Do the miles count if you end up exactly where you started from?

    There are very few situations where I can really say that “there were signs”. However last month there were some things that really stuck out to me. Although… it could be that I have  been more open to hearing what the universe is telling me these days. Who knows?!

    Kind of on a whim, I decided to take a three week trip to Colombia (the country not the city in South Carolina). And on the last leg of my trip I planned to go to a silent meditation and yoga retreat about an hour outside of Medellin. (Future post about it) For this retreat, the meditation practitioner sent out a list of books and instructed us to pick a couple to begin reading in preparation and to read while at the retreat. Well, as I sat researching each book and stopped on one that caught my eye; the guy I’ve been spending a lot of time with recently, mentioned that he had that exact book. That did make me think that this specific person may be the one, but that’s NOT the sign I’m talking about! He loaned me the book and since then I sporadically read it. I finally got a chance to read a little more than a page and man this sign was loud!

    One of the first few chapters it explained that the moment of discomfort is the perfect teacher. If we pay attention in these exact moments we can see how we run and hide from our fears. We do just about anything to keep ourselves so busy that we can’t take it all in. We do this to protect ourselves. It’s right then that if we just simply turn around and stop running we can find a way to open up and relax and just be with our discomfort. As a society we are taught that being embarrassed, uncomfortable, or scared is a bad thing. But it’s then when we grow and more importantly learn about ourselves. Our deep, deep, inner self. Reading the book written by a famous Buddhist named Pema Chodron called When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times I begin to see how this lesson was so relevant to my life.

    Low and behold the next day, I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts called The Almost 30 podcast and there I heard another sign. This particular day I was listening to a solo episode by Lindsey Simcik and she was talking about this “holding pattern” she’s been stuck in for a while. It’s like your flying above the airport in a circle and never landing the plane. Sometimes we get stuck doing the same things over and over again. These don’t necessarily have to be bad habits but maybe things that aren’t producing any positive results. I took what she said about how she was going to live life with intention from now on in addition to the things I read in the book and began to realize that all the things I was feeling, reading and hearing were all gigantic signs for my own life.

    So with these two things on my mind I had a lot of thinking to do. Mind you, I’m in Colombia with lots of stuff to see and do. So, honestly I didn’t really get to process them all that much. Earlier in the week, I had scheduled a trip to go paragliding with some people at my hostel. The day came, I put on my bathing suit and got ready to jump on a boat. Welllllll…… that would be great if I planned on going parasailing. HAHAHA Why do I do these things to myself?? Why do I sign up for things that I know nothing about? When we were driving in the direction of the mountains I begin to realize that we in fact were not going to any body of water at all. I kept my cool and climbed up 100 stairs the side of a mountain. The next thing you know I was put into a harness, strapped to a Colombian gentleman and “practicing” running in place all within 3 minutes. The practicing took roughly 5.5 seconds and I was then RUNNING OFF A CLIFF!!! As we floated and spun, dipped down and soared back up, my eyes closed tightly, my heart sank as if I was riding a roller coaster. I hate rides of any type. Eventually with the help of the stranger strapped to my back I opened my eyes and began to look around. Once the shock wore off, I realized that we were literally flying next to birds, and overlooking the beautiful city of Medellin. As we drifted WAAAY above the trees I quickly became braver and was able to actually watch and enjoy all 15 minutes of the ride. But it came as a big surprise that when we landed we drifted down at the same exact spot that we had taken off from. My adrenaline was pumping at an all time high when my butt was dragged across the top of the mountain to a screeching stop. I jumped up and was soooo ready to do it all over again. Unfortunately, the line was super long and I felt like I had some thinking to do. Physically I landed back where I started but mentally, I was in a whole new universe!

    Paragliding was by far the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Upon finding out about my solo travels to many Latin American countries, people usually call me brave or courageous or even fearless. And I HAVE done a lot of things that scare me, like cave jumping, or walking up to a cute guy and hitting on him, but I am far from fearless. I just don’t really think about things before I do them. I’m a very impatient person and I don’t give the unknown and angst a chance to settle in. Which honestly I think is just as bad as if I let fear stop me from doing things. Both of those things ways to avoid the feelings that fear produces.

    What I’ve learned by reading Pema Chodron’s book is that recognizing that you are afraid of something is not enough. What I will work on doing from now on is noticing it, admitting it, and then simply sitting with it and dissecting how it makes me feel. The last part of getting real cozy with fear is where I’ll learn the most about myself. And I think that’s the first step to being more compassionate, patient and understanding with myself and other humans. The more we learn about ourselves, the more we learn about the world as a whole! I want to not only continue to do things that scare me but to actively look for things that make me nervous and uncomfortable. Being a well rounded individual is important to me but getting to know and trusting the deep down inside Jillian is paramount to anything else. That’s why when I heard the podcast about being in a holding pattern my ears perked up.

