 

For me, going to walk the Camino seems to be like going on a grand adventure! When the idea first percolated, I obviously had no idea what I was signing up for… sure, traveling to Portugal and Spain fits me perfectly. I do love to see different countries, experience different ways of life and all that, but walking hundreds of kilometers with my own backpack no less, kinda brought me back to reality a little. But, what is life if one doesn’t challenge oneself and do things one might never have a chance to do again? Still, I must admit I do have reservations…

Firstly, I don’t really enjoy hiking all that much. Uphill treks are the worst, I do NOT like climbing hills and with a backpack, I will be complaining all the way. Seriously, our ‘pristine’ 33 year marriage might be ending on the Camino. Sigh. Anyway, I am willing to give it a try with as much grace as I can. I suppose I could limit myself to whining only once a day.

Secondly, I am such a worrier and I will imagine all sorts of scenarios that can happen (and probably will) … getting lost, getting sick, getting injured. Surrendering to the will of God is probably the wisest thing to do in these circumstances and that’s what I’ll have to learn to do.

Thirdly, the accommodations along the way will be ‘rustic’ I gather, and what is worrisome (ah, that word again!) is that we probably need to have good rest and sleep nightly in order to successfully complete the daily journey. And I already know I don’t really sleep well in unfamiliar surroundings, unlike my dear other half who can drop off to sleep in a wink of an eye (yes, even sitting upright!). Me, I have to toss and turn, mind racing all the time, willing myself to sleep while being totally  envious on  hearing the sonorous deep breaths of my beloved. I look forward to being so very tired after a day of walking that I won’t care if my bed is just a thin mattress.  See, I am already becoming a more positive person!

So yes, I have my reservations but ultimately, I am positive that what we achieve out of this experience will be a deeper, fuller understanding of self, our relationship with each other and most importantly, with God. I have always pondered the question,  ‘Why am I on this Earth?’  I may never find my answer, but I would sure like to try to find out. Doing the Camino is my one step in that direction.

Buen Camino.

J

Camino de Santiago

This was popularized among Americans by the 2010 movie, ‘The Way’, directed, produced and written by Emilio Estevez and starring his father Martin Sheen. We heard of it years ago, but it first came onto our radar when my best friend, Sim, mentioned he walked it in 2016. But the trigger for us to consider it, was when our friends, Meg and Shawn, invited us to visit Fatima in October 2017 with their church group, for Fatima’s 100th anniversary. So the seed for a pilgrimage was planted and germinated.

As we started considering Fatima in our travel plans, the brain worked mysteriously and associated the Camino de Santiago. I came across a wonderful Camino UK blog, and the many postings by hikers and pilgrims shaped and solidified our thoughts and plans in this area. We decided to make the Camino de Santiago the focal point of our pilgrimage, with a pre-Camino visit to Fatima.

There are as many reasons to walk the Camino as there are hikers/pilgrims (277.7K in 2016). For us, it’s part of our ‘journey within’, seeking to elevate our spiritual self, and strengthening our bonds. I personally expect that I will learn to listen more, learn to see beyond the surface, and to fine tune some of my deepest convictions and values as they are challenged on the trail.

For those wishing to prepare spiritually, Sandy Brown had three inspiring posts at this blog page.

Our Camino walk will be in May 2018. But the preparation has started and will continue before we board our flights.

B

Which Contemporary Figure Would I Want to Spend A Day With?

This simple and innocuous question took some deep pondering (and soul searching) from me. A name or a list of candidates didn’t jump out at me. I had to think hard, scanning across multiple categories, dimensions and geographies.

I ruled out national leaders, as I had become disillusioned with how politics and governance has de-generated significantly from the golden years of statesmanship for the better good of fellow citizens and humanity/the world at large.

A list slowly formed in my mind, as I considered the discussions I would want to have, to explore, to gain insights/perspectives:

  1. Edward Snowden
  2. Julian Assange
  3. Pope Francis
  4. Ayaan Hirsi Ali
  5. Chelsea Manning
  6. Jeff Bezos
  7. Bill Gates

I had to think deeply of females/ladies before I came up with Ayaan and Manning (do I subconsciously have a masculine-bias?). So, this is my list at this point in time, Jan 2018. It tells me that I need to enlarge my world view further, to push and seek notables whose work, ideas or achievements I would want to know and engage on.

