The Fitz Hostel set to launch

28 03 2016

Hello friends,

As many of you know, I’ve spent the last two years thinking about and the last four months steadily planning and preparing to open a hostel in Lion’s Head. At last, it’s becoming a reality!

tfh_logo_cropThe Fitz Hostel is a small hostel opening on the Bruce Peninsula this May! The Fitz offers both private and dorm room options – one private double room and two 4-bed dorms. There will be shared bathroom facilities, a fully-equipped guest kitchen, spacious common areas and backyard. It is centrally located in the village of  Lion’s Head – steps away from the beach, amenities, and right along the Bruce Trail!

Like Captain Fitzwilliam Owen, the first explorer to chart Georgian Bay, The Fitz Hostel is charting new territory as the first hostel on the Bruce Peninsula. We, too, are explorers and travellers, and look forward to helping you make the most of your adventure – whether it be an action-packed week of as many outdoor activities you can fit in, or a relaxing weekend outstretched along Georgian Bay’s rocky shores. We hope you’ll fall in love with the Bruce Peninsula as much as we have! Whatever your adventure, start it at The Fitz!

For more information, visit www.thefitzhostel.com or drop a line to info@thefitzhostel.com! And of course you can find us on Facebook and Instagram (@thefitzhostel).

In the meantime, I need your help getting the word out to those who love the Bruce Peninsula! Also, a huge thank you to all of you who have encouraged and supported me thus far, and thank you in advance for spreading the word! Stay tuned for more details about our official launch and hope you’ll stop in and check it out for yourself!

See ya at The Fitz,

Megan





The currency of trust

27 10 2015

Who do you trust? Only your closest family and friends? Everyone until they do something to lose your trust? Our elected politicians?

I’m usually the type of person who trusts almost anyone, unless there’s a good reason not to. In addition to being an idealist, I attribute this mindset to refusing to live in fear…and rarely watching the television news. I worked at a bakery where we regularly gave people IOUs and allowed people to send payment in the mail, and they did (usually along with a thank you card). I attended a small university where we’d leave our laptops in the library when we went to the cafeteria for dinner. My undergrad research suggests that I’m in the minority.

In 1960, 58% of Americans agreed that most people can be trusted, but by 1993, this proportion declined by a third to 37% (Putnam, 1995). Social trust is considered one of the four dimensions of the broader study of “social capital,” along with informal social ties, formal social ties and norms of collective action (Liu and Besser, 2003). Social capital encompasses the features of social organisation that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit (Putnam, 1995). While social capital contributes to safer, healthier, more civically engaged communities, Putnam argues that it is on its decline. One of his explanations is greater mobility, or the “re-potting hypothesis” meaning that if we disrupt our roots, it also disrupts our acquisition of social capital; when you move, you basically start at zero.

In the past 10 months, I’ve been moving around quite a lot, so I could only expect my trust bank account would be quite low. When you are a stranger and are surrounded by strangers, and you are taught not to talk to strangers, there is no reason for trust to be pre-existent or for there to be even much potential for it to grow, because this would require talking to strangers. But when trust does emerge, it is a delightful surprise that has enriched my travels.

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What is a dromedary anyway?

2 09 2015

I arrived in Fes, Morocco about three weeks ago. Dropped into what one guidebook described as an “assault on the senses” – brightly coloured textiles, ceramics and leather wares, often indistinguishable food smells, sometimes the smell of urine from the tanneries, horns honking and people yelling in an indiscernible language, or worse, calling out to you in hopes of luring you into their shop. At first glance, it looks dirty and chaotic. My stomach remained unsettled for the first week, and three weeks later, it still gets unsettled from time to time, like today. Fes, in particular, is notorious for its confusing, disorientating medina – the old city which consists of a network of narrow, winding streets and alleyways. The culture shock arrived in full force, then gradually dissipated as I eased into the discomfort of this unfamiliar place and way of life. In Fes, I enjoyed having my skin being scrubbed like a dirty floor in a public hammam, learning about leather tanning with a visit to the tanneries, getting lost in the medina, learning to eat Moroccan style – with my hands, learning how to properly brew a pot of mint tea and cook couscous, and enjoying panoramic views of the city from the Merenid Tombs.

Mohammed helped us navigate the countless medina streets. Here is a local uses donkeys to transport goods - a familiar sight.

Mohammed helped us navigate the countless medina streets. Here is a local uses donkeys to transport goods – a familiar sight.


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The final stretch

19 08 2015

D5: Sobrado Dos Monxes – Santiago de Compostela = 60 km

We made it! Even though we were only five days on the road, it seemed a bit surreal to finally arrive in Santiago.

At the end at last!

At the end at last!

