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Thursday, 15 March 2018 13:47

On Foot in Spain Family Part IV

On Foot in Spain Family (1999-2018), Part IV
By: Nancy L. Frey

Part I of our story covers the early years of On Foot in Spain’s family story.
Part II gets into the logistics of how we made it happen and what the kids do on trips.
Part III explores some of the special experiences, stories and even Camino miracles we’ve had over the years.
Part IV gives thanks to all of those different people who have made On Foot in Spain possible.

Support Team: The Family Behind the Family

Bringing one of the kids has been fabulous but it almost meant that two were left behind. Thankfully we are blessed with a great support system in Jose’s parents and his sister and her husband. The kids are the only grandchildren and nieces and nephews for our Spanish family giving our kids remarkable and close relationships with their extended family. Having their support over the years has made it possible to leave the kids and run On Foot in Spain knowing they couldn’t be in better hands. Needless to say it is always hard leaving the others but this has been our curious family experience. We could never have done it without the extended family support and we are very grateful! The photo below is of the On Foot Family and the Support Team in 2016!

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I also cannot forget to mention the bus drivers who have shared all of these journeys with us over the years. Some of the drivers took a very special interest in the kids and enjoyed their free time with them. We were grateful on numerous occasions for their care, understanding and assistance helping us in a busy moment when our four hands were occupied and a little one needed a hold. Thank you especially Luís, Jose Manuel, and José who all took numerous trips with the kids from when they were babies. In the photo below Jose Manuel talks to Sam who is sitting in the cargo bay of the bus.

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The Family Across the Seas

I grew up in California. When I chose to make my life in Spain it meant that I would be very far from my family. That has been the biggest challenge of living abroad for me. Fortunately I have intrepid parents who have joined On Foot in Spain – my Dad and Mom once in the Picos de Europa and my Mom on a total of five trips. My Dad instilled a love of hiking and the outdoors in me at an early age taking us on annual summer trips to Yosemite and always encouraged fitness, a love of history and the power of engaging deeply with nature. My Mom has always been my unconditional rock and support and sharing with her this country and people I love has been a very special experience. I am very proud of her trips and strength as she strode along in her 70s along the Camino with great verve and energy. What an inspiration! She joined us in 2004 in Portugal with Marina on board. Here are the three generations.

On Foot in Spain Family

Our Extended On Foot Family

Something that makes our company unique is that Jose and I decided from the beginning that we would lead all of our tours. Consequently, we personally know all of clients from the first email to the final goodbye. There were many points along the way when we thought about expanding in various directions, hiring guides, increasing tours, and turning On Foot in Spain into a larger enterprise. We would hem and haw (mostly me) and finally come back to the same decision that coincided with our own philosophy – we wanted to keep On Foot in Spain very personal, ensure high quality and guarantee that an experience with us would be more like traveling with friends and family than with an impersonal company.

On Foot in Spain Family On Foot in Spain Family

(Photos: Left – I have man photos of Jose sleeping with the kids on the bus. This is my view from the front seat looking back. Here, Jose and Marina are snoozing as we drive along. Right – A picnic at Cirueña on the Camino de Santiago tour where the clients are stretching, elevating and Sam is doing his own thing with balloons around a fountain he spent many joyful moments playing around).

This decision meant that we kept things small because to provide a very personalized service, maintain an enriching and fulfilling home life as well as getting the necessary rest in between trips, it was necessary to limit the amount of travel time during the year. It seems to have worked. Over the last 18 seasons Jose and I have led 1501 people on 159 tours. Now in 2018, as I write this, 90% of our clients are either return walkers or friends of friends. Every year we have walkers repeat with us and who we now count as our friends. Our On Foot Family is truly our international extended family!

Nancy and Jose possess this wonderful talent of bringing people together in their trademark and subtle and gentle way. Meeting and getting to know this fantastic group of people was one of the many highlights of the walk. I am convinced that the group’s collective experience was enriched by the expert facilitation of Nancy, Jose and Sam. Thank you for making this such a fantastic experience …and for your skill and thoughtfulness.
Lisa

On Foot in Spain Family On Foot in Spain Family

(Photo: Left – Jose prepares the picnic while Sam explains what he’s doing to his friend Anne. Right – Nancy and Sam with our stones at the Iron Cross in September 2007)

We would like to thank all of you for accepting and embracing our family in our business and sharing with us experiences that have become a lifetime of memories. You have become part of our family and our shared memories are now part of our family and the On Foot in Spain story. On Foot in Spain has always been more than just a “business” for us, it is a life project and a philosophy. Thank you.

On Foot in Spain Family

Marina and the Group joining hands in 2012.

Published in Family
Wednesday, 14 March 2018 16:17

On Foot in Spain Family Part III

On Foot in Spain Family (1999-2018), Part III
By: Nancy L. Frey

Part I of our story covers the early years of On Foot in Spain’s family story.
Part II gets into the logistics of how we made it happen and what the kids do on trips.
Part III explores some of the special experiences, stories and even Camino miracles we’ve had over the years.

Camino Miracles

We like to think that some of the good vibe of the Camino and the joy of having family aboard have inspired at least two and maybe three Camino miracles over the years. When Marina went on her first trip as a dear 5mth old baby, we were joined by a lovely, young couple who shared with me that they wanted to have children but had given up hope after trying for years. Imagine our surprise when they wrote to us several months later to say that they were expecting a baby and they thought the Camino had worked some magic and cute Marina had been an inspiration. Three years later when Sam was 6mths old, he joined us on one of his first trips. In attendance was a couple from Singapore on their honeymoon. Sure enough 9mths later, we received an announcement in the mail that they had had a baby boy and put Samuel as his middle name!

In the photo on the left, Marina, Jose and Nancy take a break at the bar in Gonzar along the Camino in July 2012 during the Compostela tour. On the right, Nancy picks up Sam to give him a big kiss after finishing the stage with the group and arriving for the picnic that Sam and Jose have prepared. For those of you who remember that picnic, Jose is taking out of the bag the octopus (Pulpo a la Féria) that I have just bought in Melide for us all to enjoy warm and savory.

 On Foot in Spain Family On Foot in Spain Family

Your relationship with each other and your love for Marina were important parts of the whole experience for me. Your individual personalities and the quality of your interactions added a dimension to the tour. I cannot explain it very well, but in a sense you, and how you interacted, reinforced the spiritual part of the Camino for me. –Bill

Entertaining themselves Can Lead to Entertaining Others

Inevitably on tours, our kids spend a lot of time entertaining themselves. In the bus, we would have a box that contained our child’s collection of books, pens and crayons, sketch pads, dolls, cars and whatever else suited their fancy. As word spread that one of our children would be on tour, the kids would occasionally receive a little gift from a client including a number of books over the years that have become family favorites including the delightful Where is the Green Sheep?, the very inspiring family travel story Are We There Yet? or, specifically for Sam (I am) the funny Seuss story Green Eggs and Ham. Our kids became experts in Australian animals with wonderful books about all those curious marsupials and birds with funny names. A couple of Canadian beavers made an appearance to Marina’s delight and she proceeded to incorporate them into her imaginative play. Here she shows the beavers (left) to a woman (who had me in stitches much of the trip) and Sam with his drawing book on the bus (right).

