Bye Bye Burgos, Hello Leon

Well sadly all good things must come to an end … and our time in beautiful Burgos did just that yesterday afternoon.

We had a 15:25 train from Burgos to our next sight seeing / break from walking day in Leon this time. We were primed to make the best of our amazing treat hotel and city though for the morning before departing.

To kick things off, we enjoyed quite thoroughly a breakfast for kings! The breaky buffet at the hotel was 7euros and check out our feast below. Crazy to think this is what we can get for 7euros in one place, but only get a piece of toast with jam and coffee or juice in another place for 5euros. We will be keeping our eyes open for deals like this from here on! Big breaky means skip lunch means save money!

After we stuffed ourselves quite completely. We put our packs in the left luggage room and ventured the old city again.

We headed in the direction of the massive chapel and came upon some stone stairs heading up to a hill above the city with a sign marked Castillo (castle) – ok! Slowly, being mindful this was a tourist day not a hump it up hills day, we made it up and up to a birds eye view of the city streets we had walked the night before. Here are a few of the pics up to and from the castle heights:

From up here for the first time we heard the Sunday bells from the massive chapel – wow is about all I can say to describe them. They are rung for 15mins every hour on Sundays and are just amazing. Like give you goose bumps amazing. From up high they sounded so smooth and combined but then from close to the cathedral you could pick out each individual bell. Depending where you stood in the plaza they sounded different again. The echo of the bells off the high buildings and stone was making a few dogs in town a little crazy. One poor pouch was going in circles barking trying to figure out where the sound was coming from. Hilarious. I posted a video recording of the bells on my Instagram @brandedavison if you want to hear them.

We could not resist a few more pics of the cathedral and plaza in the morning light as we walked around the area enjoying the bells:

Finally we enjoyed our last Burgos cafe con leche (coffee with milk) outside of our amazing hotel:

We made our way by bus #25 from Plaza de Espana over to the train station and then by train for 2 hours over to Leon. We had a bit of a wait so got some sunshine naps in first!

Before departing we had our final Burgos entertainment … a guy who was a bit sketch and carrying 2 backpacks was told by security to exit the train station as he did not have a ticket. Well wouldn’t you know it as soon as our train pulled in, the sketch guy dropped one bag and went barreling for the nearest open train door – knocking the poor ole security guard down and almost between the train and the platform in the process. Sketch guy hid somewhere in the train and they could not find him. So he did end up getting the free ride to Leon he was looking for in the first place. Gong show!

Any who, the train trip itself was a really nice way to see the landscape change from green Burgos to dry Leon. We left the chilly wind, humidity, high of 21C in Burgos and stepped of the train into the dry heat of 34C of Leon. We were happy to leave that oppressive, soggy humidity behind.

We are super excited to explore Leon today. Will it stand up to Burgos? The bar is set pretty high!! Stay tuned to find out …

Brande

One Bridge Too Far

Yesterday was another great day on the Camino for this duo. We walked from Pamplona to Puenta La Reina which is just over 23km or 39,289 Fitbit steps.

Our day started as usual it seems with poor sleep, too many pilgrim body sounds recalled from the night prior, some white toast and jam and very strong coffee. The life of these pilgrims so far but we are still loving it!

We left our humble abode at 8:15am and commenced the day with a 5km walk though Pamplona. Along the way we had our cameras ready to capture a few sights:

When we hit the next town Cizur Menor we had already added another stamp to our Pilgrim Passport (thank you Universidad de Navarre), discovered how amazing and light you feel switching from boots to runners, and had a few laughs. Not bad for 5km!

When we hit a section of path that required boots, we would take a welcome break and switch them up. We were light as feathers with our sneakers – ok not really light with our packs still on but that’s what we kept telling ourselves. Especially after we ate our bananas about mid morning and further lightened our load.

