Monday, August 22, 2011


After leaving the Camino, I had the opportunity to spend three days in Barcelona. Wow! There was so much to see in such a short amount of time. My main hope was to see as much Gaudi art/architecture as possible in those three days.

Day 1 -- Park Guell & Royal Palace Fountain

I arrived in Barcelona in the morning. I headed from the airport, directly to my hotel, dropped my bags in the luggage storage closet, and set out for Park Guell. As it turns out, Barcelona is a REALLY big city. I had a trusty map, and managed to decipher it fairly quickly. But even with my (self-proclaimed) superb map-reading skills, it still took almost 2 hours to walk to Park Guell. Now granted, I did make a few stops to oogle over other architecture and cool-Barcelona-stuff, but I don't necessarily walk slowly. hmmm...maybe the subway would have been the better option. :)

Park Guell is a fantastic oasis for Barcelonians. I suppose it could be compared to Central park in New York...a huge green space in the middle of a large metropolitan area. There, I met up with one of my Camino cycling buddies (Jeff), and the two of us spent the afternoon exploring the park, searching for the all of the mosaics and creatures created by Gaudi. It was a lovely way to spend the day!

Later that evening, Jeff and I went to the Royal Palace neighborhood to join in a community celebration there. In Spain, each neighborhood has its own week-long fiesta each year. That night happened to be the final night of the Royal Palace neighborhood's fiesta. We took a picnic of local breads, cheeses, and cured meats. We ate our picnic at the main park while we watched a HUGE fountain laser/light show. The flow of the fountain was choreographed with music and lights to create a spectacular celebration of music, water, light, and community. So very fun!

Day 2 -- Sagrada Familia

The next day was my Sagrada Familia day. I walked to the cathedral early in the morning (after enjoying some cafe con leche, of course), and stood in line for about an hour before I was able to enter the grounds of Sagrada Familia. . While waiting, I was standing beneath the enormous spires, which can be seen from any point in the city. The church was designed to be the center of the city, equi-distant from mountain and sea, and visible from the sea so that its towers could be beacons of hope for sailors and merchants.

Awe-inspiring. There is simply no other way to describe the cathedral. Absolutely awe-inspiring. I spent the entire day soaking/basking in the beauty of Sagrada Familia. Words can't describe the immensity or the beauty of the church. I climbed up into the heights of the towers, walked down the snailshell stairs, gazed/wandered through the tree-like pillars, pondered the stories written into the stain glass windows, saw the workshop in which Gaudi and current workers build the pieces that become parts in the church, stared into the eyes of gargoyles and smiled at their expressions, gazed at the porticos and reflected on the stories contained in each one. Hopefully my pictures will give some sense of the grandeur, but really you simply need to stand in the apse of the church with dropped jaw, and be amazed that such a building exists and that such a community continues to dedicate itself to the Cathedral's completion.

After about 7 hours at Sagrada Familia, I took time to walk along the outside perimeter of the cathedral to take a last look at the architecture. I ended up in a park across the street from the church needing some more time for quiet reflection before heading back to my hotel. I walked in a relaxed manner through the park, enjoying some pensive meandering time in the park. Finally, I ended up sitting on a bench and spending a long time watching two groups of locals playing rollicking games of bocce. Delightful!

After walking back to my hotel, I stopped for dinner in my neighborhood and sat to reflect on the day. So much beauty!

Day 3 -- Palai Guell & St. Josef's Mercado

My last day in Barcelona was spent roaming the outdoor market in Barcelona (similar to our Pike place Market, but MUCH bigger...whoa!) and visiting Palai Guell (the Guell palace). Guell was a good friend and benefactor of Gaudi's work. He commissioned Gaudi to design and construct several buildings within Barcelona, including Guell Palace, and Guell Park. The Guell palace was one if Gaudi's first buildings and is most recognized for the whimsical chimneys on the top of the building. It was very fun to wander through the colorful and playful chimneytops that were positioned on a wavy rooftop (no flat surface on that roof).

