18 July, 2017

Camino Travel Lessons: Flow with It

I don't always do well with travel nightmares, whether acts of God or humans. Making our way on two caminos did help me learn a bit of zen in travel matters. We, my 13 year old son and I, are just back from two weeks in Europe on a Baltic cruise and a few days in Copenhagen, and while the majority of the trip flowed well there were some snags for us and our travel companion, a camino friend from the 2016 camino.

We met Diane on the trail near Melide in 2016 and entered Santiago de Compostela together

Planning is probably my forte, it's my strongest Virgo trait. I am all for wanderlust and unstructured days but when turning your money and travel time over to someone else's hands, be it an airline, bus company or the TSA planning makes sense.  I'm also hamstrung by a custody agreement that limits our travel time together (yes I'm bitter about that).

I also try to maximize cost savings with points and loyalty programs to get the most out of a current and future trips, a game the travel industry plays with us. Play it well and see more of the world.

The airline industry changes daily in favor of the companies not the customers, and I find European airlines still provide better service than American ones when going to Europe, with the major exception of Norwegian Airlines.  They are a no fly zone for me. British Airways, Air France, Icelandic and Aer Lingus have all provided good service to us recently, including a tiny pillow and blanket, no upcharge on bulkhead seats (if you know how to get it) and palatable food. Norwegian left us sitting on the floor of a crummy JFK terminal for six hours with one overflowing bathroom and no food or water available, with a kid, without explanation nor compensation. We missed our connecting flights on Iberia and had to buy all new tickets and spend a night in Copenhagen ($$$) so those "cheap" tickets cost plenty in time, money and aggravation.  This past week my travel companion received a text the morning of her flight on Norwegian telling her the flight was cancelled.  Since she had two connecting flights in Europe back to Texas, including an overnight hotel, this created some havoc. With two iPads and two iPhones working the problem for an hour, I noticed a second text come in basically saying ignore the first text.  I was on a "live chat" with Norwegian for 26 minutes trying to get them to confirm their flight was indeed going to happen. Had we hit "buy" on the replacement tickets, she would have been out a big chunk of kroner.  How many people did in fact rebook based on the bogus text? Done with Norwegian. Fake news reigns.

Heathrow gave us a private terminal.
It does serve to remind folks: having technology in hand to reroute yourself can make a huge difference; it is often cheaper to throw out a ticket and buy a new one rather than pay change fees plus the fare difference; be mentally prepared for major route and accommodation changes and have access to funds to make those changes. Travel apps I use all the time include skyscanner, google flights, Rome2Rio, Google Maps (download maps for offline use), each airline's own app, Seat Guru and Booking.com, and Rocketmiles.

Places I found in Madrid thanks to Google Maps

More on why I think American "travel agents" can cost you money in a separate post, and how the bus left us stranded at Logan Airport yet again (fool me once...) in another post.

Buen camino!

25 September, 2016

Autumn Weather and the Calendar Finally Sync

It's a gorgeous, cool fall in New England day, and for once I'm not running a fan nor an air conditioner.  Yesterday I was able to dig and plant all day without feeling like I need to shower every half hour because of the humidity, a big win.  I also finished putting up a wire garden fence so the entire yard is enclosed in two sections. Huzzah!
Nickerson State Park

Sunday mornings with my son are wonderful, and they only occur bi-weekly, so I savor them.  He and his sleep over buddy are enjoying my homemade French toast made with local Portuguese bread and local eggs. Of course real maple syrup! We will go to Mass at noon, and while I did think about it I really don't expect that fasting before receiving the Eucharist applies when they put a Mass at noon.  Seriously, a whole church full of people with grumbling stomachs and low blood sugar? I do fast before the earlier Masses, but I'll bet even the priest has had coffee by noon.

France 2015

I love podcasts on a Sunday morning, a happier alternative to Sunday morning gloom and doom talk shows.  I check the BBC app to see what evil Putin wrought during the night, and the go for the good stuff.  The takeaway so far is to have an actual budget line-item for giving, to respond to an unexpected need or for regular giving. Moreover, rather than have charitable fatigue, because there are so many needs and what can one person do, identify what "keeps you up at night" and it's okay to say no to the rest at this time. So even if it is one-half of one percent of income, or a set amount, make it happen.  I never use the envelopes at church because I'm going with the give anonymously directive, I cannot stand that they do keep track of who gives what so I won't play along. This enlightenment was delivered via The Simple Show episode 41 and Chris Marlow. I'm a huge fan of Tsh's.

Other podcasts I enjoy are Happier with Gretchen RubinGirl Camper, The Moth Radio Hour, and The Lively Show.

Enjoy the Sunday outdoors wherever you are.  Remind me to write about how much I wish the Blue Laws were revived. 