On Foot in Spain Family On Foot in Spain Family

On some occasions people can’t walk or don’t want to walk for one reason or another and then end up spending time in the bus. If one of our children is on the trip, sometimes they do a bit of bonding and this can become an unanticipated dimension to the trip. Sam loves to sketch. He would often sit in his chair and sketch dinosaurs, mermaids, people – whatever he was thinking about. Sometimes a sketch would make its way up the bus from a passenger in the back and then a story or further drawings evolve from there. In these two photos below, Sam is leaving his mark at the powerful Cruz de Ferro/Iron Cross, the Camino’s literal highpoint (1504m) in June 2013. People often bring stones or other mementos from home to deposit at the foot of the cross.

On Foot in Spain Family On Foot in Spain Family

On the final dinner in Santiago, we invite the child who has been with us to attend with the group. Typically, Sam would draw a mermaid or portrait of each person to give them as a going away gift. I’ve had repeat clients tell me they still have their drawing in a book or marking a page. Here we are at the final dinner at the Parador in Santiago de Compostela in May 2011 (my how time flies!).

On Foot in Spain Family 

Not all a bed of roses!

There have been challenges on the road with the kids. It would be a lie if I said it wasn’t at times exhausting managing all the roles and trying not to let it show. On occasion a lost dummy/pacifier would signify a minor crisis or a sick little one who would have a restless night meaning we might not get all the sleep we might have wanted. One funny moment was when Marina sent her shoe out the window, to her great delight, of a hotel into a stream and she watched it float away never to be seen again. What are the odds of that?

One event I still cringe about came at the end of the walk down a long lovely mountain into Molinaseca. The group was sitting down in a circle having drinks in an idyllic spot next to a cool river. Marina was about two years old and just walking. She climbed up into an empty chair and was smiling and looking at the clients who thought she was pretty cute. I was standing behind her making sure the chair wouldn’t tip over and then something happened and she was falling through the air and fell flat on her face. I was devastated (and the clients horrified). Everything has a silver lining though and it turned out that were three pediatricians on the tour and they leapt to their feet take a look at her. She couldn’t have been in better hands and fortunately was soon better.

n the photo on the left, I get a hand from a young man traveling with his family along the Camino. They were a wonderful group of three siblings who made an effort to get all of the cousins together and take a family adventure. We were very fortunate to share the Camino with them. On the right, Sam and Jose look down the drain hoping to find some lost object. I hope it wasn’t too important (I don’t remember so it must not have been too traumatic)!

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On occasion rainy weather provided challenges for keeping little ones dry and entertaining beyond the bus or the van. The bus is equipped with a video player and sometimes when the clients are walking, Jose might slip in a favorite movie on a rainy day. Some of the favorites included Mamma Mia, Nemo, Duma and Kung Fu Panda. One rainy afternoon Sam was watching Kung Fu Panda and the walkers arrived. It was nearing the end and I went to turn it off. Some of the people in the group spoke up and said – “No, keep it running.” It turns out the Disney’s Kung Fu Panda has a lot of Buddhist philosophy woven in and encourages focusing on the here and the now, a message that people often find resonates with how they feel on the Camino. At one point the character Master Oogway says,

There is a saying: yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the "present.”

In the end Sam’s movie ended up reinforcing what some people were already experiencing, the gift of the Road, the laughter, the spontaneity, the joy of the group, the time away, the power of the present. We all laughed about it and how this silly Disney movie could somehow have enhanced and reinforced the Camino experience.

On Foot in Spain Family"We loved seeing your beautiful family interact and think you are so fortunate to have and enjoy each other. And we are fortunate to have met you!” Margarita and Diego

In this photo, I have just been reunited with Sam or Marina at the final picnic on Monte Pedroso outside of Santiago de Compostela on our 11-day Camino de Santiago tour. Often on the last day, at the last picnic, we would get a surprise visit of one of the other children. Despite the challenges involved with bringing the children, it has always been worth it. We have been able to have special one-on-one time with each child and, despite being away and working, we were able to share very meaningful time with each one while on tour. Jose also knows every single outdoor play park in northern Spain!

Making Connections and Corrupting influences!

We have enjoyed the client interactions with our kids immensely. It’s something we try not to push onto our clients (as again, we don’t want our kids to be the center of attention) but sometimes our children and clients simply connect. We love how relationships can develop that cross age, nationality or sex which is also what happens on the Camino when people can meet one another wherever they are. We’ve had offers of babysitting on a free night, lots of requests to hold and feed the babies, and spontaneous story-telling sessions. The kids are all bilingual and speak English, American-English, of course because of my influence. I’ve had a number of non-Americans get on the bus and hear one of our kids speak and say “They have an American accent!” Well, of course, they aren’t going to speak Australian!

In the photo on the left Marina, on the Camino Portuguese tour, learns how to cut her thumb off without blood in 2010 and Sam (right) introduces clients to the joys of foot elevation and resting after the picnic in Uterga in 2015.

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The kids have also been introduced to other local customs by clients who’ve enjoyed their company post-walk. In this funny photo, six-month old Sam (2007), on one of his debut trips, is on the lap of an Australian man getting ready to initiate Sam into one of his country’s customs! He looks a little overwhelmed.

On Foot in Spain Family

Sometimes these connections have continued post-tour and Sam has become pen pals with several clients over the years. In fact, right now he is writing a story, chapter by chapter, back and forth through the mail with a special woman who has traveled with us five times.

To read the final chapter of the On Foot Family story, go to On Foot Family Part IV.

Published in Family
Monday, 12 March 2018 21:57

On Foot in Spain Family Part II

On Foot in Spain Family (1999-2018), Part II
By: Nancy L. Frey

Part I of our story covers the early years of On Foot in Spain’s family story and Part II gets into the logistics of how we made it happen and what the kids do on trips.

The backpack, the stroller and the bicycle

Often people ask – “Do they walk the whole thing?” Typically, in our division of labor, Jose organizes everything behind the scenes making sure things runs smoothly and I walk with the clients on the trail and explain the sites as we go. When one of our children joins us they typically become Jose’s helper and “right hand man/woman”. Consequently, normally our child will be with Jose organizing and I’ll be walking though as they got older they would also walk on their own with me and/or the clients. In the two photos below, you can see Marina walking with a client in 2012 and Sam taking a photo along the Camino with another client as they walked along (thank you, France, for this nice shot!).