Snowden and Assange are individuals who have risked much, to expose deep states that threaten true liberty and freedom. The Pope has substantially moved the Church into its own mini-reformation. Much remains to be done, especially with a clergy rooted in traditions and struggling with past transgressions. Ayaan’s insights into the changes needed within Islam would provide a great dialog on how Islam and Western civilization come to terms and harmony. Manning’s own personal persecution and her future congressional plans point to a deeper convition about the changes needed. Bezos’ success at futuristic business models point to an evolution in commerce and business. It would be interesting to understand how he perceives the evolution of human labor.

Which leaves Gates. He would be the one that I would select, not because of his success at Microsoft. Rather, it’s his work at the Foundation that interests me, how they are addressing global-scale challenges that impact the poor, the sick and the hungry. How he considers the intractable problems and threads a way to jump start, mobilize alliances and seeks a lasting solution. That would nourish my inner belief that we can solve such scaled challenges.

The value of this exercise wasn’t so much the list and the selection itself. Rather it caused me to internalize that I have been coasting along, in regard to observing the world beyond my immediate bubble. I look forward to re-visiting this topic at some point in the future.

Next morning….as I was lying down in bed for the night, it struck me that Gates is not particularly known as a social conversationalist. The idea of how enjoyable or smooth flowing the conversation could be, led me to the category of comedians. That it could be enjoyable as well as insightful. Which ended with two comedians on my list, Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel. While I realize they have writers for their material, they obviously must have some originality as well as passion over the materials they have delivered. Ah…..this matter of the contemporary figure that I would love to spend a day with, is far from settled!

B

Reading

In July 2016, I made a commitment to read 100 books over the next 5 years. That’s an average of 20 books a year, or 5 books a quarter. To keep this commitment, I created a simple xls, listing the reading month/year, book title, author, my own 5 star rating and some commentary (to remind me of the essence or the key take aways). The xls serves two purposes, reminds me of my target/commitment and refreshes the benefit that I had from reading those books.

How do I pick the books that I want to read? Firstly, I start with the attitude and mind set that I want to broaden my perspectives. So, I do not limit myself to specific genres or categories. I do remind myself of favorite genres from times past, that I have not read due to a working career that consumed my time and attention. Secondly, I browse the NYT or Amazon’s best sellers list and read the reviews to identify books that I want to read. Thirdly, I open myself up to consider books recommended by Joon, friends, etc. Fourthly, when I visit the library, I scan the shelves for picks that have been set out by staff.

My reading habits was established during my childhood days. My mother, was the school principal at a convent primary school. One of the unofficial perks was that during the school holidays, we were allowed to borrow books from that school library. So, I readily consumed the children’s fare from Enid Blyton, titles such as the Famous Five, etc. I progressed to Westerns, Detective/Mystery, Science Fiction as I grew into my teens. Each genre had its own compelling characters, settings and action that engaged me.

So, what are some of my notable reads since I started this journey in the summer of 2016? Ted Chiang’s “Stories of Your Life” is a fantastic Sci-Fi read. The various short stories depict very possible futuristic scenarios based on (advanced) technology, but what makes the stories compelling is the underpinning and interplay of the human psychology. The 2016 acclaimed movie, ‘Arrival’ was adapted from one of Ted’s short stories.

Jodi Picoult’s “Small Great Things” is the best exposition into the Black American life and experiences in USA. I was very moved by the various characters, and could start to appreciate the perspectives, world views and subtle signals that emanate from a society that is not color blind. It so moved me, that I felt it should be a required college reading text that students should be able to discuss and engage in. This is the only book, so far in my list, to garner a ‘6’ on a 5 star rating system!

As a Catholic, Edward Sri’s “Who am I to judge?” is the only book, so far in my list, to garner a special highlight that reminds me to re-read it periodically. It gently reminds me of the struggles that the contemporary world’s relativity may have on my own internal values.

So, after a year and a half on this reading journey, I have read 39 books, which is 39% of the original commitment. How has the reading affected me? I get a better appreciation of the creative genius of the various authors. I get a deeper insight. I get satisfaction from just reading. And perhaps, the reading subtly encouraged me to start this blog!   🙂

 

B

 

I have always been a ‘reader’! From childhood, reading had always been a delicious part of my life…I really don’t recall how it all started, whether I’d started reading before I could walk(!) or whether it was just an escape mechanism into a world of fun, fantasy and adventure! Luckily, my parents indulged my obsession and books were readily available to me. My parents would always joke that if I went missing, they’d find me next to some bookshelves or in a bookstore or library… So, by the time I was 12, I had read all the works of Enid Blyton, (I really mean ALL- from the school series of Mallory Towers, St.Clare’s , Naughtiest Girl , child-sleuths Five Find-Outers, Famous Five to her fantasy folk series of Enchanted Woods and so on..). I loved school stories- the Chalet School series was one of my favorites..and Richmal Crompton’s Just William series of unruly schoolboy William Brown kept me in thrall.