    It’s not only hard to recognize undesirable behavior within ourselves but  taking steps to change them can be particularly difficult also. Like I said before, being in a holding pattern, doing the same thing day in and day out doesn’t always mean that you are making terrible decisions. It’s easy getting comfortable in a routine and for a lot of us change is scary. It could be the fear that keeps us in those holding patterns. For me, living in Mexico City, blogging for Venture Road and teaching english was easy, fun and paying the very few bills I had. But honestly I didn’t feel useful. I wasn’t making a difference in anyone’s life, or learning anything new besides more Spanish, and I wasn’t living up to my potential. I wasn’t able to recognize that the fear of failure was keeping me there. Jumping back into the real world after traveling and being so free sounds scary. But I’ve been craving some stability and structure.

    So, yes I may have had to accidentally run off a cliff in Colombia to learn some very valuable life lessons but boy am I glad I did! I mentioned in a previous post that I was interested in possibly settling down a little bit in 2019 and I have been working on that. Hopefully I have great news to share and will be landing this bad boy at the airport soon! Stay tuned!

Does Santa come if you are 1,600 miles way from home?

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You can find Oaxaca roughly 285 miles (460 km) away from the hustle and bustle of one of the largest cities in Latin America, Mexico City. An easy six hour drive to reach an enchanted land full of the most delicious food, and the warmth only a small walkable city can provide. 6 hours sounds reasonable, right?! How about a 9ish bumper to bumper drive in a packed to the max car in holiday traffic sound? AMAZING! I shouldn’t complain because It actually wasn’t too bad. Most of the ride, I passed the time by teaching my roommate’s cute mom how to properly use English cuss words and discussing her dating life! I am clearly a relationship expert, duh! I in turn learned some very vulgar words in Spanish. She’s a cool mom! haha

We finally arrived to my roommate’s cousin’s house, tired and despite eating some gas station quesadillas and chips 2 hours before I was hungry as hell! I made my way to the center of town in a sketchy ass taxi (because obvs no Uber) that cost almost the same amount as the gas to get us the 285 miles. I met with my friend Heidi for a fancy dinner at the critically acclaimed Los Danzantes near the Zocalo. I think I’ve really evolved into a big city girl, having spent most of the last 12 years in Denver, but these trips to small villages really fill my heart up. The cocktails, dishes and my company were great at Los Danzantes but I tend to find that the food at the rundown, hole in the wall spots to be sooo much better. Ya know? The walk up, market stalls where you’re not really sure what you ordered and definitely can’t confirm if the lady behind the counter has washed her hands at all that day. Oaxaca was no different. I think that I was partially biased though, because this magical town reminded me of Antigua, Guatemala, where I spent about 5 months getting a TEFL certification and teaching english for a bit. These small villages lend a vibe that you can’t find just anywhere. The people are so friendly, life moves at a much slower pace and you can see the history in every building. I enjoyed time just wondering the streets, and drinking coffee in small cafes. We also had fun visiting a few great museums, and attempting to see some weird, crazy radish festival called “Noche de Rábanos. It was hot as balls, so while Heidi waited in line for like 45 minutes, I retreated to a nearby bar for a cocktail and ceviche. I saw some of the exhibits from outside but a girl can only step so far out of her comfort zone, ya know!

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All of the museums and wondering kept me pretty busy so I was happy to catch a chill, late brunch with an acquaintance (Rose) from none other than good ol’ Antigua, Guatemala. For whatever reason we hadn’t really connected back in Guate, but it turns out that we had so much in common. One thing we really bonded over was that we would be spending Christmas eve and Christmas alone this year for the first time ever. We went through all the emotions, discussing our sadness and anxiety about being by ourselves this holiday season. Last year, I was away from my family, but I had my Guatemala crew to ease the pain. Shout out to those crazies! This one was going to be a little different, and I had suspected a little bit more difficult. We drown our sorrows by flirting with other travelers, allowing lonely locals to make us feel like the Kardashians, and getting in a fight with a sassy gay guy at the hot dog stand after the club. Whewwww… we had fun!

Which made it even more difficult to leave the next day. After opening up and spilling my guts and connecting with her I couldn’t imagine leaving her in a hostel, and heading home to an empty apartment. Before I knew I would see her in Oaxaca I unfortunately made a plan to catch a flight back to Mexico City on Christmas Eve.  Because Christmas for Mexicans is a very family oriented holiday, my logic was that if I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself and leave my apartment, there would be much more open in the big city. So after a quick breakfast and nieve quemada con tuna (which is this delicious creamy sherbert ice cream stuff) I hailed a taxi, hugged her tight and was on my way to the airport.img_0244

I’m sure you can just imagine Oaxaca is a small town, therefore the airport is pretty tiny too. It took me all of 5 ½ seconds to get through security and make my way to my gate with a couple hours to spare. There was I think maybe 10 gates or so in one medium sized room. I browsed Instagram for most of the two hour wait, called Erin and Carter, my sister, nothing too crazy. So, when the screen in front of me said there was a 40 minute delay, I didn’t think anything of it. But there was a slight confusion when it was time to board, and my ticket read zone C and the signs above said Zone 1, 2, and 3. I was just like oh whatever, little mistake. I’ll just wait for everyone to board, and then I’ll board. After all it is just a 1.5 hour flight. WELL, WELL, WELL…. I was at the WRONG FREAKING GATE THE WHOLE TIME!!! AND my real flight had left 40 minutes prior. My shock was unimaginable. I have probably flown like 100 times a year for the last decade or so. I AM a seasoned traveler, an expert airport aficionado!!! And last time I checked I can read, and have 2 working ears. Apparently, none of that came into play when they called my name 5 times. Some people have suggested that maybe I didn’t understand my name in Spanish but at the very least I know what my last name sounds like! It’s the same in English and Spanish. After coming to the realization that there were no other flights out that day, and that I was such an idiot, I grabbed a taxi back to the center of the city. I had tears in my eyes, from shame, and embarrassment and also because Rose, Erin, my sister, or Katelyn weren’t answering their phones to hear about my mega fucking fail! But then it dawned on me! I wouldn’t be spending Christmas Eve or Christmas alone anymore! Something of a bigger power made me miss my flight! When Rose finally called me back, I cried telling her what had happened and that I was immediately coming to her wherever she was.