Barcelona was remarkably different from the Galecian region of the Camino. While I fell in love with the Spanish countryside along the Camino, in Barcelona, I loved having the opportunity to stand in the places that we've been studying & learning about in the 2nd grade classroom. I'm excited to share the pictures and stories with OLG!

Well done, Spain! Well done!

Arzua a Santiago

Day 5 -- Arzua to Santiago

Day 5 is our final day on the Camino. We are scheduled to arrive in Santiago in the early afternoon. There is a heightened sense of excitement and anticipation as we all know we are very near to our destination. As we begin our day, we again have a choice -- ride on the road or ride on the Camino. No thought needed for me...three of us set out to ride the Camino. As soon as we set wheels on the Camino, there is a new energy in the air as everyone (all pilgrims -- peligrinos y bicigrinos) can sense the nearness of Santiago. Long journeys are coming to an end. Many of the pilgrims have traveled for more than 30 days (and over 850 kms), on foot or bike, to arrive in Santiago.

Today's ride was, again, one of joyful intentionality. We wound our way through forests and hills, up rocky roads, and down bumpy hills. With each pilgrim and passerby along the way, we exchanged a cheerful smile and excited "Buen Camino!" We passed through a forested lane full of handmade wooden crosses, made of twigs from the roadside. Each cross marked a prayer intention of a pilgrim.

After several hours of beautiful Camino riding, we came to the town of San Marco, and a gigantic monument to the pilgrims of the Camino. San Marco is an exciting and pivotal stop along the Camino...while standing at the hilltop monument, you catch your first glimpse of the spires of the Cathedral in Santiago. For the first time along your journey, you can actually SEE you final destination. You still have many miles to go, but you can SEE it. As pilgrims climbed to the top of the hill, people were filled with much jubilation...and some they gazed upon the towering spires of Santiago.

After a short stay at San Marco, we excitedly hit the trail again, knowing that we would soon be standing beneath those spires in the Plaza of Santiago. As we rode into town, a new sense of excitement filled the group. Almost there!!!!

As we wound through the busy streets of Santiago, on our way to the cathedral plaza, a new mood overtook the group. It became a quiet, reflective ride into Plaza de Santiago...journey's end. As we rode those final kilometers, I found myself reflecting on the past week's adventures -- the joys and the challenges, the highs and the lows, and gave great thanks for ALL. All of the people, all of the beauty, all of the emotions, all of the friends/family/community/ pilgrims who continue to support me, all of the people I met along the Camino, all of the blessings that are my life...ALL.

Catedral de Santiago towers over the plaza (it is massive!) welcoming the pilgrims at all hours of day and night. Pilgrims then enter the cathedral where the priests and bishop offer blessings and celebrate mass w pilgrims. Pilgrims bring their pilgrimage prayers & intentions to the cathedral to offer to God. Some carry the prayers of loved ones as well as their own, trusting that god will hear and answer them as they have completed their pilgrimage.

As we entered the Plaza de Santiago, we joined hundreds of other pilgrims gathering in the square and standing in awe of the towering spires of Catedral de Santiago. As we sat in the middle of the square, I prayed with the other pilgrims as I watched some gather with their companions, some kiss the ground, some collapse in tears of joy, and some sing in celebration of completing the journey. Many had traveled more than 850km and more than 30 days to get to Santiago, carrying all of their belongings with them. Through rain, sleet, sun, and heat. Over mountains and through valleys. Sleeping on cots, floors, or paths. As strong as my emotions were in that moment, I felt blessed to witness, share, and wonder at the emotions they felt as they entered the cathedral plaza. For me, there was great joy at having completed my journey. There was gratitude in my heart as I reflected on the journey of the past week. There was a little bit of sadness that the journey had ended. But mostly there was deep joy and inner peace in the connectedness I felt with my companions, my fellow pilgrims, and with my God, who is good and gracious in all things, who has blessed me with an amazing & beautiful life, and who speaks to me in the both the blustery blowing winds, and in the peaceful calm of rolling hills.

As I end my Camino journey, I send grateful blessings to each of you.

