The Year of Fun Comes to an End (because, well, school starts tomorrow morning)

We always kind of hoped this year of fun thing would never end, but we always kind of knew there’d come a day when that loosely-defined thing called “Reality” would come knocking on our door*.  Well, Reality has come a-knocking, this time in the form of 5 AM wake ups and increasingly rainy and grey skies.  Yes, you guessed it, yours truly is returning to his more formal role of daytime superhero/middle school science teacher, but this time it’s all about sustaining that positive attitude, balancing that daytime superheroing with afternoon exercise (staving off the blerch!) and evenings of fun.  Yes, the Year of Fun becomes the Year of Balance tonight.

But enough of the mushy stuff.  Here’s what we did over the summer!

1. We, over the course of two days back in June, went from Merzouga, Morocco to Madrid, Spain by riding camels, riding overnight busses, riding trains, catching an intercontinental ferry that we nearly missed, getting on more busses, then getting on more trains.  But the fun didn’t stop here.  No, we got up at 3 AM on the third day to catch a plane to Lisbon, Portugal.  And you know what we did two days later?  We got up at 5 AM to get on a plane that took us back to Madrid… (well, to be fair, then it took us to Chicago, and then to Seattle, but it did take us straight back to Madrid.)  Lots of fun, lots of memories.

2. We then commenced Road Trip 2.0 in which we drove from Seattle to the midwest, nearly recreating our experience from one short year ago.  If there’s one thing I’ve become more in tune with during this past year, it’s that there are a lot of beautiful places out there in our world, but some of the most beautiful sights in the entire world can be glimpsed right here in our very own United States of America.  You should get a National Parks pass.  Just do it and use it.  You won’t regret it.

3. In the midwest we attended a wedding in Indianapolis that included a reception at Lucas Oil Stadium and a 13-person photography team, some of whom were controlling their own personal drones with cameras attached.  (Not a bad Christmas present idea!! … wink, wink).

4. But the vast majority of our summer included helping my parents out on their newly-certified organic garlic farm just outside of Ann Arbor, MI, and this became one of our highlights of the year!  We enjoyed our WWOOFing experience on Hawai’i, but our experience at my parents’ farm was much more of what we were hoping to experience as WWOOFers.  Things like sanitary kitchen (and bathroom) experiences and a generally industrious spirit were much appreciated compared to the lack thereof which we ran into in Hawai’i.  On the garlic farm we did it all, even including tractor-driving and marketing!  

5. Meanwhile, both Anna and I were job-hunting back in Michigan in an effort to move there on account of the difference in relative proximity to our parents and families.  Suffice it to say that we both brought our A-game, and even made it to some final rounds of interviews, but no job offers came.  I can think of at least two moms out there who think those interview teams made a huge mistake.

6. In the end, though, here we find ourselves back in Seattle, and you know school is supposed to be starting because the rain has started.  We’re very excited to get started here again and apply the things we’ve learned on our year of fun to our everyday lives (like the Year of Balance mentioned above).  And speaking of things we’ve learned, one thing I definitely learned was that while all our cultures around the globe are certainly different, we all share a lot in common that is often overlooked.  We all laugh, we all cry, we all like to connect with each other.  So it’s with this in mind that I would like to share with you all something that has stuck with me since my own middle school years that likely planted some seeds in my mind that eventually grew into my own enthusiasm for our Year of Fun idea back when that’s all it was.  I give you all a classic Animaniacs clip entitled Schnitzelbank!

Thanks for coming along on the Year of Fun, everybody!  What a long, strange (at times) journey it’s been!  So glad to have had you along for the ride with us!

 

Team Awesome, signing out.

 

* When I say “our door”, what I really mean is our friends Dan and Gina’s door, because even though we’ve been back in Seattle for two weeks and school starts in eleven hours, we’re still occupying their extra room and don’t have a front door to call our own yet.

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Morocco: The Year of Fun’s Culminating Experience

Well folks, we’re still here!  Lately we’ve been making the rounds through some of the largest cities and remotest outposts that Morocco has to offer.  And aside from a few isolated incidents that registered on the negative side of our fun-o-meter, we’ve found Morocco (our last major stop before reentering that strange thing called ‘society’) to pretty much be the culminating experience we were hoping for.

This place is beautiful.  The people, once we were savvy enough to know how to avoid all the hustlers, have been so warm and welcoming toward us.  The food, while sometimes repetitive, has been delicious.

The best parts, though, have definitely been when we’ve been lucky enough to spend an extended amount of time with some locals, because that’s when we’ve really gotten to learn about the local culture.

We took a cooking class at the Clock Cafe (where we were the only two who had signed up that day!) in the city of Fes, and our teacher/chef was a wonderful woman named Souad who took us through the boisterous, and at times intimidating, market to purchase ingredients for our food, then gave us what I would say was our best cooking class from our entire trip.