 
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The camino continues – Mondoñedo to Sobrado dos Monxes

15 08 2015

D3: Mondoñedo – Baamonde = 56 km

Early to rise, but not as early to depart as hoped. What was supposed to be a quick pump up resulted in a complete deflation, thanks to a faulty hand pump, or faulty user. But after walking to the gas station (and thank goodness they had a Presta attachment), we were on our way. Then, our long, oh so long, 8 km uphill out of Mondoñedo. After an hour and a half and some blood, sweat and tears (okay, maybe no blood), the worst was behind us and we appropriately rewarded ourselves with chocolate when we reached the top.

Throughout the day, we were leap frogging with a French father and son who had cycled from Santander and were on the tenth day of their journey. Nothing that makes you feel especially old, slow and weary like watching a 14 year old boy effortlessly barrel up a hill, or so it seemed. We continued to cross paths with each other as we followed the same itinerary for the last three days. That’s the beauty and magic of the camino – while the pilgrimage might be a personal journey, there is a strong sense of community and solidarity amongst peregrinos. Familiar faces constantly reappearing; you part ways with someone thinking you won’t see them again (after all, there are so many pilgrims and you could so easily miss each other by a few kilometres), and before long, you see them again. We witnessed one joyous reunion in Sobrado dos Monxes – a Canadian woman, a kindergarten teacher from Toronto who had walked the Camino Frances three years earlier and was now walking the entirety of the Camino del Norte, and a Spanish guy. They had met in Bilbao and walked together for a few days, but then he went ahead and they didn’t see each other for a month. Then, while enjoying a menu del dia on a restaurant terrace, they saw each other, exchanged a huge hug and many stories of the past weeks.

Healthy snacks after a long day of cycling

Healthy snacks after a long day of cycling

D4: Baamonde – Sobrado dos Monxes = 39.5 km

On day four, we were bound for Sobrado dos Monxes, a town with a beautiful monastery where we’d received recommendations to stay for the night. So, we decided to get a nice early start, waking up at 6 AM and on our bikes an hour later. The morning was cold. Bitter, biting cold. We toughed it out for 17 km to Mariz. Quite easy terrain-wise, but we couldn’t even enjoy the downhills because they were even colder. Then, with frozen hands and toes and noses, Breanna declared, “I’m not biking in this,” and we stopped to warm up and wait for the sun.

Defrosting our toes

Defrosting our toes

We really are creatures of comfort. The previous afternoon the sun had been too hot. Now it was too cold. Too hilly. On this particular morning, I reminded myself that there is no bad weather, just poor clothing, or harsher yet, poorly prepared people. Granted Galicia’s cool and wet climate, I probably should have packed some gloves and warmer clothes, however in the scorching heat of Barcelona, this weather seemed unimaginable.

Cow crossing

Cow crossing

After the sun poked its head out, we continued on our way. Today’s route was a bit tricky because there were no main roads, we didn’t have surface information for these backroads, and it seemly likely that the camino was rugged. I’d set a route that seemed best, but of course some rugged sections (and even a rocky uphill) were inevitable with the limited information I had. It was a beautiful trail through a quiet forest of pines, and I reminded myself that “Smooth seas never made for skilled sailors.” Maybe a bit dramatic granted the challenge at hand, but it kept my wheels turning. After a headwind section, we were more or less coasting for the last stretch to the monastery.

Monasterio de Santa María de Sobrado dos Monxes, or the Sobrado Abbey is believed to be originally founded in the 10th century by the Benedictines, but was then abandoned and then re-founded as a Cistercian monastery in 1142. Upon arrival, we basked in the sun in the beautiful cloister. Then later, among other things, we enjoyed callos a la gallega, a tomato based stew with tripe (cow’s stomach), garbanzos, beef, chorizo and who knows what else.

The lovely Sobrado Abbey

The lovely Sobrado Abbey

Its impressive facade catching the setting sun

Its impressive facade catching the setting sun

In every full albergue, you will also find a full rack of stinky, well-worn boots

In every full albergue, you will also find a full rack of stinky, well-worn boots

After cold beginnings, a nice, warm, relaxing afternoon. And tomorrow, we would be Santiago de Compostela.





The camino begins – Luarca to Mondoñedo

15 08 2015

D1: Luarca – Ribadeo = 52.5 km

Started the day off right – still dark, threatening rain and a nice steady climb up and out of the gorge of Luarca. Oh dear, what did we sign ourselves up for? 12 km down the trail, we stopped for breakfast. A few minutes after we arrived, the hiking peregrinos arrived. Were we cycling at a walker’s pace?

In Luarca, early morning, getting ready for take off

In Luarca, early morning, getting ready for take off

Yes, our first kilometres of the day were slow going because at times, it was a bit like trying to bike on the Bruce Trail, which our bikes weren’t exactly equipped for. This was a reoccurring challenge with cycling the camino – at times, the official route was perfect – paved, quiet road through the countryside – while other times it was rugged with large rocks which forced us to walk our bikes. So, after breakfast, we decided to take the road for a bit and cover some kms. In fact, throughout the journey we were continuously faced with this dilemma – camino or corresponding road – and tried to take the camino whenever possible, but took the road when we needed to get some kms on our belt or if word on the trail was that the upcoming section was rough.