May you always hear the voice of God, and know that your voice is heard (even in the howling winds). May you find peace in your heart. May your days be filled with intentionality, recognizing the presence of God in all things. May your spirit soar with joy & laughter finding beauty in the small things around you. May you always be surrounded by loving companions to support you on your journey.

And may your life be one, great...Buen Camino!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Portomarin a Arzua

Day 4 -- Portomarin a Arzua.

Day 4 was a day of unexpected surprises and simple joy. I was gifted with the deep joy that comes from just being present to the moment, and being able to recognize the blessing of each moment and each encounter along the Camino.

Waking with the strong remembrance of yesterday's ride, I held my breath as I began my day. Not sure how the leg was going to feel after its little rest (it was still achy when I went to bed last night), not sure what the weather was going to -- more rain? more fog? cold? I had a calmness within me as I approached the day. I also had an excited giddiness within was a day when we had the choice to either ride on the road, taking a less-challenging and slightly shorter route...OR...ride on the Camino at a slower pace and on a slightly longer route.

I didn't even have to think about it...Camino...definitely Camino. The slower pace and the scenic (though challenging), mountain-bike-type path called to me. I was so excited to be on the Camino again after being on the road, and in the van yesterday. There is something magical about that dirt path. The slower pace, the intentionality with which you need to pedal and navigate your way through the towns and countryside -- over rocks and stones, along cobblestones, among the local people, and amidst the other pilgrims. Intentionality...being keenly aware of where you are, what you are doing, and why you are doing it. Joyful intentionality.

As we set out of Portomarin, we were riding in a fog. I was tentative on the bike, not wanting to overstress my hamstring, but my heart soared and I was open to whatever was in store for me. Slowly and steadily, I eagerly headed down the hill and out of town. The group was all smiles knowing that today would be an "easy ride" compared to yesterday's very challenging route.

The fog was heavy as we left Portomarin, which is apparently a typical weather pattern since it sits high in the Galecian mountains. As we ventured down through the valley, though, the sun broke through the clouds, the blue sky shone overhead, and landscape was breathtaking. Rolling hills, lush green farms, quaint mountain towns, cobblestone paths, babbling brooks. It was simply stunning. As I rode slowly over the "rollers" (uphill then downhill, then uphill and a rollercoaster), I couldn't help smiling at the amazing beauty surrounding me. As I rode along, I met two girls from Ireland who had begun their pilgrimage at the top of O Cebriero. We chatted excitedly about our home countries, our rides, our challenges along the ride (Ooooohhh Cebreiro!), and about our reasons for journeying to Santiago. I was so grateful for the chance to hear their stories, and recognized the light within them, in their smiles, their enthusiasm, and their care for each other (and their friendship). What a lovely way to begin the day!

I feel in love more deeply with Galecia and Spain on Day 4. As I made my way along the Camino, I was full of joy and gratitude for the beautiful hillcountry, lovely people, amazing stories, surprising connections that met me at every turn of the pedals.

Some of the highlights of the day included...

*meeting another pilgrim, who has been walking the Camino for almost a month no, who was also from Washington State. What a small world! Who would have thought that I'd meet someone else from WA at a tiny pilgrim's watering hole in the north of Spain. Whoa!

* having a picnic lunch at a medieval Castle -- it was closed for the daily siesta when we were there, but it was gorgeous and remarkable to be sitting in such an historical spot;

* lush, green, rolling farmlands as far as the eye could see;

* learning the stories of other pilgrims along the road;

* cobblestone bridges leading into and out of quaint mountain villages;

* spending the night in an old farmhouse complex -- the main house was converted to a lodge, and we stayed in the "servants' quarters which were in long buildings surrounding the main house;

* walking through the countryside in Arzua with two of my cycling companions, noting the similarities and differences between the Spanish, Canadian, and U.S. cultures;

* sharing a relaxing and scrumptious dinner with the group, full of laughter and great conversation;

* seeing countless stars in the night sky!! & being lulled to sleep by cowbells.

Day 4...a day of intentionality, JOY, and so much gratitude for life and creation.