Around 930 or so the proof of the ‘there is a big climb after Puenta La Reina’ came into view. This was all the talk at the albergue (hostel) and we were a bit confused. Sure the elevation map looked like we had a high blip but so much talk was a bit much especially when you compare anything to the climb of day one. As came around a bend in Cizor Menor we saw the windmill hill we were going up and over. It was a good one for sure and worth some pilgrim chatter but nothing these two pilgrims couldn’t handle.

Up and up we went over some amazing trail, largely across or beside farmer’s fields. Many that were wheat already harvested but some were all sunflowers. Had we walked maybe a few weeks ago I think it would have been a sea of yellow but by end of August, the sunflowers were scorched from the sun and not quite as picturesque. I felt for them – I was feeling the same way in the hot Spanish sun!

The highlight was coming over the ridge to find one of the most photographed pilgrim monuments on the Camino. We were pretty high up at this point (about 900m) as high as we had to climb that day. The wind was harsh and the wind turbines were all around us loud and looming. Once in a while you had to brace agains a gust of wind. But this did not prevent a photo opportunity for us gals! Including a reenactment of my favourite part of the movie, The Way. If you have see it, you will know instantly this scene. If you haven’t seen it, it’s amazing and you should!

The afternoon was down hill literally for the most part with some small ups – but generally easy walking and the weather continued to hold off any rain and give us long pockets of sunshine!

Mid afternoon when the tummies where grumbling for chow we stopped in for a couple of coffees in a town called Uterga. Well it turned into a massive lunch (I finally got some eggs and served with fries, come on! yahoo!) and a small ice cold cervaza. Mmmm

We walked the last 6km into Puenta La Reina maybe a little slower after that amazing meal but it was fun all the same! As we came through towns we took some pics and as we came by churches I took a peek inside. They are a welcome break from the heat and give you a peace boost!

Following a short back track (couple blocks) as I read the map wrong we were at our albergue. This is my second time in a week messing the map – not bad for being tired in mind and body and distracted and excited by all the new stuff around me. Not sure our feet agree lol

An evening of showers, journaling on the amazing terrace in the evening sun, a cold pint and some pilgrim’s food wrapped up the day for us.

We have a twin room tonight – so just me and Lana in our little individual twin beds with an amazing little balcony. So we will get much needed sleep (that’s so exciting I may not sleep) and a chance to air our ‘smelling like backpack’ clothes in the evening breeze.

Another amazing day on the Camino.

Buen Camino!
Brande

Brande Looks Back: Kilimanjaro Day 5 (Summit Day – Epiphany)

Well I subjected you to the run down of my roller coast emotions on the day we reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, so its only fair I also subject you to my summit epiphany as well.

(If you missed my emotional recap, click Brande Looks Back: Kilimanjaro Day 5 (Summit Day – Emotions). Its pretty raw, you have been warned.)

mount kilimajaro summit

Any who, back to my epiphany. Drum roll please….

Getting to the summit is only half way!

Let me explain before you are all wondering what I am going on about.

Every conversation you have before you even depart for Tanzania, before you even pack your bags, get your travel insurance and start any training (if you plan on training) is about if you will summit Mount Kilimanjaro. When you finally arrive in Arushu or Moshi, whichever destination you pick as your ‘base camp’ all questions from the Lodge or Hotel staff, from your fellow trekkers and in your own mind are about if or if not you will summit. Then the day comes and you meet your Guide and climbing company and every conversation is about how they will make sure you summit. Summit, summit, summit!

Makes some sense. You travel all the way to Tanzania, you labour up that mountain one painfully slow step at a time, to do one thing: summit. Summit, summit, summit!

This ‘all about the summit adage’ once made sense to me but is now totally nonsensical. The summit is not the finish line, it is not the end of the road, or the end of your journey – it is only half way. Half bloody way!