We were reunited at a pizza place near the zocalo, and even though the pizza sucked, my Christmas carpaccio and bottle of Lambrusco (and her presence) really soothed my sad heart!! We were together and it felt like we were exactly where we were supposed to be after all. We watched the sunset, finished up dinner and set off to find some life, and boy did we find some! It turns out that Christmas eve in Oaxaca is actually a huge party! At first we ran into a small parade of locals celebrating with mezcal, huge puppets, and the most adorable girls dancing to Mexican music. So we followed for a little bit, and the crowds just grew and grew. One parade merged with another and before you know it there were thousands of people following the procession through the streets of Oaxaca. We didn’t dare leave the gentlemen with the huge baskets full of fireworks on their heads. Things were definitely going to get lit real soon! The firework shows were CRAZY! Not only because they were cool to watch but also because you feared for the man’s and your own life. There were many times where I took cover because there was so much fire shooting in every direction! It was quite the site to see though, and I could definitely feel the Christmas spirit in the air.img_0274img_0728

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Pictures by: Rose Gasperini 🙂

I even got a bacon wrapped hot dog from a street vendor to commemorate the occasion. All day my mind was doing over time going between being upset, sad, and relieved and really just missing a familiar place and face so at this point I was emotionally exhausted from the day. We got some hot chocolate and headed home, and I was relieved to have an entire hostel dorm room to myself.

Christmas day, after a delicious quesadilla and jamaica in the local market for lunch, I made the trek back to Mexico City on a greyhound bus. Once I arrived I realized that SANTA DOES COME even if you’re 1,600 MILES AWAY FROM HOME! Oaxaca, and Rose were my Christmas gifts this year, and I am so thankful!! Oaxaca, Oaxaca you so fine, you so fine you blow my mind, Oaxaca! Hey, hey Oaxaca!

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Just the beginning of the end- Camino de Santiago 2018

20181129_113210     November 28th, 2018. This day seemed to drag on a tad bit more than other days on the camino. Which seems like a blessing now.

     We walked and walked and walked. I know it was late because it was dark when we began our quite literal decent into our final destination. The rainy walk into the center of Santiago de Compostela seemed like it was never going to end. We reached the official Santiago sign but we still had a ways to go to reach our goal.

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📸 by: @masuyeon88

📸 by: @meincamino18

     So, we did what any normal group of weary walkers did when things got daunting on the camino… stop for chupitos! (Shots) Just like every other day, some of us were happy to make a short detour and some rolled their eyes refusing to enjoy or participate. And, in their defense this was one of many, many, MANY detours that kept us from reaching our daily goal. So I get it, but I definitely partook in the “almost there” celebration. We WERE going to make it to the Cathedral that night through hell or high water! (Is that a religious saying? Haha I don’t know but it seemed to fit.)

     Earlier someone had mentioned to us that back in the old days, the first person in the group to catch a glimpse of the cathedral was known as the King for the rest of the day. Some of the more competitive people took this to heart and any chance they got, would take off running in hopes of being first. This was all for a good laugh because we all knew that we would enter the square together… as a family. So when we sensed the Cathedral right around the corner, we grabbed each others hands and made our final steps into the square. OR SO WE THOUGHT! Picture 9 adults (+ 1 dumb, idiot, trump loving, American man) holding hands, trying to find the square. Which ended up still being like 3 blocks away. And we kept holding hands the whole. Entire. Way. Bahahaha If the Spanish people weren’t already annoyed with the thousands of pilgrims that flood their city daily, we definitely made sure to help with that!

     After 47 days, my camino finally came to an end. I made it to Santiago, my whole camino family in tow!  WE made it to Santiago!

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lrg_dsc01878📸 by: Javier Fernández

📸 by: @minima_90

 

     I desperately wanted to write a post about how the Camino de Santiago changed me mentally, spiritually and… shit… even physically. I fully intended for one of my posts while walking the camino to be named “Well there goes my foot modeling career” but in fact my feet held up way better than I had expected. There was that little stint of tendinitis in the beginning and a couple of blisters a few days in. But once those healed I was good. I had done one long hike prior to going, and not very much else. My whole body surprised the shit out of me in fact.

     At the beginning of the camino I knew I’d be meeting new people and having little camino families but I was there for myself. To find myself, to figure out myself and to be with MYSELF. Besides a few groups here and there, I hadn’t really been apart of a real, solid group since the beginning. I hadn’t found a camino family. I wasn’t even sure I wanted a camino family. Then one day thanks to my camino emotional support animal I found them! I was convinced by said support animal with a melted McDonald’s hot fudge sundae to take a day off to wait for the rest of “his group”.

