Busted Halo

Follow Joe as he hikes the Camino, experiences World Youth Day in Madrid, and travels to spiritual points in Spain, Portugal, Morocco and beyond.

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September 2nd, 2011

the streets of Marrakech on the final night of Ramadan

The streets of Marrakech, Morocco are the craziest I have ever walked and thank God I was able to do so in the company of friends and not alone. I flew in on Tuesday, my buddy Brendan and his wife Sarah meeting me at the airport. From there we took a cab into the old part of the city and began walking around and around, searching the confusing streets for our hotel. If my taxi into Lisbon had been a wake-up call, then this lost wandering was certainly, as Brendan termed, an absolute punch in the face. Motorcycles  (literally hundreds of them) zipped past us in both directions as we hugged the sides of buildings lining the very narrow streets. We dodged them as well as we could along with bicycles, children, cats, dogs, carts, and merchants hawking all manner of foods, trinkets and things.

Finally, and only with the help of a young boy leading us down a few narrow and darkened allies we never would have ventured ourselves, we found our riad. We were welcomed in by the owner, a lovely ex-pat from Italy, who made us …

August 31st, 2011

20110829-102941.jpgLisbon, as a city, is the perfect metaphor for the plight of the modern young Catholic. There is every opportunity for devotion, reflection and prayer throughout Portugal’s capital, yet there is something else worldly and tempting to be found here, calling out and distracting, swaying one away from those other things.

The town is steeped with a rich, beautiful and old Catholic tradition. There are statues of saints scattered throughout its winding streets and churches just around every corner, available for viewing, attending, and prayer. However, most of these are in some state of decay, seem a bit lifeless, and (if my experience stumbling into St. Paul’s across the street for Mass on Sunday morning is any indication) pretty much vacant of young people.

In stark contrast is the Lisbon nightlife which is vigorous, tangible and exciting. My hostel lies at the bottom of a big hill — in fact, most of Lisbon is hill after hill after hill. There are massive highs and lows in Lisbon; sometimes one feels on top of the world, other times like you can’t help that it’s rolling all over you. During the day I walk east where an enormous city of endless old …

August 27th, 2011

As Hurricane Irene forces her way up the east coast towards my friends in New York City, I find myself inside a cab in sunny Portugal. Fresh off the plane from Madrid, and attempting to get my bearings as I shift from not speaking Spanish to not speaking Portuguese, I have thrown myself into the first taxi I find outside the airport doors, realizing too late the driver to be an absolute maniac.

20110827-041017.jpgSpeeding past all other traffic at somewhere over 60km past the limit, over whatever the Lisbon highway is named, onto smaller and smaller roads, we weave in and out of cars, past trams and pedestrians, on and off of the oncoming lane of traffic, slowing for a police car, only to hit break neck speeds right after we pass. I realize it could all end right here for me. The maniac cabbie could certainly ram right into the back of some (possibly oncoming) car: there would be a shriek of metal and breaking glass and car crashing sounds and screams (mostly mine) and then it would be done. I’d either be dead or in a hospital somewhere, horribly broken. Now, I could say to him, slow down

August 22nd, 2011

I rolled back into Madrid via bus with the Carmelite United pilgrims earlier last week. It had been six straight days of hiking, followed by a few hours sleep, then the 7-8 hour bus drive to the big city for WYD 2011. This is the first chance I’ve had to post since then, as my week got real hectic real fast and was over before I knew it, mostly spent making videos for WYD with Annie.

20110822-024328.jpgWe were all fairly tired when we arrived. In typical WYD fashion, our credentials (those passes that get us in everywhere) weren’t ready, the pilgrims sleeping area wasn’t available to them, and we had nowhere to go for a few hours. It was a weird kind of purgatory, an awkward in-between. One journey had ended, and the next one was having a little trouble getting started.

My feet were killing me from all the walking of the past few days, and in addition to blisters, they had swollen, so much that my hiking boots were becoming increasingly more uncomfortable to wear. I hobbled around in my flip flops with the others, as we went to a restaurant to wait it out.…

August 17th, 2011

Solo en España

On a couple of days during our walk last week, I stayed behind the group for a few hours to write a little bit before hiking out on my own.  This offered me the opportunity to take in some of the culture and vibe of these small Spanish towns without being attached to a large group — something I admittedly enjoyed.