And just a few days ago, we were staying at Kasbah Panorama (once again we were the only tourists there the whole time!) in the tiny town of Merzouga, where our three days there included hanging out with the friendly and laid-back staff, drinking mint tea (or “Moroccan whiskey” as it’s sometimes called) with Ahmed, who was one of the better English speakers on staff, and talked with him for a long time about Moroccan history.

But the highlight from our time in Merzouga was when we spent the night out at a camp in the desert sand dunes.  Our guide, Yusuf, helped us hop onto our camels, then he led the camels for an hour and a half into the Erg Chebbi, the area of sand dunes right next to Merzouga.  Once there, it was just the three of us (and the camels, named Jimi Hendrix and Penelope) at a semi-permanent camp they’d set up for these trips.  Yusuf started making us dinner and told us not to help but to go hike up to the top of the dunes to see the sunset, so we did!  What a humbling half hour that was, though.  We both made it to the top, but not before we each had a few minutes where we thought we couldn’t go a step further.  We thoroughly enjoyed the sunset, clouded over as it was, and then we returned to camp for Yusuf’s delicious dinner.  After dinner Yusuf brought out the drums for a little jam session, and then we turned in early so we could wake up for the sunrise.  What a beautiful place and unforgettable experience!

Thanks, Morocco!  Shukran!  See you next time!  Inchofek menabad!

 

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Quick, Get This Blog Post Posted While The Laptop Isn’t Crashing!

Well, folks, it’s been a long time.  But we’re still here, (which you already knew, because you read Anna’s blog post from last week), although ‘here’ has changed pretty significantly over the last month.  Here’s the rundown on what we’ve been keeping busy with.

  1. We didn’t do it all by foot, but we made it to Finisterre as well as Muxía, two optional extensions of the Camino de Santiago that are right on the Atlantic coast.  Although I can’t really speak for Anna and you’d have to ask her, I think it’s safe to say we each had a “Wow, this is why I did the pilgrimage” moment during this time.
  2. We went to Portugal for a few days.  The city of Porto, to be exact.  We didn’t really do much, except mostly hang around in the palace of an apartment that Anna landed us through airbnb, and cook dinner for ourselves.  It was glorious!
  3. We spent about 10 days vacationing around Spain with Anna’s parents!  We were in Barcelona, Granada, Sevilla, and Madrid.  Highlights included visiting the Alhambra, swimming in the surprisingly chilly Mediterranean Sea, eating delicious food every day, and being in Madrid the night that their two soccer teams faced each other for the Champion’s League title.
  4. And finally, we flew to Morocco.

Yes, the Year of Fun has ventured into Africa, its fourth continent.  We’ve enjoyed a week or so of everything from the relaxed beach town of Essaouira to the hectic medina of Marrakech to the small mountain village of Armoud.  Thanks to our technological toys becoming less and less reliable, I don’t have any photos downloaded to share here, but the one below I found online and portrays one of the more intriguing things that happens in the jemaa el fna, the huge square in the middle of Marrakech.

Yep. Snakes. In the most crowded square I’ve ever experienced.

Less than 20 days until our return to the USA.  We’ll try to avoid snake bites between now and then.

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Everything is (sort of) Broken

My favorite pants have a baker’s dozen of grease stains on them. Garrison’s suitcase has been bent out of shape by one, or three, too many rough tosses at the airport. We are at the point in our travels where everything we brought with us has been just about worn out, used up or pushed to its limits– including our technology.

We really want to keep the blog up to date, but lately we have been foiled by computers that freeze, tablets that don’t charge and cameras that only work when they feel like it.

Hopefully you will be hearing more from us soon. But if you don’t– it’s us, not you.

We are looking forward to a satisfyingly violent end for Garrison’s lap top in particular.*

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*Just kidding. We will be dropping it off at an electronics recycling facility, like the responsible tree huggers we are.

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We Finished El Camino de Santiago!

After 40 days of walking more than 800 kilometers (roughly 500 miles), Anna and I have arrived in Santiago de Compostela, the end of the Camino de Santiago! Cue the choir in 3, 2, 1…… Hallelujah!

About 20 days ago I wrote a post detailing the daily routine we were enjoying as we were passing the halfway mark.  As we’ve approached Santiago, though, I noticed the magic had started wearing off and the enjoyment was becoming more of a daily grind.  I think the difference boiled down to this short list:

  1. Our bodies were wearing down.  Things like our feet and toes hurt in ways we’d never felt before.
  2. The weather, though nice and sunny for the vast majority of the Camino, had once again turned to grey skies and rain (with the occasional snow… surprise!).
  3. Waking up between 5:00 and 7:00 AM began to feel like waking up early to go to your job instead of going for a nice sunrise walk.