     I’d classify myself as being a strong, independent woman, that doesn’t need anyone. So, I was skeptical to say the least.  But when they finally all trickled in, and I let go of the feeling similar to interviewing for a job, I really started to enjoy their company. I knew this was going to be a good fit! We had a great day of exploring, and eating our way around Ponferrada. So much so that the next day when we didn’t start walking until almost 2PM I didn’t lose my shit, even when I wanted to, I stuck with them.

     I am an extremely impatient person so it came as no surprise at maybe the 2 week mark with the full group (8-9 people) that I became extremely annoyed when not everyone moved at my quick pace. And that goes for doing almost anything. Waking up, eating, breaking during the day, walking, talking… everything. I have come very accustomed to being by myself and doing whatever I want during the last 2 years of traveling.

     There was a particular day in which I had honestly gotten to my breaking point of waiting for everyone else. I had spent every waking moment with my new found camino family and I needed some damn time alone. I needed to do my own thing and move at my own pace. I think I’ve mentioned that I am extremely impulsive, right? So, when the group decided to stop walking after only 6 or 7 miles with multiple breaks, I was so annoyed and decided to leave and keep walking. In their defense, it was rainy, and the day wasn’t very ideal, but we had a plan, and I was going to stick to it.  I said goodbye to the few people in the group that were with me, fully aware that I may never see them again. It sounds a bit dramatic, but that’s how the camino works. You may see someone again, but it’s likely that you may not. I hugged the only camino family I had, one by one. Leaving my most favorite for last: Daniel, my camino, emotional support animal. As our bodies separated I felt the tears welling up in my eyes. I felt actual feeling… for the first time in a very long time! It’s no surprise that I absolutely hate saying goodbye. I always have and suspect I always will. I can remember when I was maybe 9, my older brother Daniel (different Daniel) left for like a 2 week trip to Japan, and there I was balling my eyes out, like I would never see him again. Spoiler alert: he came back, lost all of his disposable cameras, never to return to Japan again. But anyway, I left my camino family, walked another 3 or so miles, crying the entire way, asking myself why I just left them. Regardless, I don’t go back on my decisions. I do what I say and I say what I do, so I continued to walk. Even in the midst of the crying and the rain when I dropped my THIRD cell phone (on the camino) and the screen cracked, I continued to walk. I got to the hostel, and when I met another group of pilgrims, I basically begged them to invite me to dinner. They graciously obliged, and we had a fun night. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about the group I left, the entire time. Even still, the next morning I got up, broken heart and all and set out for the next town.

     There were many days before this that I had walked alone. There was even stretches where 3 days passed and I hadn’t had a real conversation with another human at all. I walked that day, and got a chance to really digested the day before. And when the next town had a very popular pulpería (A restaurant that serves octopus) I knew I had to stop. So, I did, sent my location in the group text and settled in, preparing to wait it out. Much to my surprise I only had to wait 4-5 hours for them to catch up. When they arrived I felt so good. It felt right. Like many times before, we took over our own hostel room (because of the size of our group) we moved the bunk beds together to accommodate the 2 couples in the group, and ALL was right in the world. That night was one of my most favorite on the camino! We went out to dinner, did tons of chupitos (shots) and took a bunch of photos. All of that reassured me that despite the day before, I was right where I was supposed to be. But I did have to leave them to realize it.

     I’m back home in Mexico now and trying to figure out A. How I feel about my experience and B. what was so difficult about writing a blog post while on my journey. I struggled the whole time about what to write, how to write about it, and why I wasn’t feeling more feelings.

     While there I realized that I’ve become a very non emotional person over the last few years. So acknowledging, accepting, and then dealing with feelings has also become incredibly difficult. Maybe not difficult, maybe just different. Different than the way I dealt with things previously. But now that the experience has ended and I have the time to reflect on my feelings and I’m sitting here typing; there WAS one recurring feeling that kept popping up during my time in Spain. And it has managed to stick with me to this day. I’m incredibly nervous. No. scared. (Are those to words the same) Scared/ nervous that I didn’t do it “right”. WHY THE FUCK DID I JUST DO THAT?! Why did I just walk for 48 days? Am I still searching for the reason, the meaning, the life changing lesson I learned while hiking across Spain. Did I cure what ails me? Is that even possible? Per my previous blog post.. did I figure it out? Is it possible that I didn’t have a life changing epiphany while hiking 500 miles? I KNOW, that there is no right way and I should stop worrying about it. My rational mind knows that. And like the famous camino quote reads “Caminante no hay camino se hace camino al andar” or “Walker, there is no path, the path is made by walking”. And I’ve chosen to interpret that as: OF COURSE there is no “right” way of doing anything…. especially life. As I’m writing this it all makes sense. I didn’t change on this journey. I DIDN’T NEED TO CHANGE. I’ve done some wild shit, made some crazy decisions and what has always remained a constant is what I love and care about the very most can be summarized in one simple word: COMMUNITY.