 On Foot in Spain Family On Foot in Spain Family

On some of the tours there are sections that allow Jose to walk and if we are with one of the children they have been able to come with us when they were little in a backpack, when a bit bigger in a stroller, walking on their own or even on bicycle from time to time on the Meseta. We believe that Jose lost 3 or 4cm of height due to carrying the children over the years many, many kilometers in the backpack! Here is Jose carrying Marina on the left in 2004 and carrying Sam in 2007 (right).

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The stroller was worth its weight in gold, now long retired, and enjoyed many trips down the Camino with each of the kids. Often we would come up with funny ways to keep the hot sun off the kids with clothes pins, light blankets and, when those failed, small branches with large leaves. On the left you can barely make out Marina under the ferns in the stroller along the Camino in 2005. On the right, someone took this nice photo of Jose and me walking into San Juan de Ortega pushing the stroller in 2008.

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It makes me smile thinking of Sam sailing down the hill on his little bike on the Meseta outside of Hornillos del Camino. Here are a couple of photos of him on the Camino in 2013.

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What the kids do on a tour

Depending on their ages and interests the kids normally spend a lot of time on tour helping Jose organize, prepare picnics, shop and/or interact with clients. Since the days are long, the children typically do not attend dinner and instead have some kind of culinary adventure with Jose as the clients and I head off to a restaurant meal. Each day we pass out maps to the clients and review the section to be walked. When one of our children is on tour they take over the role of passing out maps, helping clients stamp their Pilgrim’s Credentials, find the yellow arrows and sometimes pass out chocolate or fruit to happy and tired walkers. On the left Jacob stamps the credential for one of our pilgrims in 2005 and Sam passes out dark chocolate with almonds on the bus in 2013.

On Foot in Spain Family On Foot in Spain Family

A very important role the children take on during our tours along the Camino de Santiago is to give a scallop shell to each client as they begin their journey along the Camino. Somehow receiving your scallop shell from a little hand takes on special meaning; especially knowing that that same hand may have picked up that shell back home in Galicia months before. The scallop shell is a beautiful symbol of rebirth, regeneration and fundamental to the Santiago pilgrimage experience. One of our vital On Foot activities, that does not take place on tour, is collecting scallop shells for our journeys along the Camino. Beachcombing for scallop shells that will be become part of our tours is a cherished family activity. Please follow this link (https://www.onfootinspain.com/tours/learning/articles/beachcombing-scallop-shells) to read about our beachcombing for scallops on the Galicia coast. On the left Marina passes out shells in 2008 at Roncesvalles and Sam does the same in 2013.

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Sometimes Jose walks backwards from the meeting point to meet clients. He is always a welcome site, especially when joined by one of the kids whose energy usually inspires the walking the last few hundred meters. When we are on the Meseta one of the memorable sights are the huge stacks of rectangular hay bales that lay off to the side of the Camino. Normally, pilgrims don’t climb these but it’s one of Jose’s favorite things to do when he is accompanied by one of the children. Seeing Jose and Sam, Marina or Jacob waving down from the high haystacks greeting pilgrims is a memory that often sticks in our clients’ minds. On the left, Jose and Sam are visible atop a huge stack of bales on the Meseta in 2013 and 10 years earlier (2003) you can see Jacob and Jose pushing a huge bale across the wheat stubble.

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As the kids mature they generally want to walk with the clients, chat and interact. It’s been lovely to observe the unexpected bonds that have developed sometimes between clients and one of our children that neither part expects. Sam has a particular fondness for older women (‘grandmas’) and from a very early age would be very attentive – buttoning a forgotten button, rolling up or down a sleeve, holding hands or remembering forgotten walking sticks. He has been called on occasion an ‘old soul’. He has also learned how to converse with adults quite adeptly. He normally puts them through a series of questions – asking questions that he was often asked first by adults – favorite color, animal or book. Consequently, he would often ask his walking companions: “How old are you?” a typical question he was asked. As age can be a sensitive subject, I would overhear conversations and start to cringe thinking – ut oh, where is this going? With some trepidation, I might here an answer such as “72”, “58” or “75” and Sam, the sharp fellow that he is, would immediately respond, “ Oh, that’s not old. 90 is old!” The laugh, relief and gratitude of the client was quick and spontaneous. Sam was never coached. He just somehow knows how to be with people and make them feel good. Here is Sam helping explain the picnic to Ann in 2014.

On Foot in Spain Family

Marina has enjoyed meeting people from around the world and practicing her English like she did with Allison along the Camino in July 2012 (left). Sam and Annette have become pen pals after coinciding on several trips together. Here they are on the Camino Portuguese together in 2016 (right).

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In 2017 we had a client with us who had traveled with Sam on the same trip along the Camino in 2014. Due to school obligations, Sam was unable to go on this trip and the client conveyed to me how special his presence had been (something I hadn’t known previously). On the tour we reached a small chapel in the middle of nowhere and the client stopped and looked at me with a smile and said, “I remember this place.” He described how Sam joyfully appeared, did the splits on the open-air altar and then helped pass out melon as I began to tell the story of the site. When I was going through the thousands of photos that I have collected over the years, I was tickled to find a photo of Sam doing the same splits on the altar the client was referring to in the anecdote above (June 2014).

On Foot in Spain Family

On the right, the group has stopped to see a slow worm that Sam has found as they hike up to Cebreiro in 2012. By the way, a slow worm is neither slow nor a worm. It’s actually a totally inoffensive legless lizard that slithers along like a snake and sometimes has vestigial forelegs.

On Foot in Spain Family

As our children have matured their roles have also evolved. Jacob has accompanied Jose on a number of private trips, accompanying the groups, explaining sites, helping him prepare all parts of the trip behind the scenes and been a great companion. When Jacob was 15 he joined Jose to help him with a private, youth group that was walking the last 100Km to Compostela. Afterwards the organizer wrote (who had also traveled with Marina when she was a baby):

“I just have to tell you what a special young man Jacob is (although I am sure that you already know that). He worked really hard to be a good guide and he was, but he also became one of us as the week went on and we all fell in love with him. Our guys thought the world of him and consider him now a friend and he holds a very special place in my husband’s heart.” Sarah

As a mother, being able to combine work and family means the world to me. I like this photo of me and Jacob (2005) and the rapport that we have as we connect and share some thought or idea while enjoying Jose’s picnic. Jacob always had a skill of conversing with adults on a wide range of topics (history, politics, science) from an early age. In the photo on the right, he chats with the group below the Cabo Vilano lighthouse on the Galicia hiking tour in 2005.

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To read about some Camino Miracles, go to On Foot Family, Part III.