Other changes we had to adapt to included the huge influx of Spaniards doing a section of the Camino for Semana Santa (the Holy Week up to Easter), a few minor injuries, the second huge influx of pilgrims who were just walking the last 100 km (the minimum requirements for receiving the Compostela certificate), and the sudden increase in the amount of farm animal droppings in the wet and muddy roads.  Guess which one of these was the hardest for Garrison to navigate in his sandals!  At times it has been a struggle to keep a positive attitude.  I pretty frequently felt like I was just in everyone else’s way, and that they were in mine.  But most days this happened, I either thought of something or someone said something that put everything back into perspective.  The quote I remember most vividly went something generally like this:

“I’ll either see you on the road or see you when we get there.  We’re all going to the same place.  Just like life!”     — The 5th grade teacher from Miami.

And now we’re here!  We made it.  And we made some excellent new friends along the way.  Along with the beautiful scenery and tasty food, making these new friendships was one of my absolute favorite parts of the Camino de Santiago.  We didn’t always walk at the same pace or with each other, and sometimes we didn’t bump into each other for days or weeks at a time, but it’s the people along the way that really made this experience special.  And now that we’re in Santiago, it’s been amazingly fun to bump into these friends celebrating their arrival all over town. What a festive place!

Here are some pictures that show some of the amazing sights we’ve seen along the way.

 

So…. now what?  What are we going to do now that we’ve walked 800 km across Spain?  Walk a bit further, of course!  We’re headed off tomorrow to walk to Finisterre, basically an extension of the Camino to the Atlantic Ocean.  Four more days!  Four more days!  Oh man, my feet hurt this is going to be awesome!

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Prayer of the Pilgrims

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Our new friend and fellow pilgrim, Vivian, shared this lovely translation of a prayer we have heard many times in Spanish since the start of our journey on the Camino de Santiago– but not understood until today. May God, “be for [all of] us a companion on our journey.”

We have 68 kilometers untill Santiago!

Buen viaje, amigos!

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Halfway Through El Camino De Santiago, Where Expectations and Reality Meet in the Middle… Sometimes

Today, our 20th day walking along El Camino de Santiago, marks the halfway point between our starting point of St Jean Pied-de-Port in southern France and our goal destination of Santiago de Compostella in northwestern Spain.  And, true to the word of of the prophetic Paul who we met in St Jean Pied-de-Port, we’ve moved on from the “Holy Spanish Tortillas, what is wrong with my body?” phase of the camino to the more contemplative “Hmmm, these tortilla sandwiches sure do taste good every day, but why is the magic starting to wear off?” second phase of the camino.  No, our minds haven’t broken, but we have found that the slow, daily march has begun to wear our mental and emotional capacity down a bit.  The idyllically romantic walk through beautiful countryside that we had begun to expect every day has started turning into a bit of a routine that goes something like this:

  1. Wake up to our alarm sometime between 6:00 and 6:30 AM.
  2. Don’t be surprised if you’re freezing.  Don’t be surprised if you’re boiling either.
  3. Try to do the right thing by getting ready for the day much more quietly than your louder, more boisterously Mediterranean amigos on the camino tend to be in the mornings.
  4. Eat some breakfast, which you hopefully purchased last night from the market so you don’t end up paying a substantial amount of money for what amounts to toast and coffee.
  5. Get walking sometime between 6:45 and 7:30.
  6. Walk until 10 or so.  Eat second breakfast, usually consisting of the afore-mentioned tortilla bocadillo, basically a sandwich on fresh bread with an omelette inside of it.
  7. Get moving again, after your spouse puts his/her shoes back on.
  8. Find a nice spot around 12:30 or 1:00 to sit down and make yourself some lunch.  Guess what lunch consists of?  Yep, you guessed it: a bocadillo!  Usually with cheese, avocado, and chorizo slices.
  9. Get into the albergue between 12:00 and 3:45 PM after walking between 15 and 30 km for the day.
  10. Kick your shoes off (or sandals, in Garrison’s case) and take a siesta!
  11. Buy groceries for dinner if your albergue has a kitchen.  Otherwise, get the pilgrim menu at a local restaurant, which consists of a 3 course meal with wine and bread for usually less than 10 Euros per person.
  12. Sleep.  Ignore any snoring symphonies you may be surrounded by.
  13. Do it all over again.

Yesterday I noticed I was feeling a bit glum in the morning.  Here we were, walking through a perfectly beautiful morning sunrise in attractive farm country, and I was feeling a bit down, possibly because I was tired but also maybe because it just wasn’t as beautiful as some of our other mornings have been.  Or maybe I was feeling like there were too many other pilgrims on the camino who didn’t seem to have what I deemed the right attitude or level of reverence or whatever.  And then when I thought of that, I got just that much more bummed out, because why should I care why others are doing the camino, and who gives me the justification to deem some reasons worthy while others not?  Later that day, we checked into an old convent that houses pilgrims along the way.  We found out the “kitchen” we had expected was a microwave and a sink.  Oh boy, microwaved lasagna here we come.