     I literally just went to google community for the definition to further drive home my point. But I don’t need to google the definition. MY definition is love; doing what other people want to do even when you don’t want to; caring to ask people a million annoying questions; listening to them sing in the shower; secretly taking ugly pictures of them and embarrassing them later; giving them silly nicknames; hugging; kissing; holding hands; picking up the entire tab for the group at a bar; cooking them dinner; helping wash and dry dishes because you don’t know how to cook; having a group chat and waking up to tens of hundreds of messages; crying when you leave them; but holding on to the hope that you will see them again. That’s community and I needed to walk almost 500 miles to realize that above all else I’ve been missing that in my life.

     There have been sooo many amazing groups that I have been apart of: There was a dinner party group I can remember being apart of when I was in middle school, my Syrup fam, my TEFL group in Guatemala, and now my camino family. GOD I love you guys soooo FREAKING much!! All of those groups naturally grew or physically we all moved apart. It’s so sad, but that’s life! I think that’s what racking up all these “miles”, before and after the camino, has really been about… finding MY community. It might be time to settle down a bit. I don’t know when, where or how but I foresee in the near future, NEVER less “miles” but maybe a more permanent place to call home!

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Top from left: Jinhe (South Korea), Daniel (Germany), ME, Daniela (Italy), Katherine (Belgium), Javier (Spain)

Bottom from left: Lucia (Spain), Serry (South Korea), Daniele (Italy), Roger (Spain)

This post is dedicated to my amazing camino family: the day I don’t wake up to at least one text, will be a very sad and tragic day.  XOXO ❤️

Every Step Is A Step Of Strength

   20181017_105850.jpg      The title of this blog post is a corny quote from one of my favorite aussies, Duncan. He is better know as one half of the Hitch and Dingo hiking duo. And also one half of my favorite engaged couple, Kate and Duncan. They continue to amaze me by traveling around the world, hiking and not killing one another. They have hiked The Appalachian AND The Pacific Coast Trail, so I shouldn’t make too much fun of him. Little did I know I would soon need his silly, trail wisdom after all.

     October 11th, I was finally on my way to St. Jean Pied de Port. I left Vic on the CORRECT train at the ungodly hour of 5 am headed for Barcelona. Because i respect your internet browsing time I will make a short story even shorter. Just imagine the wannabe backpacker having a quarter life crisis sitting on a completely packed train, not being able to see around Big Berth ( My backpack). And yes, of course there were overhead racks for such an occasion… but of course I didn’t notice until it was too late. I couldn’t even see out the window to see which stop we were at so I had to ask people around me. When I arrived in Barcelona, I discovered that the train I intended on taking to SJPP was full, and I’d have to take one 5 hours later. This, like a lot of other mishaps could’ve been avoided. But for some reason I have a huge problem committing to something so simple, like buying a 30€ train ticket. So, I wait until the very last minute, every. Single. Time. I think this probably stems from overwhelming anxiety of anticipating that I’ll experience FOMO or fear of missing out. Very technical term there. I always dream up that I’ll meet some wealthy sugar daddy type on the way, fall in love (instantly) and he’ll whisk me off to some bed and breakfast in New Mexico. Oh wait, believe it or not that actually HAS happened! Therefore, my anxiety is valid. He also had multiple kids, and probably a secret wife. Ughhh… men are the worst. But that’s a story for my future best selling memoir.

   Anyway, I made it to SJPP, and I was feeling pretty good. I checked in, and prepared for the camino family dinner. All 14 of the guests gathered outside on the patio not knowing what to expect. There were a slew of Brazilians, a Finnish man, a Swiss lady, and another young American girl. We all introduced ourselves, and gave our camino a short title. Some of the group members said things like “Finding myself, “Proving to myself that I can do it”, “Stepping away from life to think”, or even “Stepping away from life to not think”. Being the creative, witty gal that I am, I thought of many (inappropriate) ideas. But when it was my turn I ended up going with “Figuring it out”. Looking back now, I really didn’t know and still don’t know what the title of my camino is. In all reality all of those titles said by others could fit for me, but, really I have no idea. What am I figuring out? I guess for a lack of better words, I’m still figuring out, what I’m here figuring out. It’s a hard question to answer, but I’m glad it was brought up because now I’m constantly thinking about it. We ate, shared, and then went to bed anticipating the first day of our camino. Boy, I had no idea what I was in for.

    I woke up early, ate some breakfast, and only drank a little bit of coffee because honestly the hiking master (Duncan) had made me nervous about having to poop on the trail. He asked if I had some poop tool, that I had never heard of, and didn’t have and then sent me some link (that I didn’t click) to some website. After breakfast an angel that worked there, adjusted my backpack in which I am forever grateful for. Had he not, I would have been wearing it all wrong and been in a lot of pain. Who knew your arms go through the straps and not your legs?? Despite what I had heard, I originally thought I’d do most of the walking alone. I have a lot of stuff to “figure out” and I assumed that was best done solo. But that morning I started getting very nervous when I realized that I really didn’t even know which way to turn when I walked out of the front door. So, I shyly asked the other American Girl named Lucy if she wanted to walk together, at least for a little bit. I am SO glad she said yes! We would end up walking and basically spending the next 4 days together. But that day in particular I was so incredibly grateful for her.