Of course it is half way, duh – what kind of hiker, trekker, and mountain climber am I anyway? What goes up must come down, and last I checked there is no Gondola on Mount Kilimanjaro. But wait. You honestly do not think much about anything but getting to the summit, until one day the possibility of the summit is really real and then it hits you that holy crap you have to get back down. People need to know and I am serious about that – if you are debating that mountain embrace my epiphany. lol

The summit is not a finish line. It is not a marathon where my husband is standing at the finish line to hug me up, walk with me though the post-race snack line up to grab some chocolate milk, half banana and some cookies, and then get in the comfy car to head home for a long, well deserved shower. {oh wow that would have been amazing}

The summit is only half way. You have to turn your arse around and do exactly what you did for the past 6+ hours one more time but this time your legs are already burning, your lungs are on fire and feeling like the are fully on strike, your head is pounding, and you are willing yourself to go even 100 more steps without puking again.Did I mention the toes jamming in the front of your boots or the knees on strike? Every step you took on the way up already, you take again but this time fully exhausted not just kind of exhausted. Sometimes the cruelty of the mountain is such that you can even see your own footsteps in the opposite direction left in the scree field that you humped up just hours before and now you need to slide unbalanced down again.

Getting to the summit is a feat, and anyone who has done it or even attempts it gets a big, awesome, amazing kudos from me. The ultimate trick is if you can get up and down the highest free standing mountain in the same positive head space both ways.  A few on my crew were happy go lucky the whole up and down time, I wanted to be but don’t recall having the energy to be. I for sure had moments in my happy place and also in my get me the hell down head space over the course of summit day. Trust me, like many others before me, I was so focused on the summit, just like everyone with me and before me on that mountain, that I almost and very nearly missed an opportunity to appreciate the ‘coming back down’ as much as the ‘going to the top’.

I was happy to be on Mount Kilimanjaro, wow I was ecstatic to be honest. But there is nothing I wanted more than to leave that bucket list mountain top and get down and never see that thing again. Well now that I am down, recovered and looking back on the experience I maybe have a more reasonable opinion of the roof of Africa….

If you asked me if I would I climb it again? You bet! I would do it again in one heartbeat.

Brande

PS: Blog post with the step by step details coming soon. It would seem I needed to see more pictures from my fellow trekkers to piece together the day. Who knew altitude stole your breath and your memories! Pics and step details coming soon.

Lana Looks Back: Kilimanjaro Day 1

A look back at Lana’s experience of Kilimanjaro – Day 1

Lana and me, ready to trek! (albeit a little nervous)

While sitting in the comfort of my arm chair with the first of the snow on the ground, I am trying to recollect the experience of Kilimanjaro Day One and I find myself wondering things like, “What happened on day one?” and “Was I even there?!”

Looking back, it all seems very surreal. I know I climbed a mountain, I have the pictures, 2 less toenails, and ongoing numbness in my feet to prove it! I can remember the anticipation that I felt at the beginning of the first day, the taste of the dust in my mouth and the grit of the dirt on my teeth, the smell of the dampness in the forest, and the warmth of the sunshine on the back of my neck as I walked with my head down, but when I try to break it down into individual and separate events, I seem to have forgotten all but a few ridiculous, painful, or beautiful experiences that contributed to this incredible adventure.

Brande’s writing has thankfully brought to the forefront so much of our experience that perhaps happened in a mere moment, but which are the very fleeting instances that make up our entire adventure, and so often life itself.

I remember the chaos of the rental equipment being handed out at the lodge: Our guide pulling out sleeping bag after sleeping bag from a cinched duffle bag, much like the way a magician pulls never ending handkerchiefs continuously from his sleeve, only to find that we were still one short; the dispensing of the rain gear somewhat willy-nilly and the laid back response of “it’s okay, everyone fits,” as we questioned who’s pants were whose and my mind flashed back to the painstakingly drafted itemized, personalized, alphabetized, and categorized inventory list of rental gear submitted to the trekking company three months prior; and my very own red, black, and silver walking poles that I carried faithfully for seven days that did not leave the safety of their position, strapped tightly to the side of my pack and on more than one occasion thumping the back of my skull, reminding me of their usefulness. And so Day One began with all of us, our crew, and our gear – purchased, rented, borrowed, and gifted – loaded onto the top, under the seats, and into the stinky bus. Interesting to note, I have absolutely no difficulty recalling the stinky bus!!