Blessings to you, and Buen Camino!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Villafranca a Portomarin

Day 3. Just when you think you have things figured out and you´re good to go...

God holds you close...

Today, we woke up to grey skies, ominous clouds, but dry weather, for the moment. I had to decide whether to take the easier route today (with a van transfer to the top of the first peak) or to give it a go and try for the whole 100km.

Those of you who know me don´t need me to tell you that I opted to go for it. I love to push myself physically, and I love any opportunity to be on a bike. Therefore, I hopped (ok, stumbled) out of bed two hours earlier than the majority of the group, and with two companions, set out for the first of the two peaks. O Cebreiro.

Sometimes what you want, is not what is best for you or your community...
And God held me close...

I knew after about 10 minutes on the road that I should have chosen differently. My bad hamstring was screaming from the get-go, but I refused to listen to it too closely. I knew it was 35km to the top of the first peak. No problem. Just breathe and enjoy the scenery...let your mind wander away from the pain of it. Sadly, I thought the first 35km to the top of O Cebreiero was supposed to be the "easy part¨of the day´s climbing. As we came to a crossroads, my guide asked if I wanted to wait for the van, or if I was going to try to make it to the top. You know my answer, I´m sure. I´ve never been one to stop in the middle of something, especially if I´m on my bike. So off we went.

And God smiled...and held me close...

The ascent to the summit of O Cebreiro, as it turns out, is THE most difficult climb of the entire Camino. With each turn, my guide (Catherine) eased me along with, ¨This is the hardest part. After this short part, it eases up.¨

She lied.

The steepest part of the climb was about 18% grade...way steep! If my leg hadn´t already been screaming, I´m sure it would have started screaming shortly after we began the climb. The good news, however, is that the weather held. No rain (hooray!), just a deep deep fog as we climbed higher and higher into the upper regions of the Galecian mountains. At each bend in the road, Catherine was there with words of encouragement. At one point the van came along to offer me a ride to the top. My stubborn persistence had already kicked in. (I´m told that I basically sneered at the van and kept winding my way up the road. I later apologized for the impoliteness, and we all laughed). For about 15km I wound my way up the hill, trying to remember the lessons of yesterday -- be grateful...pant, pant, pant...called to serve...serve what? how? this mountain is really steep!...pant, pant, pant...look at that beautiful mountainside town...pant, pant, pant...where IS the top?...breathe breathe breathe...oh look, there´s the top, YES!...where is everyone...they are meeting us at the top...uh-oh...

"It´s just a short bit´ve done the hardest part," said Catherine.
She lied, lied, lied. I should have qualified the "short bit further" piece of that statement.

...pant, pant, pant...oh my gosh, are you KIDDING me?...that´s not the top?...breathe breathe breathe...remember how beautiful everything is...yep...beautiful, at least for three feet in front of me...this cloud is REALLY thick...where is the top?...pant, pant, can do´re not´re not´re not alone...

Then, all of sudden, I rounded the corner, and there it was. O Cebreiro!!! This tiny little mountaintop village of Celtic descent. I laid my bike against the building, greeted my fellow tour groupers (who had ridden in the van), and my climbing companions, and then walked to the village church and cried.

I´m not exactly sure if the tears were tears of anger or victory or relief. I just needed to cry. My leg throbbing, my body quickly chilling (it was REALLY cold at the top), and my emotions soaring in every direction. I was thrilled to have made it to the top -- quite an accomplishment! I was frustrated that my leg was hurting so badly, which meant I had to decide whether or not to be done for the day. And I was absolutely certain that I could not have made that climb on my own -- I was most definitely not alone as I journeyed to the top.

As I sat beneath the portico of the church and pondered what to do next, I was reminded that sometimes what I want is not what is best for me...or for the community. I had to make a choice I did not want to make. Finish the ride today, and hope that my leg would be okay for the next two days...or ride in the van for the rest of the day, rest the leg, and be confident that the leg would be okay for the last two days of the ride to Santiago. The cloudy weather was definitely mirroring the cloudiness of my thoughts.

