Still moving, sadly

I used some of this title line back in a post on June 27 where I described that slowdown in both work on the vocabulary and my physical exertions.  However this month, August, was even worse both in terms of my progress, posting and personal life.

I’m not mugging for sympathy but last Saturday I was attending services for my sister, my only sibling, who died from pancreatic cancer on August 22nd.  There is a connection between her and my work on Spanish culinary terms which I’ll explain. Fortunately I was able to visit her while she was still lucid for her last (77th) birthday. Her death the day after my birthday was a shock. It was all very sudden. She loved her life and was looking forward to more of it – it’s not fair.

My sister loved travel. She had recently covered two places in the world she’d missed, Russia and India. She really only had one place left on her bucket list, Peru. Unlike me she’d been in Spain multiple times. IIRC her first visit was as a chaperone, cheerleader and tutor for her college’s football team, on one of those goodwill type visits of US sports teams to play exhibition games with European teams.

The reason my sister applies to this blog is that I had discussed with her my interest in learning to read restaurant menus in Spain, under the assumption that some day I would be doing it in person. She thought my idea was wrong; instead she advocated learning conversational Spanish so I could query the servers about the food. Her idea was one she had lived. She was more interested in food in Mexico but also learning Spanish. She made three trips, either to a Spanish-only cooking school or to live with families as process of learning “native” Spanish. She worked very hard at it (it was her fifth language). She even found Spanish speakers in her hometown in Ohio and shared cross-teaching where she’d help them with English and they’d help her with Spanish. In addition to Mexico she traveled to Puerto Rico primarily for restaurant visits but also she’d been to Guatemala (again with food but primarily art interest) and was learning Venezuelan cuisine from her friends in Ohio.

So she did what she advocated for me. But I never told her an anecdote about her Spanish. I have a sister-in-law who works on educational materials for ESL (English as a Second Language). She knows some Spanish but isn’t fluent. But her work brings her in contact with many native speakers. And she has a ear for languages. She had gone on a group trip to Oaxaca that my sister had organized and so observed her speaking to the locals. She joked that my sister’s accent was so bad she was barely understandable to native speakers. My sister had a PhD in English Literature and was very academically inclined, so naturally she had mastered grammar and vocabulary. But when it came to speaking she wasn’t great.

Now this anecdote also had a bearing on me. Just before I left California 20 years ago I had enrolled in Spanish classes. I’d gotten some books, a couple of DVDs and had tried to learn Spanish on my own. It was a complete failure. Having some conversational ability in Spanish, in California and some other parts of the USA is a survival skill. Most of the people I might hire as skilled labor for projects around my home had minimal English knowledge and so my being somewhat fluent in Spanish would have been helpful to discuss the work. Also on various bike rides I ended up in towns where the only language spoken was Spanish. But alas I have no talent for languages. I did learn some French and some German and could barely get by (using French in Quebec and German in Germany and Austria). But I just could never either hear or speak the sounds needed for Spanish. I sometimes watch Spanish TV programs here and the words go by so fast I catch almost nothing. It’s a hard language for me. OTOH, the written part is not so bad. Frankly it’s easier than either French or German and so I can do the “book learning” part of Spanish, much like my sister. But I suspect my accent would be far worse than hers and no one would understand me. So I’ll persist in my project focused on written materials, i.e. restaurant menus.

So that’s enough on that subject, why then am I labeling this post about my progress on my virtual trek. Despite spending most of August either driving or at my sister’s house I did manage to get some miles in.  As I mentioned in my previous post I was doing around 25 miles/month in the early months of the year but had fallen to about 14 miles/month. So in August I did manage 17.55 miles. Of course this is nothing compared to the requirements of pilgrimage on the Camino, literally my monthly amounts being around the requirement PER DAY! to complete the Camino in the standard time. But to my defense I also did 355 miles on stationary bike even in the few days I was at my home with my exercise equipment. And August was the end of my most recent year of records and so I’ve done 5698 miles of biking which isn’t too bad. In California where I regularly did recreational rides as well as commuting to work on a bike I only did about 4000 miles a year and that was 25 years younger than now.

In fact, even though walking seems the best way to do the Camino I am reconsidering whether I might try it on a bike instead. I once did a two week escorted trip in Germany where we averaged about 50 miles a day. But there the overnight stops were arranged and luggage was carried in the sag wagon. For the Camino it’s a bit tougher, both to find lodging (and even food) and carry cargo. I have done one bike camping trip along the California coast, again in the 50 mile/day range. Having all my camping gear on the bike made the riding more challenging (even requiring walking too very steep hills despite my low gears that had always worked, even in the Sierra Nevada climbs). It was quite a bit harder than an escorted trip. Of course all sorts of escorted trips exist for the Camino so maybe I’ll be realistic and do one of those.

So on the last day of August I did reach another destination along the Camino at 245.63 miles, the small town of Calzadilla de la Cueza. There are a couple of albergues (and some private rooms) and perhaps one restaurant (no online menu to translate). But what was a bit interesting was the previous stop with lodging and food was 10 miles earlier. On a bike that’s no big deal but on foot, if one had arrived at Carrión de los Condes and discovered there were no spaces continuing on to Calzadilla de la Cueza would be difficult. That is one of the challenges I see with my doing the Camino solo. I’m not quite as flexible as I was 50 years ago and so being relatively certain I have a reasonable place for overnight is pretty critical. So this gap I covered in August is the longest I’ve encountered thus far.

And this is one of the appeals of the Camino. It’s so popular there is a lot of infrastructure to support trekkers. In contrast the California coast (or even worse the trip across America) can have vast distances with little facilities, even water can be a challenge. OTOH, biking in Germany was fine as the distances between towns was a easy ride and there were many towns. BUT local customs matter – Germany had weekday ruhetags (rest days) and arriving in a town on that day, forget staying in the local gasthof. So a solo traveler can find themselves in a bit of a jam.

So again I may have to consider an escorted trip as my days of solo travel may be past.

So I hope to do a bit better this month on both my treadmill and biking distances. The visits to my sister interrupted my schedule but at least the last one where she was alive I will cherish and be happy I wasn’t on the Camino and unable to see her one last time. I will be glad to be home and exercising rather than that very sad traveling.

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