The stinky bus

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Perhaps if there was a straight road or two in Tanzania the bus ride would have been a bit faster.

Registration, weigh-in and lunch was a blur to me until B mentioned the soup. Delicious and steaming hot with tomato sandwiches and cookies on the side. It was an appetizing preview of meals to come and after what I thought was the final tightening of my hiking boots, we set off on the dusty trail. I do remember stopping about 20 minutes in and tightening my boots again because they had started to rub the already tender area on the inside of my heels. As it turns out, the short trek from the train station to the hotel in Amsterdam was longer than I anticipated and warranted a snug fitting boot tie after being loosened on the flight from home. So on day one of my seven day adventure, I already had blisters to contend with. The ongoing saga of which I fear will continue to the end of this great journey and beyond…

Kili looms

Our troop with Kilimanjaro calling ahead.

The 7 Day Trivia game began early on with Seinfeld episodes, music trivia (complete with sing-along),  The Simpsons, and Forrest Gump driving most of the questions.  This was an amazing way to pass the time. It not only gave us hours of entertainment and some great laughs but also helped some of us get to know one another. This came in especially handy for me as at first camp I would be spending the night with a fellow I had only met twice before! Well, three times if you include spending the night together with his brother in Amsterdam…It’s not what you’re thinking!


My tent-mate, Matty

When we arrived at first camp I was excited to see that each tent had not only a small foyer with zip closures AND a sleeping area with zip closures, but sleeping mats 3-4 inches thick! Those who know me will understand my elation as it is no secret that I am some kind of cold blooded creature that cannot wait to throw on an undershirt and/or turtleneck, and freezes out with visible goosebumps at the mere mention of any temperature less than 25 degrees Celsius. Fashionable layers upon layers of autumn sweaters completed with a scarf and boots are my most favorite of all… Oops, I digress. So we laid out our sleeping bags to achieve maximum loft, I inserted my heavy duty sleeping bag liner to add 15 degrees, and stuffed my fleece thermal outfit/long underwear/pjs inside to await me after dinner. Hot beverages to drink, hot water to wash, cookies to eat, and not one, but two toilet tents complete with paper were already set up in the distance – what kind of luxury was this?!

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First night supper – fresh and delicious!

Supper was fresh and delicious and more than I dared hope for. I was full and satisfied and as I stepped outside the dining tent thinking the day was done, I was surprised by what awaited me. I was immediately enveloped by an incredible blanket of stars that I felt were so close they could be touched!  The clear night sky was like nothing I had seen before. At this point, the first day of my adventure, I did not know what nature had in store for me and was unprepared for the raw beauty that continued to reveal itself daily. It was an unexpected and unbelievable gift and feeling grateful for a day of blessings, I crawled into my hobbit tent and got ready for the night ahead.

As my room mate with his 6 foot frame snuggled down into his mummy bag I could almost feel the heat rising and the tension beginning… Just joking! Although it sounds like something from a sultry romance novel I was snuggled inside my own mummy bag thankful that one more body (anybody) was producing more body heat than my own so it would help warm the air in the tent. The tension was the scene I created in my own mind hoping that Matt wouldn’t lose sleep, not only because of my snoring, but because of the acclimatization flatulence I had read so much about… So far so good. By 5:30am on day 2 I had slept like a rock, warm as toast, and my more than polite and easy room mate had no complaints…


My shiny new boots are no more… The dusty Asolos of Kilimanjaro – Day 1

Lana

(Here is a link to my look back on Kilimanjaro Day 2)

For the Love of Feet

Well doesn’t that title just entice you to read this blog post!

OK if you are eating, drinking, sipping, nibbling, snacking, whatever – STOP.

This is a pretty graphic blog post about the sad, short life of a toenail on Kilimanjaro and my concern for my feet considering the pain and punishment they have caused me in the past. You have been warned …. and warned again … this post is not for the faint of heart, the weak of stomach, or for the love of feet! BUT if you have ever hiked this blog post will totally make sense to you, sadly.