Now, I like cake...and I like to eat it, too. I wanted both -- to finish the day´s ride, and be okay to ride the final two days into Santiago. I was really struggling with the decision. Just as I was about to commit to ride the rest of the day on the bike, one of the other group members, Vicki, came up to me and asked how I (and my leg) was feeling. As I told her of my struggle to decide whether or not to ride the rest of the day, she said, "If you aren´t going to ride the rest of the day, may I use your jacket? Otherwise, I won´t be able to ride because I will be too cold."

Sometimes what you want, is not always what is best for you...or the community...

It´s funny how it´s so much easier for me to accept a different plan for my life once I know how that decision can affect someone else. I immediately recognized that Vicky was a little angel helping me accept a new plan, a different call, for my day. I knew, at that point, that my day´s ride was ending at the top of that mountain. O Cebreiro. Oooooh Cebreiro. I may have a strong love-hate relationship with that mountain for some time. However, I found peace of mind amidst that cloudy, cold mountaintop. I was boldly reminded that it´s okay to change your plans midway through them. It´s okay to say "no" to something you really really want, especially when your "no" will be better for you, and the people around you. By saying "no" to finishing the day's ride, Vicki (who really wanted to ride) was able to say "yes" to the ride.

Sometimes what you THINK you want, is not always what you need, or what the community needs...

As I rode the rest of the day in the van, it became my opportunity to be the cheerleader for the others in the group. For my O Cebreiro companions, it was to be their very first metric century ride. And Vicki? She had been struggling with a back injury the previous days and just wanted one day when she could finish "the whole ride" (not including the extra 35km of O Cebreiro ...which was not, technically, part of the day´s ride).

So for the rest of the day, I was water-and-snack gal, photographer, and LEAD cheerleader. I whooped and hollered as the van passed by the riders. At water stops, I tried to give words of encouragement as well as food and water. For Heidi and Jeff, as they tired toward the end, I kept reminding them that they had already made i t up O Cebreiro...everything else was easy from there!

For Vicky, I offered words of encouragement, hoping to help her over the mental hump of the "I can´ts" and encouraged her to know that she could totally make it, if that is what she chose to do. Her legs were strong, her heart was in it, she just had to convince her mind to get out of her way and let her ride.

I waited in Portomarin with great anticipation for riders to appear. I watched the long bridge that served as the gateway into town, hoping to see them soar into town after a fantastic 5km descent (I was so jealous of that downhill!). In the end, we celebrated Heidi and Jeff´s monumental 100km ride, which included the foreboding O Cebreiro. We also celebrated, unceasingly, Vicki´s completion of the 65km. After that, she felt like she could do anything. No more riding in the van for her...those days were over.

As for me? I´m still a bit saddened by the fact that I couldn´t ride with the rest of the group. However, I am reminded that sometimes what you want, is not always best for you...or the community. Today, I was called to be support crew, despite the fact that I thought I was going to be a rider. With the help of those around me, and "powers that be," I´m happy that I was able to find peace at the top of O Cebreiro. Someday, I´ll go back to that mountaintop. Hopefully the clouds will not still be there, and I will be able to recognize more quickly and with greater ease the decisions that I face.

Today, I was called to see the beauty around me, appreciate it, recognize the angels around me, struggle with my own desires, and in the end accept that sometimes things don´t go as I plan...and that´s okay. In the end, its about an openness to listen and accept where God is calling you to be in each moment. Today, I was called to be the support crew. Who knows where or to what I ´ll be called tomorrow?

Sometimes what we want is not what´s best for us...or the community...
I guess the lesson for today is to be open to where God is calling you to be, regardless of what you THINK you´re supposed to be doing in that moment. That´s a tough one.

Admittedly, I´m hoping I´ll be called to ride my bike along the Camino tomorrow...AND I´m open to being wherever the spirit needs me to be.

May your hearts be open to wherever (and whatever) the spirit calls you.
Buen Camino!