Published in Family
Monday, 12 March 2018 21:38

On Foot in Spain Family Part I

On Foot in Spain Family On Foot in Spain Family
2010                                                                                             2017

Jacob (1999), Sam (2006) and Mariña (2003)

On Foot in Spain Family (1999-2018)
By: Nancy L. Frey

Combining family and work life is inevitably a juggling act. Jose and I have been fortunate to be able to bring both together and over the last 19 years by frequently incorporating one of our three children into our tour experiences. Growing up with the business has proven to be extremely rewarding with many unexpected and happy outcomes for us, our kids and our travelers. Looking back over the years I marvel to think of walking through two pregnancies, bringing the babies and watching the little ones grow up picking up sticks or dropping leaves down streams as they walk along the Camino or meeting hundreds of people from all over the world. It’s been quite an adventure and we’d like to share with you some of these On Foot Family memories and show you how our family has grown over the years.

 On Foot in Spain Family On Foot in Spain Family

As one client shared with us:

“We are so grateful you are in the business of building memories and relationships. Your family approach to life and work transforms thinking and inspires us.
Ever grateful, Connie & Bill”

Children offer spontaneity, openness and a unique vision of the world which is less inhibited than that of an adult. Seeing experiences through their eyes can be very renewing and enlightening. Anyone who has children (or doesn’t!) knows that it’s a risky activity letting a potential loose cannon, such as a child, free in your business. The kids always understood what we expected behavior-wise when we’re on a trip and they learned to be good hosts from an early age rather than the ‘center of attention’. Consequently, it has worked very well over the years and generated an incredibly positive reaction from those who travel with us. In the photos below are Jose, Marina and “Pepito” in 2005 (left) and Sam with plums in 2014 (right).

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How did we do it?

We launched On Foot in Spain on the internet in 1999 the same year our eldest, Jacob, was born. I should mention that Jose and I walked the Camino in June 1998 leading a group of university students when I was three months pregnant with Jacob and that is how he got his name. Jacob is another way of saying Santiago as is James, Jacques or Jaime. We ran our first tour in 2000 when Jacob was about 1 year old. We decided it was best if we got into the swing of things first before adding in extra, unpredictable elements. He made his debut in 2001 at the end of a long Camino tour and it was a delight to see him and have the clients meet him. We thought maybe in the next year we could incorporate him into a tour. In 2002 he joined a youth group from New York City we led along the Camino, picking up new lingo from them and then started to come regularly on tours. In the photo on the left, Jacob is handing out a chocolate to a member of a wonderful women’s hiking club that has joined us on two trips (2003) and on the right Jacob is helping Jose prepare a picnic atop Monte Pindo on our Galicia hiking tour (2005).

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Having the kids on board through two pregnancies, babyhood, as toddlers, as growing children and now even as teenagers has been a great adventure. I was very fortunate that my pregnancies were uncomplicated. I’m one of the lucky women that never experienced nausea or morning sickness of any kind during my three pregnancies. Leading walking tours was also a great way to stay fit while pregnant and I was able to walk up to the seventh month with both Marina and Sam. In the photo on the left, taken in Sept 2003 at the Sierra del Perdón along the Camino de Santiago, I’m 6 months pregnant with Marina. On the right, Marina helps me explain the picnic on a Portugal tour in 2006 when I was 4 months pregnant with Sam.

On Foot in Spain Family On Foot in Spain Family

Marina and Sam were also “planned pregnancies” in the sense that we knew we had a window of opportunity to make family-life and work compatible and this is why they both are born within a few days of each other – Marina December 5th and Sam on November 27th. You see they both needed to be travel-ready babies by the time the tour season started in April or May. Sure enough both Marina and Sam made their debut on the Camino, outside of the womb, when they were 4.5 to 5 months old. Below on the left, Marina and I take a break at the picnic in 2004 while an attentive Cynthia keeps us company. On the right precocious Sam began driving the bus in 2007.

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I breast fed both of them for about 8 months so needless to say that provided additional challenges (and somewhat comical in retrospect) in tour leading. As my role is typically to walk with the group and Jose handles everything behind the scenes organization-wise, how was I able to maintain breast feeding, walking and leading all at the same time? Jose has this knack of always appearing when you most want or need him. Sure enough, at just the right time, Jose would show up in the van with Sam or Marina and we would have a peaceful moment of rest and nourishment. Sometimes I look back and think, how did we do it?
Some of my favorite photos from this period are the ones clients have sent of me explaining Jose’s great picnics with Sam or Marina tucked under my arm looking very interested and curious about what is on the table. Marina helps me explain the picnic on the left in 2004 and Sam on the right in 2007.

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Babies are delightful and very unusual to have on a tour. Somehow the babies were all ‘good’ and simply brought joy to the groups – gentle cooing, singing to themselves and open-eyed curiosity. As one client wrote about Sam when he was 6mths old:

Dear Sam, Thank you for being the bright light that shone on us as we made our way along the Camino. You made our journey a very special one. Hugs and kisses, The Group

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These are two photos of dear Sam taken in 2007. On the left, that’s how he looked greeting people when he got on the bus (note the dear Australian koala by his side!) and on the right hanging out with the girls during free time.

Or about Mariña:
“Mariña made my Camino most unforgettable. I wish I had more time to hold her.” Paul

On Foot in Spain Family On Foot in Spain Family

On the left in May 2004, Paul holds Marina and, on the right, Sarah in June 2004.

To keep reading about how the On Foot Family evolved, continue here On Foot Family, Part II.

Published in Family
Tuesday, 27 February 2018 15:11

Beachcombing: Scallop Shells

Beachcombing for Scallop Shells with On Foot in Spain
A version of this article was posted on On Foot in Spain’s Facebook page 21 Dec 2014
By Nancy L Frey, February 2018

Beachcombing: Scallop Shells Beachcombing: Scallop Shells

Beachcombing: Scallop ShellsOn our Camino de Santiago tours we gift our walkers scallop shells, the primary symbol of the Santiago pilgrim. We gather these shells ourselves from the Ría de Arousa in Galicia, the very same estuary in which the Apostle James’s stone boat sailed looking for safe harbor before eventually being buried in what came to be known as Santiago de Compostela. This image of St James/Santiago (note he’s standing in a boat dressed as a pilgrim) comes from the town of Ribeira on the Ría de Arousa.

In winter we like to go with our kids to a favorite set of beaches to find shells, beachcomb and enjoy this magical, remote spit of land in the sea. Beachcombing is a marvelous, relaxing activity that we enjoy together as a family and individually as we discover the wonders to be found on these magnificent beaches. Here Sam sits in the distance floating atop a sea of shells.

 

 

 

 

Beachcombing: Scallop Shells

You have to go at low tide to cross over to the string of shell beaches where we find the scallops (and lots of other shells!)

Beachcombing: Scallop Shells

We've reached the first set of beaches. The beaches lie at the mouth of the estuary where the open ocean batters the coast. Striking deep mustard-yellow lichen adorn the granite boulders.

Beachcombing: Scallop Shells

Scallop shells start to appear - buried beneath other shells, wedged between rocks, in the water. Some shells are whole, others are broken, weathered or worn.

Beachcombing: Scallop Shells

Scallops come in many color variations and sizes. They are all unique like each pilgrim and his or her journey.