     The beginning of the day, though not something I would call easy was pretty uneventful. We walked, gossiped about boys, and got to know each other a little bit. As we made our way into the Pyrenees Mountains, that create a natural border between France and Spain… SH*T GOT REAL! The steep climbs were nothing compared to the speed of the wind that day. This wind was something I would only imagine happens during hurricanes or tornadoes. There were many, many times that Lucy and I had to completely stop and hold on to each other to prevent from blowing off a cliff. There were so many little old ladies hiking that day too, and I haven’t the slightest clue how they stayed on the ground. The wind really slowed us down, and made a long day even longer. Roncesvalles was already anticipated to be about an 18 mile, 7 hour hike but  turned out to be over 8 hours, and by far the most difficult thing physically I’ve ever done in my entire life.

     Although, we were equipped with a sandwich for lunch you can imagine the thoughts going through my head when we got wind (Punny, huh?) that there was a “food truck” maybe half a mile ahead about 5 hours into our hike. Being from Denver, my mouth was watering at the thought of tex-mex street tacos, huge fried chicken sandwiches, or even a hot, greasy grilled cheese. The disappointment that washed over me when we walked up to find a grumpy man selling Lipton Ice Tea in the can, hard boiled eggs, and nasty knock off, chocolate, Little Debbie snacks out of his van was indescribable. If you can’t imagine, I was pissed! Not to mention that this a$$hole had a sign on his dumb van that read 1km up, 5km flat, 5km down. Ok, I don’t even know the conversion between kilometers and miles, but that seemed pretty doable. Well guess what?! THOSE MEASUREMENTS WERE NOT ACCURATE!!! I’m not sure if he has that up as a joke, but it WAS NOT funny! Everytime we got up one steep hill, and turned the corner… there was another one waiting for us. Not to mention the multiple times, one or both of us weren’t paying attention, and almost went the wrong direction. I was so tired, my feet hurt, and honestly had it not been for Lucy I don’t know if I would have been able to finish that day. The first freaking day! My feet felt like they were going to fall off and I started considering taking my hiking boots off and trying barefoot. I’d soon learn that toward the end of each day is when it turns into a mind game. Inner Jillian starts thinking about all those races I ran in high school in which I was sure I couldn’t finish, but ended up pushing myself and getting a personal record. This is also where I start audibly cursing things, and even on occasion crying. Sometimes the only thing that gets me through is dreaming about all the food and wine I can have at dinner, IF I make it.

     I’m happy to report that day 1 has been the hardest day thus far. The first week and roughly about 100 miles is now behind me, and I can’t explain how exhausted, but proud of myself I am. Something I was explaining to other pilgrims one night at dinner is that in my current life there aren’t very many wins. And that’s not to say that there are only losses, because there aren’t too many of those either. But accomplishing something new, that I never even knew I wanted to achieve is a HUGE win for me. So much so that on day 2 when Lucy and I willingly walked into a thunder, lightening and rain storm, and my dumba$$ put my 72 hour old new phone in the wrong damn pocket of my rain jacket and it got soaked and stopped working; or on day 6 when I realized I have definitely have tendonitis in my achilles tendon and will have to take a few days off for rest, it didn’t faze me one bit. Lucy kept saying how shocked she was about how calm I was about that phone. I don’t want to put any negative energy out into the world but what really can faze me at this point? Every day, every town I reach, every step makes me feel stronger physically, and mentally than I have ever felt in my whole life. So, Duncan was right. I’m not sure what the rest of this camino has instore for me but I’m excited and optimistic that I’m a little bit closer to “figuring it out”… whatever it is.

 

The Storm Before The Calm

     First off, I’d like to share a direct quote from my son/friend/fan Jaime Rivera “You’re terrible at blogging”.

I KNOW THIS!! And I’d like to thank everyone who has reached out to tell me such. Haha I have been pretty tired walking anywhere from 12-15 miles per day but also I get soops distracted with Instagram and Facebook on the daily and lack real motivation. There I said it! I’m a millennial after all, duh!

   With that being said I appreciate and love that you guys are anticipating reading my blog! So without further ado….

    The ol’ saying goes “the calm before the storm”. But the last month or so has been anything but calm and definitely a (sh*t) storm. So, I think the saying backwards fits better in my situation.

    That just reminded me of 2002 Missy Elliot: “I put my thing down, flip it and reverse it

Ti esrever dna ti pilf, nwod gniht ym tup

Ti esrever dna ti pilf, nwod gniht ym tup”

Bahahaha and that’s the blog ya’ll. You’re welcome! Just kidding!

    Almost exactly a month has passed since I wrote the last post and I can’t even freaking believe it. It feels like just yesterday I was at the restaurant across the street from my house in Mexico writing it and planning for my big adventure. So much has happened since:

    I left Mexico City on September 29th just in time to surprise my babe Carter in Orlando, Florida for his 12th birthday!20181019_2208111539463385.jpg I could go on for days but for those that don’t know Carter, he is my most favorite human on the whole planet! I started as his nanny about 10 years ago and the Kelly’s haven’t been able to get rid of me since! (Or ever!!) They have helped me prepare and have sent me off on many an adventure in the past. So, it was only fitting that they were the ones to drop me off at the port this time too. On October 1st, the nerves only started setting in as we got to the curb and like she always does, Erin ensured me that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be in life, Carter hugged me, and I was off.