Miss Hoch

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Astorga a Villafranca del Bierzo

Buenos Noches!
Today began with violent thunderstorms resounding outside my window at 6am. My thought? Well, better the rain comes now since we won't get on the bikes for another to hours.

...and God laughed...

Those who know me well, know that I am definitely a fair-weathered cyclist.

...I hear God laughing...

The rain, as you can imagine, did not stop before we got onto the bikes today.
65km including a mountain pass climb & descent in stock for us today.
As we began, the thunder had passed, but the ominous clouds were hanging over and all around us.
No problem. It's an adventure, right?
The rains held off for the first hour. Then, God laughed.

Rain. More rain. Harder rain (I think it was coming sideways). Then came the relentless headwinds. Coldness. Rain. Harder wind. Rain. Did I mention rain? Uh-oh...lost the group. Climb...10km to the first summit...4km more to the actual summit. Where is the group, and the van? Sleet. Colder. (Feet? Who needs to feel their feet?) Dirt roads. Ah! Cute small mountain town! Then some stone road before hitting the gravel and chiprock.Cool, another quaint town! Wahoo! Oh...and still climbing. More wind. Rain lessens enough for a few pictures at the summit. Then down down down the other side. Wheeeeeeeeeeeee! What? What's that bright orb in the sky? The sun? Really? Ahhhh. Oh no! More blackness on the horizon. Here we go again.

So what might I POSSIBLY learn from such a day?

I came on this adventure with an open mind, an adventurous spirit, and an eager heart. Today I went through a whole range of emotions during the ride. In the beginning: eagerness and excitement for the day ahead...and hope that the weather would hold. Then came the rain. No worries...still feeling excited and adventurous as we ventured through small mountain towns, along with a sense of acceptance that we were getting wet today. I wave at the van as I ride by, before I begin "the climb." Next comes the wind. No worries, I can always get in the van if it gets worse. Still fairly excited, feeling a bit determined to persevere through the weather. Surely the rain will stop soon.

An hour later, the weather has taken a turn for the worse. I'm yelling at the sky to stop the wind as I feel like it is pushing me backwards down the mountain. Arrrrgh!! where's the van. I'll flag it down when it comes by. This is not fun anymore.

An hour later...where IS the van? I haven't seen it in forever. Where's the rest of the group? I haven't seen anyone for a couple of hours now. Hmmm. I must be way behind the rest of them. Keep motoring on. You are now a true pilgrim, with no choice but to keep putting one pedal in front of the other. You don't have the option of taking the "easy way out." It's just you. You can either give up and sit on the side of the road, or keep going and trust that you'll be okay. One stroke at a time. The wind and rain cannot make you stop. Only YOU can make you stop. You're choice. Don't stop for too long or you'll get too cold to keep going.

Pedal over pedal. Stroke after stroke, I fought through the driving wind and rain to the top of the mountain. At the top, there is an Iron important symbol for the pilgrims along the Camino. The cross stands at the highest point along the entire route. As pilgrims approach this towering monument, they climb to the top of hill of rocks, touch the monument, say a small prayer, and add a rock of their own to the pile. By leaving a rock, the pilgrims leave all their sorrows at the cross as they continue onward towards Santiago. As I left my own rock in the pile, I gave great thanks for the gifts in my life. Yes, the weather was horrible today. Yes, I was certain I wouldn't see anyone from my group again until dinner time. Yes, I was tired and hungry and cold. But I chose this adventure. This life of today.

So while I did leave sorrows at the Iron Cross, the symbol of the cross was also one of great hope and gratitude, as well as a symbol of work to be done. I recognized that while I was by myself on the Camino today, I was never alone. When I was angry and frustrated about the weather, I also had the comfort and support of other pilgrims, as well as the warm thoughts/prayers of all of you, my home community, riding along with me. I was cold, and shop-owners and townsfolk shared me warm campfires and words of encouragement. I was disheartened, and pilgrims shouted "Buen Camino!" I felt alone, and a stranger offered me a smile, a short converstion, and then took a photo of me with the Iron Cross, and we laughed together about the ridiculous weather. I had angels looking out or me every step of the way, making sure I was still smiling and having a "buen camino!" even on a weathered day. And, just when I had resigned myself to the fact that I would not see my group until later that evening, the van pulled up beside me, offered me a snack, and let me know that I was actually ahead of the quite a lot. (Apparently they had stopped to get warm, and I had missed that turn.) I did not get in the van, despite being cold and tired. I knew I was supported, and that was encouragement enough to complete the journey.