Beachcombing: Scallop Shells

Reaching the next set of beaches, we continue our trek out along this rocky spit that reaches out into the open ocean. It looks like we might be able to walk all the way to Sálvora Island but no chance. The urge to see how far you can go is strong.

Beachcombing: Scallop Shells

Scallop within a scallop - one of the many gifts from the sea.

Beachcombing: Scallop Shells

We each search for shells and anything that captures our fancy - sometimes together, sometimes alone.

Beachcombing: Scallop Shells

Along with the scallops, we find razor clams, limpets, many types of snails, mussels, oysters, cockles, clams...

Beachcombing: Scallop Shells

At high tide the water will cover this beach completely. We always keep one eye on the water to make sure we don’t get caught. Being out here is mesmerizing.

Beachcombing: Scallop Shells

When you get down on your hands and knees you realize that what looks like sand from the distance is actually an infinite mass of shells in various crushed states. As far down as you dig, all you can find are shells.

Beachcombing: Scallop Shells Beachcombing: Scallop Shells

The sea birds like to hang out here including many yellow-footed gulls, sandpipers and cormorants. The cormorants like to warm and dry their sleek black wings in the sunshine perched on the rocks.

Beachcombing: Scallop Shells Beachcombing: Scallop Shells

You can spend hours slowly combing the beach finding special treasures.

Beachcombing: Scallop Shells

Marina holds up a very large yellow-toned scallop.

Beachcombing: Scallop Shells

Jose and Jacob showing some of their finds and Jose holds a stunning pink-tinged scallop.

Beachcombing: Scallop Shells Beachcombing: Scallop Shells

With an eye on the rising tide, we reluctantly make our way back across the rocks to the mainland sorry that they treasure hunt is over. At the end we pull out our collection of shells and select the ones we can use to gift to our walkers. Inevitably our pockets are filled with sand, polished beach glass and other eye-catching bits and pieces of beach.

Beachcombing: Scallop Shells Beachcombing: Scallop Shells

Now back home for cleaning, drilling and red cords to be attached for our walkers (to be continued…).

Published in Latest
Wednesday, 20 September 2017 13:53

The Smart Camino: Pilgrimage in the Internet Age

Video of Nancy’s talk: The Smart Camino: Pilgrimage in the Internet Age (Jan 2017, London)
By Nancy L. Frey
September 2017

In January 2017, I gave the keynote address at the Confraternity of St James’ Annual General Meeting in London titled The Smart Camino: Pilgrimage in the Internet Age. In the talk I briefly review some general changes I’ve noticed over the last 25 years and then present my research on the incorporation of new media technology into the Camino and how this has impacted being a pilgrim. The rise of the Internet is the single most important change in the Camino during this period and has dramatically impacted how people engage with the pilgrimage experience before, during and after the Camino is over.

The video is long. To help facilitate listening to the parts that are of most interest, I’ve broken down the video into segments and themes. Please let me know if you have any questions or observations.

0:00-1:00 - Intro to video
1:00-4:35 - Intro about talk and Nancy’s 25 years’ experience on Camino
4:35-5:30 - Nature of change on Camino
5:30-22:15 - General Changes on the Camino over the last 25 years
     • 6:55 - Pilgrim’s Office and Statistics
     • 7:45 - Numbers
     • 8:27 -  Sex
     • 8:50 -  Internationalization
     • 10:11 - Mode of Travel
     • 10:50 - Roads Traveled and Development of other routes
     • 11:44 - Acquisition of the Compostela Certificate & Certificate of Distance
     • 14:18 - Motivations and Expectations
     • 16:33 - Infrastructure
     • 17:50 - John, the Pilgrim Helper and Red tape
     • 18:29 - Equipment
     • 19:13 - Invasion of our Attentional Space
     • 19:42 - Graffiti & Pokemon Go
     • 21:08 - The Cathedral: Security, protecting patrimony and limited access
     • 21:33 - What happened to the wild dogs?
22:15-23:38 - Changes related to Internet Age. Tech is a tool but not a neutral tool.
23:38-26:44 - Pilgrimage/Camino is a Rite of Passage with three stages: Prep, During, Return. “While the physical component has remained relatively the same, for most people the mental component has changed dramatically…” The Camino in the Cloud.
26:44 – 35:47 - Stage 1: Preparation for the Camino in the Internet Age. Anxiety is normal. Information overload, we overly complicate the Camino, developing pilgrim identity pre-Camino
     • 33:12 - What to take and packing lists
35:52 – 1:02:15 - Stage 2: Being on the Camino
     • 35:52 - Outcomes of preparation and spectrum of mobile tech usage
     • 38:45 - Experience of time and place impacted, Incorporation of “Tech time”; bracketed time away disrupted, stay inside comfort zone
     • 42:56 - Internet age pilgrims have new needs and new neediness; my sacred tech time; increase virtual connections and decrease face-to-face connections
     • 47:10 - Impact on Camino community and social relations
     • 49:53 - Relationship to Home; the importance of “missing” and “longing”; collaborative pilgrimages
     • 53:48 - Digital Detox pilgrimages
     • 56:25 - Shift in thinking and expectations about “what is the Camino?”; controlling the Camino and fear management; “not having a bed” anxiety; having a “Trip Advisor” Camino; dilution of the power of our experiences
     • 1:00:30 - Tech industry encourages us to trust tech and not ourselves; WiFi App; Progressively outsourcing skills to phone and atrophying those abilities within ourselves.
1:02:15-1:05 - Reaching Santiago – transition point; experiences mediated by phones; losing trust in our memories; capturing moments vs contemplating moments
1:05-1:11 - Stage 3: The Return Home
1:11-1:14:59 - Conclusions

Published in Latest
Thursday, 09 February 2017 14:50

Tenerife Island: Lava, Sea & Stars

Tenerife Island: Lava, Sea & Stars

…but having traversed the banks of the Orinoco, the Cordilleras of Peru, and the most beautiful valleys of Mexico, I own that I have never beheld a prospect more varied, more attractive, more harmonious in the distribution of the masses of verdure and rocks, than the western coast of Teneriffe.
---Alexander von Humboldt, 1799, German naturalist and explorer

Do you feel like a winter getaway? Jose and Nancy have enjoyed traveling to Tenerife, part of the Canary Island archipelago, over the years as a family and a couple.  We would love to share this spectacular island with you. We have created a unique tour designed to bring you into contact with the remarkable variety of landscapes on this special island that once was an essential stepping stone for all New World journeys and exploration of the Americas and beyond. Located 100km off the coast of Morocco, Tenerife enjoys a privileged climate making hiking and walking a pleasurable year round activity.