   The night before Erin and I sorted through all of my stuff and got it down to a reasonable 19 pounds. But moving through the airport with my pack was still no easy feat. The backpack is BIG! It only took like 5 accidents for me to realize how big the backpack actually is while on my back. I hit so many people while turning around, knocked a drink over on the bar and almost tipped over (because I’m so petite HAHA) within like 30 minutes of being at the airport. God, if that doesn’t scream inexperienced, wannabe backpacker having a quarter life crisis, I don’t know what does.

    At that point, the fact that I’d be carrying nineteen pounds on my back for the next 5-6 weeks AND also that I only had two pairs of clothes, 1 pair of boots, a fleece jacket, flip flops, and basically my toothbrush to walk over 500 miles were equally terrifying. I would by no means refer to myself as super girly or fashionable, but the thought of wearing dry fit clothes and no makeup for 6 weeks straight felt and still feels disgusting. And I am no way shape or form a savvy outdoorsy hiker so prior to this I didn’t even own any of this stuff. Needless to say I was extremely clueless looking for those zip off, swishy shorts/pants things and really everything else in REI. As a matter of fact, the first time I went shopping I got too overwhelmed, left empty handed and bailed to get a margarita instead. I am pretty proud of my backpack and all its contents now though!

   So, I finaggled my way into a 16 hour layover in London and landing at 7am seemed like a great way to get the most out of the trip! Right? Wrong. I should’ve known that I never sleep good on flights unless I’m in first class. (Which I’ve only flown in once. And it was magical! That IS where I belong!) I was soooo exhausted when I arrived, but I still jumped on the metro bound for the London Eye! When I saw that long a$$ line to get tickets I definitely considered just getting a hostel bed and napping for a bit. But alas I did not. I just thought to myself “This would’ve been taken care of IF there was wi-fi in coach. Ugh, so rude.” Anyway, I drank 2 coffees and 2 energy drinks within 2 hours of landing and the London Eye was great! It’s a huge ferris wheel that allows you to see everything near and far. (Lack of photos will be explained below) I meandered around London on foot for a really long time, moseyed (just googled how to spell that word) past the Palace of Westminster where I said what’s up to Big Ben, and then found myself in front of Kensington Palace. It was magnificent and I couldn’t help but thinking about that childhood picture of Meghan Markle outside the shiny gates. I could’ve had one of those to show the world one day, had I not forgotten my selfie stick. Typical Jillian. Eh, I was fine without it. After a long day of exploring I almost missed my flight because I clearly can’t read a map and got on the wrong train. So, I had to beg a nice man at the train station desk to let me charge my phone so I could call an uber. Got to the airport, realized I left my backpack in a locker at the opposite side of the airport, ran, got it, stopped at a pub for bangers and mash to take with me, chugged a beer, and made it to my gate with no time to spare!

    I arrived in Barcelona a little after midnight, and slept like a freaking baby! The next day, I was off to the races and was reunited with a long lost love of mine. The tortilla española! This heavenly dish is basically a fluffy omelet filled with white potatoes and onion and cut into pie pieces. Sounds pretty boring, huh? And don’t get me wrong, it is. But the simplicity is so delicious. Back in 2011, when I studied abroad in Spain and my palate was less refined, I ate it like twice a day. It brought back fond memories of sippin’ sweet sangria and lollygagging around Madrid with my bestie MK! This time it took roughly 2 days to get tired of it. I found a champagne bar where the bartender seemed to like me! My flirting skills were on point that night and my spanish is good enough these days, so I don’t come across as an American and I’m pretty proud of that. He was slaggin’ delicious tapas and kept the Cava flowin’! And at 1.50€ a glass I had no objections.

    A couple days later I got to reconnect with an old friend and her mom from back home, and honestly I couldn’t have asked for more. Traveling gives me a sense that the world is standing still. Who cares what’s happening back home or in the states? I was able to enjoy myself without a care in the world! That is until my iphone got stolen (or lost)!!! We went to the Obama bar and next thing ya know it’s gone. Must’ve been a real good thief too, because it was never turned on again so find my iphone was no help. I’m so lucky to have had Katelyn and her momma there to help in my time of need. I tried to repay them with a nice dinner the next night but my debit card got declined. How. Freaking. Embarrassing?! I really shouldn’t have been surprised because this happens to me ALL the time. I get it, my bank is trying to protect me from fraudulent charges. Especially since I had been in 4 different countries in 7 days. But god damn it, not now! It did help that The Real Madrid soccer team was staying at our same hotel that night and we got to watch them walk in. Nothing to report there though. Unfortunately, I’ve put my professional athlete days behind me. Sorry Renaldo!