So what did I "hear," as a listening pilgrim along the Camino? A reminder. We are never alone, even in our dark hours. It is so easy to be happy and carefree in fair weather, when everything is just the way we want it to be. But during the rainstorms of life, how quickly do we question the presence of the loving spirit in our world? How quickly do we feel alone and indequate. How many times do we ask, can I really do this? And around every corner, in every rainstorm, in the midst of driving wind, we are not only supported (by faith, by friends, by fellow pilgrims), we are also called to a life of gratitude and service. I am so grateful to be here in Spain -- where I saw the COOLEST animal ever, today. (Any guesses as to what animal it was?) I am so grateful to have the opportunity to work with a community as special as OLG. I am grateful for my family, my friends, my health, and all the countless blessings in my life. I am so very grateful for the gift of life.

As I rode today, I reflected on all of the people who live with adversity, and who do NOT choose that adversity. I reflected on the simple ways I can show the poor (homeless, hungry, despairing, jobless, lonely, homebound, etc) that I am with them on their journey. It can be as simple as a smile, as profound as a listening ear or a word of encouragement. It can be as tangible as physically helping someone who is struggling or in need. We are all called to be grateful and to fair weather and stormy weather. And we are never alone.

For what are you grateful today?
How will you help someone in need today?

There will not be very many photos from today, since the weather made it diffiult to take the camera out of its waterproof bag. However, I think we can all make our own picture of what today's journey looked like, of the way we help others and the ways we show our gratitude for the gifts in our lives. We are all pilgrims along the Camino. Let's work together to make this world a more beautiful Creation.

Weather prediction for tomorrow? More rain to go with the TWO mountain pass climbs and a 100km ride. I am laughing WITH God, now...apparently there is more to learn :)

Buen Camino! ("Good journey!")
Miss Hoch

ps. What was the animal I saw today? A STORK! Who knew that storks reside here in the Galicia mountain region of Spain? We saw them in the huge nests everywhere today! Whoa! I'd never seen a live stork beore today. One more thing for which I'm grateful!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Leon y Astorga!

Leon y Astorga!

Buenos dias! Yesterday was the first day of the guided tour with Bike Spain. We didn't do any biking yesterday, though. We drove from Madrid to the town of Leon (about a 3 1/2 hour drive). Along the way we passed through the gorgeous countryside of Spain. We passed through hilltowns, sa the Royl Cemetery, where past kings, queens, princes, and princesses are buried. Franco is also buried there, but many people want his remains moved since he was a dictator and not really royalty.

Upon arriving in Leon, we had some time to eplore the city. The town is a medieval, walled town dedicated to Saint Isador (patron saint of farmers) because of his devotion to the people of the town. Leon has the old, medieval town surounded by a modern city. It is an interesting mix of time periods. We spent the night at Hotel Boccalino in the center of Plaa el Isador. Across the plaza from the hotel wasla Iglesia/Capillia de San Isaador. The chapel is a dark, sinmple bui;lding with a surprisingly huge and ornate altar piece, whih includes an elaborate tabernacle & monstrance, as well the remains of San Isador. A simple statue of Isador is located near the altar.

Also in Leon is a huge Cathedral -- Catedral de Nuetra Senora. The catedral isknown for having more stained glass than marble in its struture. Unlike the windows in Madrid's Royal Cathedral, the stained glas windows in Leon's cathedral are more decorative than story-telling. I happened to be wandering through the catedral at thetime oftheir daily mass, so I got to attend mass with the peopleof Leon, in the small chapel of the Cathedral. I lovev attending mass in different countries because the ritual of the liturgy is universal. So although I was not able to undertand eveerything that was said during the homily (I caught a good bit of it...I think), I was sstill able to participate in the rital of the mass--good thing we've practicced our Padre Nuestro! It is one of the many things I love about our faith tradition.

