Displaying items by tag: On foot in Spain
Walking with Focused Awareness
By Nancy L. Frey
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.
Rather 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.
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.
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.
On Foot in Spain Picnic Salads
by Jose Placer and Nancy Frey
Our cookbook is finally a reality! After 16 years of running our walking tours company On Foot in Spain we decided to self-publish a cookbook focusing on Jose's salad recipes called On Foot in Spain Picnic Salads. It's a great trip down memory lane of fantastic company, beautiful places and the delicious foods that bring us together. Buen provecho!
You can order it direct through Blurb following the link below. The price listed via Blurb is "at cost" for a limited time (the rest of 2015) - we've not added in any profit margin - as our gift and thanks to you for making On Foot in Spain possible all of these years. We hope you enjoy these recipes and the memories that they bring back of good times shared in great company in beautiful places. Happy Thanksgiving wherever you may be!
To those of you who are missing the Camino, here’s one way to keep the Camino fire burning in your heart in your daily life. Remember: the Camino is now within you. The Camino is a literal space you go to but once you are there, it starts to grow and imprint itself upon your inner being. It becomes a landscape within. On your inner Camino there’s a rich storehouse of memories, smells, sensations, hardships, triumphs, disappointments, joys, insights….You can return to this Camino anytime you like and draw on the power of those memories and experiences to give you strength in the here and now. No one can take that away from you.
How do you access your inner Camino in your daily life? Make time to take a walk, preferably in nature. Go with intention and keep yourself attuned to your surroundings (ie, take out the ear buds and disconnect your phone). Before you start, visualize a Camino memory or place that you particularly like and start walking, keeping that memory in mind. Give yourself at least 30 minutes. The Camino will come back to you. Let go and allow your mind to do what it does naturally: as you walk memory will flow and you will be on the Camino again. If your mind starts to wander off your inner Camino you can gently redirect it back to the initial memory/place. You may be surprised where your inner Camino will take you. Sometimes those inner miles that you walk will take you the furthest.
"Aside from marrying my husband and having my son, this was the greatest thing I have ever done. Everything I hoped for, and more, happened. Please know to what a great extent you enhanced my life…"
Cynthia, Portland, Oregon, USA,
Camino de Santiago, 2003
I have done so much raving on to people about how wonderful On Foot in Spain & particularly Nancy & Jose were, that they should never need to advertise. It was all such a special experience as evidenced by our reaction as we walked into the Santiago Square – still gives me goosebumps….Nancy & Jose – you are absolute legends….”.
Bron & Michael, Vermont, VIC, Australia
May 2017, Camino de Santiago
Sam, Jose and Nancy on Portugal tour by client B. Cameron
WHO WE ARE: YOUR OWNER-GUIDES - NANCY & JOSE
Receiving feedback like the above testimonials, written 14 years apart, fills us (Nancy & Jose) with a tremendous sense of fulfillment. Our primary goal on our trips is to help facilitate the engagement of our travelers with something meaningful within themselves or the rich landscapes and experiences within which they are immersed. Being a part of someone’s potentially transformative experience is a great honor and privilege. Jose and I both have a great passion for and knowledge of Spain, where we live (Galicia), the Camino de Santiago and it is a pleasure to share this with those who accompany us.
Both Nancy and Jose have always held both walking and learning close to their hearts. Their paths crossed while Nancy was conducting her doctoral dissertation research on the Camino de Santiago in the hamlet of Roncesvalles (Navarre) and Jose was just beginning a 450-mile/780KM walk across Spain. Their paths rejoined a month later in Santiago de Compostela and since then have not diverged.
Together they co-authored the chapters on Galicia, Cordillera Cantabrica (Picos de Europa) and the Camino de Santiago for Lonely Planet’s Walking in Spain (1999 and 2003 and Hiking in Spain, 2010) and co-authored Lonely Planet's 1st edition of Walking in Scotland (2001). Nancy and Jose started On Foot In Spain Walking & Hiking Educational Adventures in 1999. They have three children, Jacob (2 Feb 1999) Marina (05 Dec 2003) and Sam (27 Nov 2006), and live on the Galician coast.
Nancy L. Frey, PhD
Nancy on top of Mt. Dana, Yosemite circa 1978
Nancy’s love of hiking grew from annual summer trips to Yosemite led by a Dad who always knew the name of every tree and who reveled in leading his children to inspirational points. Thus it wasn’t too surprising that when she selected her subject material for her doctoral dissertation in cultural anthropology (UC Berkeley) one very attractive element of it was the prospect of traversing the north of Spain on foot.
Since her first walk in 1993, Nancy has walked the Camino de Santiago numerous times and cycled it as well. In her book on the modern day journey, Pilgrim Stories: On and Off the Road to Santiago (UC Press, 1998), Nancy brings to life the contemporary way by discussing pilgrims' motivations, mishaps and discoveries while walking as well as providing insights into why the route is so popular today.