It was lucky for me that I attended a ‘convent’ school that had a wonderful library…a treasure trove of books that I constantly borrowed from. I also spent most of my allowance buying books….I wish I had kept my well-worn library from yesteryear.

Education-wise, of course I went into something that would require me to read! Yes, I majored in English Literature. Ah bliss, having to read and read and read for my degree, and discovering many, many more genres that were appealing and so interesting.

So it has come to this; Reading to me is like breathing…I read everything and anything. I like mystery novels, murder-mystery, fantasy, sci-fi, true life depictions, historical-based, .. oh, what don’t I like! I have just finished Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, and I did like that too. The many references to 80s pop culture totally resonated..and yes, I really really like YA novels too! ( though I am a YA three times over..). Did enjoy Alice Hoffman’s The Rules of Magic recently and will start on The Immortalists soon, right after I finish Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere. So many books, so little time! Actually, I do multi-task reading too, since I have to prepare for the Camino, am also reading Hape Kerkeling’s I’m Off Then (very entertaining so far..), and doing some Spanish reading (not much, but getting more comprehensible- can order food and drinks in a cafe now!).

Bottomline is, I find out who I am every time I pick up a book…immersed in it, I ask myself questions all the time. Answers may not come, but thinking about my responses is the reward achieved.

I end with a quote from the incomparable Ursula Le Guin who passed away recently-‘My imagination makes me human and makes me a fool; it gives me all the world and exiles me from it.’  May we all be humans and fools.

 

J

 

Festivals and Festivities

Every nation has its festivals. Malaysia, with its multi-cultural heritage, had an unfair abundance of festivals. The Malays have their Hari Raya Aidilfitri, which was the culmination of Ramadan’s fasting. Hindu Indians have Deepavali/Diwali, the Festival of Lights. The Chinese have their Chinese New Year, welcoming in the new lunar year (based on the Chinese zodiac). Christians have Christmas and Easter. Ibans have Gawai Dayak, celebrating the rice harvesting. And many more.

What is unique in Malaysia is the concept of the ‘Open House’, during these festivities. Namely, the various cultural festival celebrants, would welcome ‘all and sundry’ to their homes.  There would be special dishes, cakes, desserts prepared, a wondrous palate for the senses. Indulgence and merry making was the order of the day. No RSVP was required because one did not need a specific invite for an Open House. All one had to figure out was the Open House hours. One could even bring others who the host did not know. Hospitality was extended to friends and strangers alike.

The greeting custom back in the 60s/70s/80s was that everyone wished everyone the festive greeting. Thus, we had non-Christians/Muslims wishing Christians, ‘Merry Christmas’. We Christians, even wished non-Christians/Muslims, ‘Merry Christmas’ when they visited us in our homes. Because when one really delves into the heart of the matter, wishing another person, even if he/she doesn’t share the same beliefs/culture, is just plain and simple, ‘good will’. Otherwise, if I, as a Christian, withhold wishing someone ‘Merry Christmas’ because I am not sure if that someone is a Christian, am I not then reserving my goodwill for only those of the same faith?

Let not political correctness nor religious fundamentalism be an obstacle to humanity coming together, to acknowledge and celebrate each other’s festivals.

With that, a Blessed and Merry Christmas to All.

B

Why this Blog?

This is the excerpt for your very first post.

We (Joon & Ben) decided to start this Blog, as a way to journal our life journey and experiences. A key motivation is our upcoming Camino hike in May 2018. But we wanted a Blog that covered more than the Camino.

We have an active engagement on Facebook, that we will continue. Facebook allows us to connect with our friends and relatives around the globe. It allows us to share tidbits and slices of life.

This Blog reaches beyond our Facebook content and our private journals. It will aim to chronicle our respective and shared “Journey Within”.

Life should be lived looking out the windshield. But if we don’t learn from the past, we are bound to repeat the past. Our writings will be a mix of both, but everything emanates from within. When we discover our deepest self, we will then be truly free and at peace, to be who we were meant to be.

We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.  T.S. Eliot