After mass it was time to meet up with the group. We met at our hotel and then walked through the old town to Santa Maria de Carbajal (an old convent) to get our pilgrimage passports. Each person who completes all or part of the Camino de Santiago receives a Pilgrim's passport in which they collect stmps along their journey, marking the towns through which they pass each day. Each town has their own stamp design, making it a fun way to document the journey.

So why the Camino de Santiago? Why do hundreds of thousands of people make this journey each year? and how did it all begin?

The story is that back in the midle ages, a farmer was in his fields in the northeastern part of Spain (the provence of Galecia). While tending his crops, there appeared to him a circle of stars above one area in his field. The Spirit of God told him that the bones of St. James were lying in the ground there. the farmer sent word tot eh Church officials (bishops), and the bishop traveled by foot from the border of France to the farmer's fields to investigte the claim. Upon arriving at the farmer's field, the bishop estblished that the bones were, indeed, those of St. James and deemed the area "holy ground." Since that time, people from all over the world have followed the bishop's footsteps, walking/biking/horseback riding to modern-day Santiago (meaning St. James). In the erly days of the Camino, pilgrims journeyed along the camino primarily for religious reaons -- to grow closer to God through their experience along the road. Today, pilgrims travvel or a variety of reaon, though the majoority still carry some personal, religious intention with them as they travel.

The "official" route of the Camino do Santiago follows the route originally traveled bythe bishop - beginning at the border of Frane and travelling through norhern Spain to Santiago. However, there are acually many many different Camions de Santiago. It is said that a camino de Santiago is any road that leads you to the cathedral in Santiago. With this in mind, the symbol for the Camino pilgri is a sea shell (clam shell). If you look at the shell, there are many lines all meeting at one point, just as all roads lead to Santiago. It is also said that in medieal times, the shell was a useful tool for pilgrims -- they could use them to scoop water or food. all along the Camino, there are yellow arrows, ea shells, and signs with yellow sun-like images -- marking the way to go.

Today was the first day of riding. We did a short ride from Leon to Astorga (about 40km). As I wa riding through the villages & countryside, I had time reflect on the many ways we are called to listen and a relaxed and intentional manner. How often, especially when on my bike, do I find myself speeding along without really listening to the people aroun me or seeing the gifts of creation. On this journey, I feel I am called to slow down and be fully present to each moment, each blessing, each amazingly beautiul piece of creation I encounter. I have had the chance, today, to be awed, truly awed by the landscape, the people, and the communities I encountered along the road. Now, as I sit looking out my window at a gorgeous chapel, created by Gaudi, listening to the sounds of Astorga, I send all of you at OLG (and beyond) thoughts an prayers for a day filled with awe and intentionality. May you be fully present to eah moment of your day today, taking time to listen to the God who speaks TO you through the people and creation around you, and being open to the God who speaks THROUGH you to touch the hearts of others.

Peace to you.
Buen Camino! (good journey)
Miss Hoch

ps. I'm off to explore Astorga...known for their chocolates and pastries...maybe I will like them more than cookies! I'll keep you posted. Blessing to you!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Vamos a Espana!

I'm heading to Spain! Thank you, OLG's Distinguished Teacher Award, for giving me this incredible opportunity to see and experience beautiful Spain. It will be an adventure of a lifetime, for which I am so grateful.

I'll be in Spain from July 9-23. For the first week of the trip, I'll be cycling along Spain's Camino de Santiago. Then, I'll spend a week exploring the art, history, architecture, music, & culture in and around Barcelona and Madrid.

Join me on this journey by checking in with this blog, commenting on experiences, and asking any questions you might have about Spain. Be sure to sign your name as part of your posting, otherwise it will show as "anonymous."

I can't wait to share this journey with you! Vamos a ESPANA!
Miss Hoch