As I’ve mentioned before, the trail of the Camino is lined with scallop shells and yellow arrows, pointing the way for pilgrims toward Santiago.  Each time I reached a point or crossroads where I was unsure of where to go next, I only had to look for these trail markers to know where to go.  How great it would be, I thought to myself as I walked along, if only I had these markers in my life to guide me when I didn’t know where to go, or what decision to make, or path to follow.  Of course, I suppose we do — the Holy Spirit, or that little voice deep inside that is always true but often so very, very quiet.  Why is it so hard to hear sometimes, and why is it …

August 17th, 2011

This town is absolutely beautiful, amazing and (as my new friend, Bill Angresano, says,) “outta control.”

Even as I write this post at a café near the big church, a raucous drumming interrupts the regular music and ambiance of the street, and a procession of “St. James” followed by various signs of death and witches passes by — (see video below.)

Cathedral de Santiago

Today, the sixth and final day of our hike on the Camino, we finally reached our destination, the giant cathedral of St. James within the city of Santiago de Compostela — the scallop shells along the path leading us right to the very steps of the magnificent Cathedral de Santiago.

We had already had five long days preceding us, and this 20km day was no easier. Midway through it we were all exhausted. Midway through the next half, the realization we were almost there inspired and carried us the rest of the way until suddenly we were in front of one of the largest Catholic churches we had ever seen.

The site of the massive cathedral, its two towers, and ornate façade are enough on their own to wow anyone, but taking into account we …

August 14th, 2011

Eva, Our Guide

Her walk is more of a stride, or a sway, maybe even a dance. The Spanish sun has baked deep lines into her face — not unlovely wrinkles — these are more a map of beauty and years drawn across her gaze.

Eva, our guide

She has been walking The Way for 14 years and knows the trails and churches of the path like the back of her hand. Her name is Eva — she is our guide on this journey.

What do you do when you’re from a place so many others in the world wish to make a pilgrimage to? Eva was born in Santiago de Compostela some 60 years ago and has been a fan of the Camino ever since she could walk. And walking is what she does best. Formerly an English and Spanish language instructor for children and adults, she now teaches history, botany and spirituality for those she leads on the Way.

Eva with some of our pilgrims

Want to know what year a church along the path was built? Eva knows. What kind of plant is that; is it poisonous; can I eat it? Ask Eva. In the presence …

August 13th, 2011

If you’ve ever been on the Camino, or seen movies about it, or watched Busted Halo® videos about it, or even purchased the Busted Halo® Camino hat, then you know that one iconic image associated with this popular pilgrimage is the scallop shell.

the "mile" marker from kilometer 86 of the Camino

Why? Well for starters it’s prevalently found on the shores of Galicia, the part of Northern Spain that contains Santiago de Compostela.  And though there are heavy mythologies surrounding it’s association with the pilgrimage, it may have nothing more to do with St. James than just simply being a convenient (and practical) tool for travelers a thousand years ago.  Because of it’s shape, it could be utilized as both a plate to hold food, as well as sort of a cup or glass to hold aid a pilgrim in drinking water from nearby streams or rivers.  And today, it’s most conventional usage is probably as a nifty souvenir for modern pilgrims, (watch out family and friends, you may have some shells in your future.)

But here’s something weird.  Knowing about the Camino symbol, and greatly anticipating my upcoming journey to northern Spain …

August 12th, 2011

Something I wasn’t exactly sure about when traveling to Spain and hitting the Camino, was who the rest of my pilgrimage group would be. Turns out it’s about 40-50 high school seniors and college freshman. What? What? What!?

Now I like kids, especially this age group, since they’re typically smart, able to converse quite well, and usually a lot more interesting than most adults I know, but I always find a group this size intimidating.