Tenerife Island: Lava, Sea & Stars

Tenerife rises out of the ocean and climbs to an impressive 3718m (12,198ft) at its summit, the volcano Mt. Teide, which dominates views of the island no matter where you are. Mt Teide is the highest volcano that rises out of the ocean floor outside of the Hawaiian islands. Jose and I have planned walks in the vast range of microclimates and landscapes including the steep, lush semi-tropical laurel forests of the Anaga Peninsula where the variety of flora make it a botanist’s paradise;  the barren, lunar landscapes encircling the base of Mt Teide remarkable for their colors and habitats where the toughest flora and fauna eke out an existence;   coastal walks through black volcanic "aa" (malpais in Spanish) rock and flower-laden, cliff paths that give stunning views to the azure waters below. We will also enter the great volcano’s innards and become cavers for an afternoon as we explore the famed Cueva del Viento (Cave of the Wind).

Tenerife Island: Lava, Sea & Stars

As always Nancy and Jose will weave the history of the island into our walks to understand the aboriginal inhabitants of the islands (the "Guanches"), their conquest at the hands of the Spanish on path to the new world and the remarkable economy of wine and sugar that resulted from the conquest. We will also enjoy the unique Canarian cuisine and their wines which once were the pride of European tables and referenced by Shakespeare himself.  Due to Tenerife's unique conditions, the national park around Teide contains one of the world's most important astronomical observation centers. As part of the tour we will explore the heavens from our privileged vantage point with a local expert. January in Tenerife, depending on where you are on the island, can have highly varying temperatures. We will also be going, over the course of the week, from sea level to the summit of Teide (mostly via cable car!). In January it often snows on Teide but at the coast you can be in shorts and swimming in the ocean. Consequently, it's a fun tour with great variety in which you'll want to prepare for several seasons.

Tenerife Island: Lava, Sea & Stars

Tour duration: 7 days & 7 nights

Walking Level:  Medium to Medium Hard. We have tried to select walks suitable for a medium level ability but it is important to keep in mind that the island is volcanic which makes for steep, irregular landscapes that will require stamina, stability, confidence on uneven terrain and, on one walk, control of vertigo. We will be walking between  3km and 11km (1.8mi to 6.8mi) on a daily basis Walking poles are highly recommended for this tour.

Walking Days: 7 total

Distance: 46km/28mi

Tour Start/End Point: La Laguna, Tenerife. The Tenerife Norte airport (TFN) is located very conveniently to the small town of La Laguna where we start and end the tour. Daily direct flights are available from Madrid (MAD).

Group Size: This inaugural tour will be limited to a total of 7 people.

Tour Price: 2325E per person in double accommodation

Single Supplement: The single supplement fee is €215 for this tour.

Departure Dates 2018
15-21 January 2018
Price: €2325
BOOK NOW FOR 2018

Departure Dates 2019:
3-9 April 2019
Price: €2425 *(Click here for Discount Information)*
BOOK NOW FOR 2019

What is and isn’t included: Trip price includes accommodations (double occupancy), all meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) each day except 2 dinners (Days 3 & 5), pre-departure information, all transportation during the trip, entrance fees to museums and activities as designated in the itinerary is included and Jose and Nancy will accompany the group.

Tour does not include: Airfare to Spain or Tenerife is not included nor is required health/travel insurance or transportation to and from the starting and end point (San Cristobal de la Laguna, Tenerife, Spain). Personal amenities such as drinks and snacks at end of walks or in free time are not included.

 

Itinerary
Tenerife Island: Lava, Sea & Stars

 

La LagunaDay 1 - La Laguna - 6.2km/3.8mi

We’ll meet at our hotel in the town of San Cristobál de la Laguna located 10 minutes from the Tenerife Norte Airport. After our orientation we’ll shuttle east to the coastal loop walk of the Malpaís de Güimar and get our first exposure to different types of lava including “malpaís” or “aa” for its rough, irregular surfaces as we ascend the Montaña de Mar and loop around the Montaña Grande, two young (10,000 year old) volcanoes. We will also enjoy the rich flora that ekes out an existence in these harsh yet beautiful habitats. We return to La Laguna for dinner enjoying Canarian cuisine. (6.2km/3.8mi)

 

 

La OrotavaDay 2 -  La Orotava - 7.7km/4.8mi

The day starts with a guided visit of the beautiful colonial town founded by the Spanish when they conquered the Canary Islands and Tenerife at the end of the 15th C.  Designed on a grid-plan La Laguna (550m) became the model for future colonial architecture in the New World and became an UNESCO World Heritage City in 1999. (1km/.6mi).  We then shuttle to the Anaga Natural Park and we will hike from Cruz de Carmen (1018m) to Chinamada (663m) descending through the special laurisilva (laurel forest) characteristic of the lush, humid sub-tropical climate of the northern part of the island.(6.6km/4.2mi) In Chinamada we’ll have lunch at one of the cave houses and then shuttle to the Casa del Vino (House of Wine) in El Sauzal. The Spaniards brought wine culture to the Canary Islands and became major producers and exporters of wine to European tables and the New World. The islands still have a strong wine tradition and we will enjoy the history and a tasting on this visit. We spend the next two nights in the lovely town of La Orotava. Tonight we’ll have dinner together here in a local restaurant.

 

 

 

 

Day 3 -  La Orotava - 7.9km/4.9mi

La OrotavaIn the morning we’ll shuttle to the hamlet of Afur (270m) also in the Anaga Peninsula.
Today we do a spectacular, yet hard, hike from Afur down to the Tamadiste beach and then to the village of Taganana. From Afur we descend a beautiful, fragrant canyon full of native plants (cacti, flowering plants, wildflowers) to the beach. We enjoy the beautiful views of the dramatic coastline at Tamadiste and then make a steep ascent back to the cliffs and then progressively ascend along the high cliffs (342m) and then drops into the village of Taganana (226m) affording constant stunning views of the coast. The old terraced vineyards surprise for their location and variety. (7.9km/4.9mi) In Taganana we’ll have lunch at Canarian restaurant and then shuttle back to La Orotava. In La Orotava we’ll visit The Teide National Park visitor center. Afterwards you’ll have free time to explore La Orotava on your own and to have dinner.

 

Day 4 -  Santiago del Teide - 5.1km/3.1mi

Santiago del TeideAfter breakfast we shuttle down to Puerto de la Cruz where we’ll do a lovely cliff-walk to the Mirador de San Pedro (172m). This paved walkway connects two points along the coast weaving in and out of small settlements and seeking always to give you stunning views of the coast and the pounding deep blue sea below. The walk ends in an original Canarian palm grove surrounded by banana plantations. (4.1km/2.5mi) After our walk and a refreshment, we’ll shuttle to the spectacular Cueva del Viento (Cave of the Wind) to learn about the volcanic island from the inside. On the visit we’ll become cavers and wear special equipment to descend into the bowels of the earth and this large lava tube. (1km/.6mi) After lunch we’ll visit the coastal town of Garachico, once the major port in the north, but whose fate changed when a volcanic lava flow destroyed part of the town and its port in 1706.  Shuttle to the high small town, Santiago del Teide (1000m), and the hotel where we’ll spend two nights.