I have had some awesome experiences walking lengthy distances. It would seem that’s what I like to do – walk a lot. I have had the pleasure of the West Highland Way in Scotland 154km, Pembrokeshire Coastal Path in Wales 299km, Hadrian’s Wall Path in England 135km and Great Glen Way 127km in Scotland to name a few of my most awesome adventures on my own two feet. And there are a b-zillion more walks that my soul and feet are just itching to complete – oh so many! Don’t get me started!

West Highland Way, Scotland

My first long distance walk in 2008 (Scotland, West Highland Way) that got me addicted to the seeing the world on my feet!

Its OK, honest, you don’t have to understand me. This walking thing is a illness. Sometimes referred to as a hill walker, walker, hiker, trekker, strange, crazy, rambler, munro bagger, weird, wanderer,  walkabout-er, pilgrimage-r, nuts, traipser, perambulator, peregrinari, etc.  To name a few of the loving names we walkers identify with and/or have been called across the globe.

Depending on who you ask, my love of walking is either just so super cool (thank you to my friend Jane, you are the best fan ever) or is just down right crazy (thank you to my husband Lance who loves me dearly but finds this love of walking thing rather odd).

However, as much as I love getting about on my feet I am one of those very “lucky” people who gets a blister from thinking about shoes – seriously. A shoe can be so comfortable for me for weeks or years and then one day KABLAMO there is a hot spot and a lovely blister to make my world painful and me grumpy for a week.  I get blisters in flip flops and have even gotten a hot spot from slippers. For real. What the heck?

Don’t believe me; allow me to dazzle you with some graphic foot-of-pain pics … final warning, stop eating!

heat rash and blisters

Heat rash and a horrible blister during the Great Glen Way, Scotland with my sister Shar.

I will spare you any additional pictures – too gross right!

Regardless of how unpleasant these look, I will not let this foot stuff taint or ruin my trek up Mount Kilimanjaro!!

As you may have guessed, I have taken my training for Kilimanjaro a bit seriously – hiking twice a week, running 5 mornings a week, core and lower body work outs, trying on every article of clothing I will be wearing on that mountain, etc.  Oh and yes this includes putting on every layer I will wear on summit night including head lamp and walking around the house, up and down the stairs, etc. to make sure I can move and am in a happy, sweaty, warm place for the slog.

I am, in fact, so dedicated to my training that I am already losing a pre-climb toenail  … providing great experience on just how absolutely NOT fabulous it feels to stomp downhill with your fleshy toe hitting the front of your boot. Queue the “learn how to tie your boots for downhill climbs” on Pinterest and YouTube commercial here … If this is me not even on the mountain, what will the mountain do to me!

Big toenail going

Toenail soon to be MIA thanks to all this pre-Kilimanjaro training.

I am not alone – I read somewhere that the average number of toenails lost on Mount Kilimanjaro is 4. Yes you read that right! This is some crazy stuff. When I googled Kilimanjaro and Toenail to dazzle you with some more quirky stats, I got 43,000 search results. That tells you something. Google knows!

Please cheer for me in what seems to be a crazy game of toe vs nail vs boot vs mountain game! Current score is Team Brande 9 vs. Team Toenail 1 … score to be updated post Kilimanjaro!

Brande

PS 13 sleeps to go, we are in the home stretch now!

One ‘Step’ At a Time

What is the hardest part of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro?

Kilimanjaro Trekking Guide

The Trekking Guide to Africa’s Highest Mountain by Henry Stedman, Trailblazer Publications

Seems it was NOT signing up for the hike, the training, convincing friends and family to join the crazy adventure, or even researching on altitude sickness. The hardest part so far has been getting up the courage to launch a travel blog – this blog – to tell all about the amazing adventure we are about to embark on.

Well here goes nothing.

If we can climb a mountain in Africa we can probably write a blog right? ha!

Stay tuned to find out …

Brande