   The next morning I felt completely and utterly defeated. I cried on the closed toilet seat and honestly considered going back to Mexico. This isn’t the first and probably not the last time as a solo traveler I’ll feel like this. It’s rough when you’re in an unknown place and feel like there’s absolutely nothing you can do. And my stubborn butt HATES asking for help or depending on people. But I got a pep talk and remembered that sh*t happens and I’d be fine. I said goodbye to them with the 25€ Annie so graciously gave me and the (used) toothbrush Katelyn let me use because I couldn’t find mine. I had a train to catch to Vic to see my good friend Ashlie. Got on the wrong train, (which is becoming a recurring thing) fell asleep, and woke up 2 hours south of my desired destination. I cried for the second time that day, and a sweet lady helped me find the correct route. Since I didn’t have a phone I was absolutely sure Ashlie wouldn’t be there waiting for me when I arrived… but SHE WAS! I cried a third time when I hugged her, so grateful to be her problem now.

    Vic was a quaint little spanish town where mostly Catalan is spoken and the food is damn good. I chilled out, and regained my confidence at Ashlie’s apartment for a couple of days, acquired a new not so cheap prepaid phone and finally began making my way to St Jean Pied de Port, France where I’d begin my 500+ hike!

Intro: A Jillian Facts

   True story: Back in 2012, after returning home from a semester abroad in Spain, I landed a job waiting tables at the hippest breakfast restaurant in Denver, CO. It was the first day of orientation and along with maybe 20 strangers I sat in a brand new remodeled restaurant in downtown Denver, ready to sample some bacon. One of the managers, who’d soon become one of my dearest friends (Dana) passed around a roll of toilet paper and instructed everyone to take as many sheets as they wanted. No other directions. (V important detail) So, I watch as these sissy’s take 1… 2, maybe 5 pieces. When the roll finally gets to me, I take no less than THIRTY sheets of toilet paper. I’m sure at this point my best friend Michael (who got me the job) is rolling his eyes all the way into the back of his head. Anyway….. Dana, then reveals that we would be introducing ourselves to the group and providing facts about who we are. For each sheet of paper we took, we were forced into providing one fact about ourselves. Needless to say, I was there giving arbitrary facts to a bunch of strangers for what felt like hours. Despite not knowing it then, I now realize that this would quickly become a great example of who I am and what kind of decisions I make. Still to this day.

   Hello everyone! My name is Jillian Renee Salazar, I am extremely impulsive, and I love attention! Welcome!

   Which brings us to today. The end of September is approaching and I am about to embark on perhaps the biggest…and scariest adventure to date. Let’s start from the beginning. I’ll try not to go on for hours this time. I hail from the boring city of Colorado Springs, Colorado. My siblings and I were raised by an incredibly hard-working, single mother, who growing up always told us “I don’t care what you do, just see the world!”. So, that’s exactly what I did. Shout out Mom for the great advice!

   Spain was the first country I’d ever traveled to outside of the US and after that I hit the ground running. I have been traveling around the world consistently for about a year and a half now. My adventures have taken me to many of the states within the contiguous US, Hawaii, Greece, Guatemala, Ireland, Belize and Mexico. And in true, unpredictable Jillian fashion, in about 10 days I will be off to the next adventure! Extremely unprepared, very nervous, and sooooo freaking excited. I will have come full circle, returning to Spain to WALK the 500 mile Camino de Santiago! Starting at the border of France and ending at the west end of Spain in Santiago de Compostela.

   On August 25th, 2018 I met a women named Marianne at a suburban mom book club in Boulder. (Don’t ask, lol) Marianne casually mentioned she had done the Camino earlier this year. It was then in that very moment that I decided that I too would be doing this walk. And hey, why not in a month?! Yes, I am a born and raised Colorado native, but you are more likely to find me boozing it up at brunch on any given Sunday, than enjoying a nice brisk hike in the beautiful Rocky Mountains. I’ve never even been skiing or snowboarding for God’s sake! I use to be able to call myself a runner. I can proudly say that my sister Sarah and I were quite successful in track and field in middle and high school, but realistically the last time I ran a race was the Bolder Boulder a couple of years ago. My best friend Erin and I got swept up near the end. And if you don’t know race lingo, swept up = slow as f*ck. So slow that a golf cart picks you up and takes you to the end. LOL I’ll blame that one on all the mimosas during the race though. Any who, that’s where I’m at today.

I can proudly say, one of my best qualities is that when I proclaim that I’m going to do something… gawd damn it, I’M GON’ DO IT! I’m a woman of my word! So, before returning to Mexico City (where I call home these days) I ran around buying expensive hiking gear and thanks to Marianne making somewhat of a plan. I have been carb loading on tacos: for gains duh, and praying to who knows who to help me through this. I hear the first step is always the hardest. I invite you all to tag along and check out my blog every now and then. I intend for this blog to not only serve as a place to document my feelings while walking the Camino, but also to record some of my life “miles”. Something I’ve learned while traveling and you’ll catch onto quickly is I don’t know sh*t. Like, nothing. About anything. I’m learning who I am, what I want my legacy to be and just doing my best to be a good human. (Which is much harder than we all think.)

   On a more serious note, I’d like this blog to capture all the things… physically, mentally, & emotionally that I’ve been experiencing while being a solo, female traveler, being away from my family, and honestly not knowing what the hell I’m doing with my life at any given moment. Life is a long trip full of different terrains. So, let’s go… It’s only a jillian miles!

 

For more info about the Camino de Santiago:

https://www.caminoadventures.com/camino-frances/

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