 

Day 5 -  Santiago del Teide - 10.7km/8.2mi

Santiago del TeideFrom the hotel we’ll shuttle to our trailhead that starts at the small agricultural town of San Jose de los Llanos. This wonderful loop hike combines a very interesting array of landscapes from the cultivated fields outside of San Jose de los Llanos, to the lapilli (small lava stone gravel) paths within the peaceful Canarian Pine forest and then opens up to the black ‘aa’ (malpaís) lava flows of the 1909 Chinyero eruption, the last one to trouble Tenerife. Meanwhile we get great views of Teide imposing above it all before we loop back through the forest and the fields to San Jose. (10.7km/8.2mi) We’ll have our picnic at the end of the walk and the return to the hotel where you have the option to have a free afternoon or take a boating excursion to see the famed Gigantes cliffs and hopefully spot the whales and dolphins that thrive in the waters around the Canary Islands. The waters off the southwest corner of Tenerife are an internationally well-known cetacean observation area.

 

Day 6 -  Parador de las Cañadas – Teide National Park - (2.8km/1.7mi)

Parador de las CañadasFrom Santiago de Teide we shuttle to the Teide National Park and the lower cable car (teleférico) station (2356m/7729ft).*** The cable car will whisk us up to the station (3555m/11663ft) near the top of the Teide Peak crater (3718m/12198ft). According to Guanche beliefs, Guayota, the god of evil and darkness inhabited Teide, one of the gateways to hell and the underworld. We will we ascend to the crater as well as Pico Viejo. (2.8km/1.7mi). After we return back down by cable car we’ll shuttle to the Parador located at the foot of Teide and set in the midst of this high, open and desolate lunar landscape. Today we’ll dine in the Parador and then enjoy a look at the heavens with a local expert from this privileged viewing area. Tenerife’s unique conditions as an island with relatively little light pollution and a latitude favorable for seeing much of the visible sky, has made it a mecca for astronomers and has important international observatories.

 

La LagunaDay 7 -  La Laguna - 4.3km/2.7mi

After breakfast we’ll walk from the Parador to the wonderful Roques de García (2160m/7086ft) rock formations on a loop walk through the native flora and volcanic rocks which then steeply descends through different types of lava as we encircle these monumental formations left behind after eons of erosion wore down the softer surrounding rocks. (4.3km/2.7mi) Shuttle to the Montaña Blanca to see the lunar landscapes and white lapilli lava stones. We leave behind the lunar landscapes of highland Tenerife and descend back through corona forestal (belt of dense pine woodland) to La Laguna. We’ll have our farewell dinner in La Laguna and spend the night there.

Published in Itineraries
Tuesday, 25 October 2016 14:30

The Camino is Life Affirming

The Camino is Life Affirming
Nancy L. Frey
25 October 2016


The Camino is Life Affirming
Life affirming. That was how one woman described what the Camino had meant to her. Looking at this photo of our hands held together upon arrival in the Plaza de Obradoiro, I feel that sense of affirmation strongly. Each person comes to the Camino at a different age, stage and place in his or her life and this is clearly shown through how different our hands are. Some are smooth and unblemished. Others appear wise with age and work. Some come adorned and others plain. A week ago most of those hands had little relation to one another. Now, though, by the end of the week those hands created, as one person put it, a quilt of experience together that will endure and give warmth for a long time to come. Many people claim that the Camino changes you. It can but I think that’s a very big expectation to have before starting. More often I see the Camino opening eyes and doors to possibilities. Challenging people in a good way physically, emotionally and psychologically. Creating opportunities to question attitudes, beliefs and actions. It can be a doorway to the self, others, nature, something higher and/or deeper. People feel good on the Camino. They also feel exhausted, worn-out, and sometimes struggle to get through each day. Sometimes it’s precisely that adversity paired with simplifying one’s life, as you do when on the Camino, that makes people feel vibrant and connected with something fundamental about the human experience. The Camino often gives the pilgrim the gift of clarity and insight into what is most important in life. Time and reflection, though, are necessary to bring those gifts home and into one’s heart and actions. Our hands together in common purpose are witness to the life affirming reality of the Camino and the continuing possibility of what is yet to come once we return home.

Published in Latest
Monday, 24 October 2016 19:37

France Fehr - Blogger/Photographer

Canadian photographer and blogger France Fehr joined us along the Camino de Santiago in June 2015. The Camino rarely fails to inspire the artistic eye and France was no exception. We are very happy to be able to share one of her entries from her blog FUN & LIFE. Enjoying life to the max. France blogged extensively about her 11 day Camino trip with us and this last entry "Camino in photography" captures well the whole journey.

Camino in photography.

 

Today, I will not post about Barcelona yet but I will share some photos taken on the Camino. (June 2015)

We were lucky to have Nancy and Jose as guides for this great adventure.

On Foot in Spain is the link if you ever are up to do a walking/hiking educational journey in Spain or Portugal. You would be having a good time .

Now , the photos with little description! But if you want to read and see more on our adventure with On Foot in Spain, I have written 11 more texts ( you can find them on this blog). It was a real pleasure to write our story and to share it here.

The shell, is the symbol on the Camino. We all received a shell to wear around our neck or put on our bag or just to bring home as a memory.

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St-James. The history of the Camino de Santiago goes back at the beginning of the 9th century (year 814) moment of the discovery of the tomb of the evangelical apostle of the Iberian Peninsula. Since this discovery, Santiago de Compostela becomes a peregrination point of the entire European continent.

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Pamplona is the first city where we met with our group. I really liked that city . We had time to walk and get a feel of the place. It has a nice square where people come and sit on benches and visit. Pamplona is very famous for the run of the bulls.

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Alto del pardon. monument to the Pilgrim. A 14 iron figures of natural size.

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This man had set up a table with little crafts and food. He is only asking for donation.

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Our friend, David, took a photo of me at the Sta Maria La Real Monastery in Najera. David and I got along because he was taking as many photos as me.

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Sometimes, my husband also took photos of me! Thanks, Stephen.

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Food never tastes so delicious when you have walked a few km.

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Walking “la meseta” on a beautiful day.

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A snack … Little Bee is never too far .

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Part of our group listening to Nancy while she explains history of the San Zoilo Monastery in Carrion de Los Condes . They were all happy to be sitting after 20 km walk.

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Sam with the rock I brought with me. As I didn’t want to leave it at the “Cruz de Ferro”, I gave it to him as a souvenir. It was a rock I painted a few years ago.

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Rainy day on the Camino…

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Always a place to stop for coffee if we want to.

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Cyclists on the Camino

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David is taking photos … and I take a photo of him!

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Nancy , our guide . With Jose , they have been leading those adventure for 17 years. The best guides for this experience. Great people with so much knowledge to share.

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A monk at the Monastery in Samos.

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Jose is mixing the salad for our picnic.