In the late 1990s Nancy lectured for ElderHostel and the Smithsonian Institution on their educational tours in Spain, Portugal and France. She also taught a course on the Camino de Santiago at the University of Santiago. Nancy is currently researching the impact of the internet and mobile technologies on the pilgrimage experience and on being a pilgrim. Her website Walking to Presence is dedicated to sharing her research and insights on pilgrimage in the Internet Age and to helping travelers to reflectively engage more fully with their travel experiences.
One of Nancy’s favorite roles on tour is bringing to life the history and culture of the places we visit through a wide range of stories and consistently receives very positive feedback for how she conveys her knowledge. To learn more about this facet of the On Foot experience, read The Story Teller. In this photo, taken by client F. Fehr, Nancy has just told the group about the history of the special mountain village O Cebreiro and explained how and why the yellow arrows were invented.
In her free time she enjoys reading, swimming, kayaking, tending her flower garden and her hens as well as cooking savory pies and tarts.
Jose Daniel Placer
A native of Santiago de Compostela, Jose received his law degree from the University of Santiago and then made a 180 degree turn away from being a lawyer and back to his real passion: children and the outdoors. He has taught outdoor education and coached soccer, basketball and volleyball. He runs the children’s theater program for the local school where he writes and directs the plays.
With Europe as his backyard, Jose has hiked extensively both within and beyond Spain since he was a teenager. Despite having enjoyed the Italian Dolomites, and hiking in the Alps while studying law at the University of Passau in Germany, his favorite stomping ground continues to be Spain’s Picos de Europa.
Jose’s picnics have received tremendous praise over the years. When not on tour Jose lovingly tends his fruit orchard and garden and enjoys experimenting with new recipes from our own harvest.
Jose especially enjoys writing short stories, carpentry, restoring furniture, working his garden, kayaking and mountain biking.
ON FOOT PHILOSOPHY
Each time we set out on a trail we go with the idea that to walk is to learn. Slowing down to the rhythm of your feet inevitably brings more to your immediate attention and consequently allows for greater speculation and wonder. We abide and live by the slow travel, slow experience movement as an enriching way to experience a new culture.
On our journeys into northern Spain’s exceptionally beautiful back roads we want to give you the opportunity to challenge yourself physically (without overdoing) and at the same time pique your curiosity by pointing out the not so obvious as well as providing insights into the wonders of the everyday. In this photo, taken by traveler J. Laskall, she captured Jose demonstrating the usage of the Spanish botijo, glass wine holder, traditionally used by field workers.
Art, architecture, anthropology, folklore, history, Spanish fiestas, cuisine - we interlace them all into each day of your tour. Our carefully designed walks, combining charming accommodations in rural inns, monasteries, and hotels with the finest in local cuisine, will immerse you in the riches of northern Spain’s cultural life and landscapes.
ON FOOT FAMILY
After nearly 20 years of running On Foot in Spain, our family has grown up with the business. Nancy wrote a four-part series highlighting the challenges and joys of having their family grow up with On Foot in Spain as a constant presence. Over the years we have developed very special friendships with travelers from around the world who have joined us on 3, 4, 5 and even 6 trips! We feel very blessed indeed to have created a huge network of the On Foot Family around the world. Thank you to all of you who have made it possible. Please see our group photo gallery to enjoy the experiences of our some our 1500 clients on 160 tours in the last 18 seasons.
To read about the On Foot Family story, please read here.
Find out more about On Foot in Spain......contact us at
It’s been another great year thanks to all of you who make On Foot in Spain possible! Putting together our own 2013 On Foot “Year in Review” has brought back wonderful memories of amazing luck with rain seeming to be all around us except on top of us in both April and October, unbelievable wildflowers in June along the Camino, the richness of harvest time in Portugal and the stunning views in the Basque Country and Galicia that fill the heart and soul. One of the things I love about leading On Foot in Spain tours is that I am constantly taken back and reminded of what is most important in life: friendship and caring about one another, beauty found in nature, the thrill of knowing and challenging one’s body, the appreciation of the simple pleasures in life.
Memories flood into my mind of these simple pleasures from this last season – swimming in the cold, refreshing mountain waters of the Lor River in Galicia; eating one of Jose’s picnics after a long walk; leading people over a hill where I know a glorious view awaits them; getting to take my shoes off to walk down pristine Traba beach and watching the others ahead of me doing the same; foraging on blue berries, blackberries, grapes, apples and all the other gifts of the Camino; sharing some of these moments with Sam and watching him absorb it all like a sponge; hearing the storks from their weighty nests high upon the church towers; gorging on cherries in June in the Bierzo valley; milking sheep and tasting the fresh milk; listening to people’s stories and sharing my own…
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words so here is a collection of images from 2013 that we hope you will enjoy.
Nancy & Jose