18 September, 2016

Bedbugs and Broomsticks

I am not a linear thinker, so this is not a chronological blog. This is about my battle to obliterate bedbugs from one albergue on the camino de Santiago de Compostela.

I arrived the day before my two week stint was to begin, in order to be oriented by the two current hospitaleras.  This albergue is owned by the town and staffed year-round by volunteers. They were lovely Spanish women who had become great friends during their two weeks in July.  They made crafts, hung out in the cafes and enjoyed the interaction with pilgrims.  They showed me where the mops were, how to run the washing machine using only cold water, and how to register the pilgrims.  When my colleague from Valencia arrived, we all went out to dinner and had a fun evening. We newcomers lodged in the albergue with our guests and the departing hostesses went to the volunteers' quarters in a small space across the courtyard.
Benches up to give the floor a good cleaning every day

The first days were wonderful! Hot and sunny, with a steady stream of guests from all over Europe and Australia. I got to know the townspeople, tended to many blisters and sprains of the pilgrims, and worked from six in the morning until we locked the doors at 10 PM.  However when stripping the sheets from the bunkbeds the next morning, there skittered across a top bunk a chinche. We had learned about them in hospitalero training, and although I kept an eagle eye out for them on my pilgrimages and indeed all of my travels, I had never encountered any.  I had already been flipping the mattresses and washing them down daily, they were covered with plastic. Now I was on the hunt. No panic, just irritation.  I assumed they had come in with the prior night's guest. However when I pulled the bunk away from the wall, I discovered a well-established colony that had been in residence for some time.  I called my partner upstairs to see.
Bedbug poop and eggs

Blood of an unfortunate pilgrim on the bed

Live bugs and poop on the bed post

The masses of bedbug poop, shed shells, eggs and living creatures were shocking. And disgusting.  This was beyond what I thought we could deal with with the can of fly spray that we had.  We had no car to travel to a town with an actual store, we only had a small tienda.  It was a weekend. I asked her to call the area coordinator with whom she was in contact from her one other assignment, and she left him a message.  With a couple of hours before opening for the day, we focused on stripping all of the beds and taking out all of the heavy fleece blankets.  They could not be washed in the tiny washer and didn't smell great.  We soon discovered that one load of laundry washed in hot water took 3 hours.
Next to the bed

Bed post

Bed frame

Finally we received a call back from the coordinator.  Do nothing, tell no one. This is normal and happens every year. My partner related this to me and said, "he's in charge, we do what he says."  Monday morning we went to the town hall and told them we needed something to clean out the bugs.  Again we were told this is normal, they would have some bug spray brought to us.  Nothing happened.  On Wednesday I had really had enough and felt horrible about putting pilgrims in the hostel.  I had expressed my distress to the USA trainer who agreed it was a difficult position, but we served at the pleasure of the town.  I scooped up a plastic bag of living and dead bedbugs and brought them over to town hall, at the same time emailing the Spanish coordinators pictures and video of scattering chinches.  After throwing the bag on the floor and stomping on the bugs, spurting blood, we were told to close the affected room for the night and that an exterminator would come. He did, two days later. We were told albergues in the next towns were calling back and complaining of bedbugs arriving at their hostels.

Antonio pasted the beds with a noxious poison, and told us to close the building for the day.  We did, and I biked over to the neighboring town's albergue for a much-needed break.

The next day I found nests in another room.

As directed, those two rooms were closed while we waited for Antonio to return. In the meanwhile, I bagged all of the blankets in 21 black plastic bags and put them in the hot sun to kill the bugs and eggs.  I put fresh shellac on the woodwork and dining tables after scrubbing them well. The black bags finally were taken away to be laundered, after sitting in the yard for a week. All 30 sheets and 30 pillow cases had been washed and hung in the sun to dry.
Some of the bags of blankets on a hot tin roof

My partner went off to Paris for vacation and a replacement arrived.  Antonio came back with yet another noxious chemical and painted it on the beds.  The slats were screwed down in places and the men refused to allow me to unscrew them even though we could see that the bugs had squeezed under.  He insisted that the whole thing could not have happened as I have described. The albergue was closed again for two days. The American who came two weeks later to host reported that they were "bed bug free to the end." Amen to that.
Sunset on the meseta
Cleaning and poisoning bugs

I guess my mission was to rid the place of infestation, making no friends in the town hall but garnering respect and thanks from the townfolk.  Bedbugs can be and are everywhere, these same pilgrims often left us to go to nice hotels for a respite.  They are not known to transmit disease from human to human. I did everything I could to make sure the host quarters did not become a casualty, and I was very careful about my own backpack. But it still makes me feel creepy to remember these critters! Everything else about my time volunteering was exhilarating and fulfilling.

Town folk

Town folk

Town folk