And, as someone used to setting my own schedule, waking up when I want, having a lot of quiet solitary time, and pretty much running my own life, it wouldn’t have been my first choice to share group wake up calls, meals and prayer time.  It’s especially on hikes that I love walking solo, stopping when I decide and eating whenever I want to, so I am only being honest when I admit I had a few misgivings about traveling the Camino for six days with such a young and large group.

However, I can also honestly say that after having spent two full days on the road with these guys and girls, I am blown away by them. The group, Carmelite United, …

August 11th, 2011

For those friends of mine out there reading this, and any other interested seekers, who may not be too familiar with exactly what the Camino is, let me try to explain as best I can (because I’m really just learning it and experiencing it myself for the first time.)

For starters, watch this video to the right I made for last year’s Busted Halo pilgrimage (and special thanks as always to Franciscan Spirit Tours with helping on on these Spiritual Seeker Adventures.)

The Camino, or Way of St. James, or El Camino de Santiago, (by the way, for all you non-Spanish speaking gringos out there like myself, Camino just means “the way,” and Santiago, or Santo Iago, just means St. James,) is a thousand year old pilgrimage across northern Spain to a ginormous cathedral in a town called Santiago de Compostela. It’s rumored that the apostle, St. James, is buried there. Not just any saint or disciple, but a bona fide apostle, one of the twelve. Now, even though it’s a rumor, and many voices out there claim it might not exactly be true, the legend has still inspired hundreds of millions of pilgrims, and a quarter million each …

August 10th, 2011

Today is my mom’s birthday, but because I’m away on pilgrimage and the time difference, I probably won’t be able to phone her so I had wanted to send her some kind of greeting via this blog.

I have found myself thinking of both her and my dad a lot recently, mostly due to a string of medical “procedures” my dad has had to undergo. I won’t go into details but they’re the sort of thing that result in him moving around a little slower when all is said and done – feet and back related mostly.

The other day before leaving for this trip, I was riding my bike around New York city and I was struck suddenly with a memory of him from about 20 years or so ago when he had gotten very into cycling himself. He would ride for miles and miles everyday and often mom would go with him. They’d always invite me to, and though I’d occasionally go with them, typically I’d stay at home thinking it wasn’t all that cool, or even that fun, to be seen riding bikes around town with your parents on an early Sunday morning.

As I looked up …

August 9th, 2011

waiting amidst others at the Madrid airport

Arrived. And since it’s technically only 2am my time I haven’t really slept yet.  Only problem is it’s 8am here.  I’ve got four hours to kill while I wait for the rest of the pilgrimage group to arrive — for this Spanish excursion Busted Halo has partnered with Franciscan Spirit Tours, and for the Camino and World Youth Day I will be traveling with many other pilgrims in the group, approximately 40 for the hike, and 80 for that wild week in Madrid — so perhaps I’ll be able to sleep here for a few hours, and many more on the lengthy bus trip that will take the group from the Madrid airport to Portomarin, the start of our Camino.

Is it Ignatian wisdom that teaches, “God in everything”? Would that also include an R-rated sci-fi comedy? I sometimes find myself having various spiritual experiences any given day of any given week — and by that I mean some sort of moment where things kind of click and I suddenly feel very in tune and in touch with both this world and that other world we believers know is just within grasp …

August 8th, 2011

20110808-044528.jpgI’m sitting down, very much enjoying a beer at JFK airport, minutes away from boarding a plane bound for Spain, where I am lucky enough to be spending the better part of this August. The itinerary: a pilgrimage on The Camino, a week of World Youth Day, and then two weeks of sweet, sweet vacation.

A series of subway trains delivered me here today, and I’m happy to have this little breather where I can commemorate the beginning of this journey with a drink before the seven hour flight to Madrid and then what will most likely be a month consisting of many trains, bus rides and various other forms of transport, not to mention my own two feet.

Looking around, I realize the last time I was in this international terminal was about seven years ago on my way to South Africa for two years in the Peace Corps. This brings to mind two things: First, even though this trip won’t be nearly as long, I’m still hoping it’s as special and full of memories as those years were, and based on my plans I’m fairly certain it will be. Secondly, it’s a terrible, terrible shame …

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