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Some animals we saw while we were on the Camino…

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On our last picnic, we enjoyed some cider !

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Thanks to Saint-James, we had this wonderful walking experience.

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and thanks to Nancy and Jose, this trip was a success.

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Thanks for reading ! my next post will be about Barcelona. A unique experience. Maybe it will inspire you to do it.

Published in Latest
Tuesday, 29 December 2015 19:52

Walking with Focused Awareness

Walking with Focused Awareness
By Nancy L. Frey
December 2015

Walking with Focused Awareness

In a previous article I reviewed Thom Hartmann’s book Walking your Blues Away and outlined his technique for problem solving when walking. It’s a very useful technique and applies a type of focused thinking while walking which often helps to resolve questions you put forth to yourself and even past trauma. When stumped or blocked mentally, it’s often helpful to get up out of your chair, breathe deeply and go outside ‘to clear your mind’. Many times you return feeling refreshed, renewed and even sometimes with a problem solved or a new perspective.

Walking ToursRather than practice ‘focused thinking’, I’d like to encourage you to try another type of mental activity while walking which I’ll call ‘focused awareness’. The idea gets back to the idea of ‘clearing your mind’, not to create blankness but to clear your mind of unwanted thoughts and focus on your present moment (your body, surroundings, sights, sounds, sensations). It is very common for people to be plagued with a non-stop internal dialogue of random thoughts about past issues or future business/worries to deal with. It’s so normal that you may not even be aware of it. I know this is true of me. When I’m out walking I will be surrounded by great natural beauty but my mind puts on mental blinders that buffer me from hearing, seeing and appreciating what is in my immediate present unless I make a conscious effort to focus on the present. I’ll find myself playing a rerun of a conversation with a teacher from my kid’s school, thinking about the things I have to get done later in the day, debate with myself about whether or not to do this or that, etc, etc, etc. It’s a lot of mental noise and when you’re paying attention to it, you’re not paying attention to the present and what’s happening in the moment. You’re there physically but mentally you are off in some other place. When you think about it, the mental tapes frequently play boring reruns of themes you’ve been over many times or push you to focus your thinking on future events thereby taking away from your enjoyment of the moment you are in. Typically these ‘problems’ don’t get resolved, they just follow you around like a bad odor.

I feel deeply connected to nature. It is something I am aware of feeling from my earliest memories: the power and beauty of the natural world. Consequently, at the same time when I’m walking and thinking, I also find myself pausing, breathing deeply and really focusing on something that captures my eye or fills me with wonder. It feels good. I look around, focus and appreciate. Then, another thought pops into my head and the mental noise brings me back inside of my mind and I lose that sense of the present as I float around somewhere between the past and future.

When I became aware that I was doing this (because most of the time we do not realize that we are doing this unless we stop to observe ourselves), I decided to consciously focus on being aware of the present and my surroundings rather than listen to the noise in my head. Essentially this is ‘walking meditation,’ an ancient practice with many contemporary practitioners. As the Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh explains: “When you walk, arrive with every step. That is walking meditation. There’s nothing else to it.” It sounds so simple and it is for a practiced Buddhist but if you have a typically over-active mind, trained to think and do constantly (like me), it is very, very hard. For me the missing piece to make sense of the simplicity of this concept was “awareness” - awareness of how my mind focuses on the past and future and keeps me from the present. You become aware of these thought patterns by observing yourself and how you think. When you start the internal dialogue, take a mental step backwards and observe your mind. I found Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now to be very insightful and helpful in this regard.

Problem solving when walking

Getting back to the idea of ‘walking with focused awareness’, the point is to spend more time while walking focusing on the now and less time focusing on the internal, mental dialogue.  Your mind will probably try to intrude on your awareness of the present periodically as you are walking. When you realize that you are thinking about picking up the dry cleaning or how irritated you are that so and so didn’t answer your email, bring yourself back to the present moment by focusing on what your senses perceive in your surroundings.  You will find that when you focus on your present, you will feel more alive and more connected with what is around you. You will see your surroundings differently and perhaps make new, enriching observations because you are attuned to the present moment. You may also find that with practice the barrage of thoughts will recede as you walk and will leave you feeling more peaceful and relaxed by the time you are done.

How to do this? For example, the other day I took a walk while my kids were at music class through a village, down to the beach and along the shore. I decided to focus on as many different sensual experiences as possible. When I arrived in the village there was a funeral service taking place in the parish church. Bells continue to play an important role in Spanish villages and towns to call the faithful and to mark the hours. When there are funerals there is a special, very somber, deep two-beat bell tone that is played over and over during certain moments of the service. As I walked along the shore I heard the bells and decided to focus my attention on the sound of the tolling floating over the water and to listen to the entire length of each note as they faded away and then repeated over and over – strongly and then fading. In normal circumstances, my mind would have blotted out extraneous noise like the bells and I don’t think I would have even been aware of them. In giving my attention to the bells, I felt more connected to the ritual taking place in the village and the passing of that soul and the families involved. It also filled me with a sense of discovery: when the bell tolling went from being background noise to the center of my attention, I deepened my understanding and appreciation of them and their role in community life.

Walking with Focused Awareness

My mind wandered, many times, but I would bring it back and focus on something else – my breathing, the pattern of sound my feet were making on the different surfaces where I walked– sand, boardwalk, pavement, different randomly barking dogs from houses on the fringes of the area. As I walked back along the beach I started to focus on the sound of the tiny waves breaking on the shore and listen, like the bells, for the source, where they stopped, where they started, was the sound coming from the left or right? I lay down on the beach for a few minutes, closed my eyes and listened to the waves. I was aware of patterns I had not paid attention to before even though I’ve spent a lot of time at the shore over the years. It felt good, peaceful. The mental noise took a back seat to the vibrant and alive present rather than vice versa. I focused my awareness on the rocks, the colors of the kelp, the plastic on the beach. The latter set me off on a frustrating internal dialogue about pollution but I brought myself back to the patterns in the water, the gulls flying overhead, the color of the sky as the sun set behind the village….I breathed in deeply and felt the cool, salt air fill my lungs. Further on I wrinkled my noise at the smell of kelp rotting under the sand where I stepped deeply. All of these things helped me enjoy and feel more connected to that moment and made the walk an entirely different experience than if I had just let the tapes play as usual. The walk was about just being – not thinking, analyzing or doing – just enjoying it for what it was. I felt grateful for all the beauty both large and small surrounding me constantly. As I say, my mind would wander off frequently but that’s okay. As you become more aware of how your mind wanders, it becomes easier to sense sooner and then you can refocus to something in your immediate surroundings – the birds singing, the way the leaves rustle in the wind, how the breeze feels on your skin, the smell of the damp earth. Awareness in the present is liberating. You can’t change the past nor can you can make the future happen sooner but you can enjoy the gift of the now and this is an access point to it.

Walking Tours

Published in Latest
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