Then we were joined by some new friends who turned out to be from the city in New Zealand where I studied abroad for a semester.  And we had a blast chatting with them.  And then we were surprised to find that our Australian friends Laura and Terry had caught up with us and were staying in the same place!  The day had been completely redeemed over the last 45 minutes before we had to turn in for the night, simply because we were lucky enough to meet these friends in this tiny little kitchen that had previously been a source of frustration for me.  New friends and old friends alike came together in this space, and suddenly I’m going to bed feeling like I’d had one of my best and most memorable days along the camino.

We’re halfway there!  Who knows what the second half holds?

 

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Second Breakfast

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Garrison is very much enjoying his omelette sandwich for what is now a regular part of our day– 10:00am second breakfast.

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El Camino de Santiago: Highlights and Lowlights From Our First Week

“In the first third of the trip, your body will break.  Then in the second third, your mind will break.  And then, in the final third, suddenly you’ll be able to do whatever you want.”  – Paul, an interesting guy we met at the albergue (pilgrim hostel) in St. Jean Pied-de-Port.


 

9 days into our long walk along El Camino de Santiago, we are finding that our bodies do indeed break a little quicker than our spirits.  Nothing serious has broken, but our bones and feet aren’t the happiest they’ve ever been.  Here’s a quick look into some of the highlights and lowlights from El Camino so far.

Highlights

  1. Walking through beautiful countryside every single day.  For about 15-30 km, depending.  Seriously, it’s like we’re walking through Mossflower country from the Redwall books.
  2. Eating like Europeans.  These folks know how to eat!
  3. Meeting all sorts of other pilgrims along the way.  Interestingly, there are absolute buckets of Australians.  Who knew??
  4. Going to church.  It’d been a really long time for me.  And this has been a pretty different church experience for me.  We’ve been to 4 Catholic masses over the past few weeks, in 3 different languages.  Pretty eye-opening for this non-Catholic!
  5. Speaking Spanish with the locals.  This has been a re-education for me, since I really hadn’t spoken in Spanish this much since I finished my minor in it back in 2004.  There’ve been lots of blank stares, lots of hand motions, and lots of laughter.  I gained some confidence in my skills when I successfully shooed the abuelita who runs an albergue as she tried to get me to stop washing my dishes so she could do them.
  6. Taking pictures, but also balancing this with just soaking it all up with my eyes and letting a few good pictures go uncaptured.

Lowlights

  1. Walking with completely saturated shoes from slogging through an unexpected 8 inches of snow in the Pyrenees.
  2. Getting blisters on our feet.  Right after we proclaimed that the whole blisters thing was nonsense and that we never get blisters.  Ouch!
  3. Sore muscles and bones every single day.  Sometimes followed by some not-so-warm showers, which just makes everything a little worse.
  4. Actually, that’s it!  That’s all I can think of.  Not bad!

Here are some photos that seem to show a little bit of what we’ve seen and where we’ve been.  What an adventure!!

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Starting El Camino de Santiago

The Year of Fun has done a whole lot of travel lately by rail, with a few airplane rides thrown in for good measure.  When the blog was last updated, you learned about Anna and Garrison’s whereabouts as they worked their way west through Russia.  So, where have they gone since then?  Well, have you heard any rumors  about our two protagonists heading to Paris?  They’re all true.  And while they really truly loved their time there, you won’t see them enjoying the metropolitan pleasures of city life anytime soon.  Instead, they will be slowly making their way through southern France and northern Spain on foot, headed towards Santiago de Compostela, Spain on El Camino de Santiago.

That’s right, folks — our two protagonists will be traveling over 700 km on foot over the next several weeks, traveling along el camino francés (the French Way), starting from Saint Jean Pied-de-Port and making their way through the Pyrenees before turning west through Basque country in Spain all the way to the northwest corner of the Iberian Peninsula.  It’s traditionally a spiritual pilgrimage, which promises to provide plenty of time for meditation and introspection, etc.  Many pilgrims also dedicate their passage along this path to a particular cause or purpose.  Some seek a sense of spiritual clarity, some seek a spiritually cleansing and a bit of a restart along an old path they’d previously wandered from, while others simply seek the continued success of the University of Michigan basketball team.  Some are also just ‘along for the ride’, so to speak.  What are Garrison and Anna’s purposes for their passage along this path, you ask?  Follow along over the next several weeks to find out, as they also find out for themselves.

Buen Camino, friends, wherever your paths are currently headed!

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