Our first day was quite hilly, with lots of ups and downs, but nothing compared to what we would face in days to come. We stopped again in Navia and meandered through a flea market where I bought some light reading – the controversial Adventures of Tin Tin. A picnic lunch in Tapia de Casariego, another quaint harbour town with some beautiful nearby beaches where there were even some surfers.

Our seaside lunch spot in Tapia de Casariego

Our seaside lunch spot in Tapia de Casariego, the last main town in Austurias

We followed the coast a bit further, then crossed the giant bridge into and the city of Ribadeo and headed to the albergue. Unfortunately, it was full. We were ready to call it a day and didn’t want to risk the next albergue (7 km away) being full as well. So after cycling around town a few times to find the best price, we checked into a cheap hotel and collapsed.

The beautiful coast, just past Tapia de Casariego, on our last leg of the day

The beautiful coast, just past Tapia de Casariego, on our last leg of the day

The bridge that crosses the Rio de Ribadeo or del Eo into Galicia

The bridge that crosses the Rio de Ribadeo or del Eo into Galicia

We had forgotten this container of melon and cherries at the albergue in Luarca. Some mysterious anonymous peregrino carried them to the albergue in Ribadeo!

We had forgotten this container of melon and cherries at the albergue in Luarca. Some mysterious anonymous peregrino carried them to the albergue in Ribadeo!

D2: Ribadeo – Mondoñedo = 36 km

We were on our bikes by 08:00 and were once again embarked on an uphill start that continued for about 7 km. The aches and pains from the first day had now set in, so I was feeling quite slow, and Breanna pointed this out in saying, “I don’t know how you find it comfortable to go that slow.” We soon realized our different cycling styles – Breanna going faster uphill but in shorter bursts, and me going slow and steady – with both styles got us to the top in more or less the same time.

A furry fellow who wanted to join our camino

A furry fellow who wanted to join our camino

Our morning stop was in San Xusto where we met some other peregrinos, followed by a long difficult uphill on a gravel trail. But at least our efforts were rewarded by a fun downhill. Once in Lorenza, we switched to the N-634 road for a bit to avoid going down and back up a ravine. A bit more up hill, then finished the day with a nice 4 km downhill into Mondoñedo, and eventually found the albergue after asking a few locals. After some R & R at the albergue, heading for some tapas in the main plaza – patatas bravas, croquetas y tarta de Santiago, an almond cake that is a specialty in Galicia.

The lovely plaza in Mondonedo

The lovely plaza in Mondoñedo

A reoccurring thought as I cycled was how one’s mental and emotional state follows the physical terrain. When cycling uphill or on difficult terrain, I thought, “Why am I doing this again?” “I don’t like this.” “This is hard.” “I can’t do this.” And these were the moments, too, when Breanna and I were most likely to have conflicts. However, a few minutes later on the downhill, these thoughts became, “This isn’t so bad. In fact, this is amazing and so much fun.” “Look at the beautiful scenery!” Along our camino, the terrain was hilly, but would have our emotional states varied so much if we would have traveled a flatter route? More even-keeled? Just something I pondered while turning my pedals…

From Breanna's Instagram (@breannamyles)

From Breanna’s Instagram (@breannamyles)





El camino

12 08 2015

A couple weeks ago, I welcomed my sister at the Barcelona airport, the fourth and final member of my family to visit me in Spain! The first few days, as she recovered from jet lag and I finished my final shifts of work, we stayed in Barcelona – cycling around the city, enjoying a picnic and open-air cinema at Castell de Montjuïc (which offers an amazing vista overlooking the city and the sea), delicious Neapolitan pizza and of course, craft beer. But after a few days in Barcelona, we embarked on the real meat and potatoes part of her visit – cycling the last 250 km of the Camino del Norte from Luarca to Santiago de Compostela.

As the Wikipedia story goes, Santiago de Compostela became an important Christian pilgrimage site after the remains of apostle Saint James were discovered there in the 9th century. The Camino de Santiago or Way of St. James, which denotes several different routes culminating in Santiago, became increasingly well travelled in the Middle Ages as it was means for pilgrims to earn indulgences. However, supposedly the camino’s origins date back much earlier than this widely known history indicates. As early as 1000 BC, Celtic pagans travelled this route, then known as Via Finisterre, in search of the land’s end (as the name suggests) and the sun’s resting place as a born again ritual. Rather interesting.

While there are several caminos originating from different locations, the Camino del Norte starts in Irú and follows the northern coast of Spain through the Basque Country, Cantabria, Austurias and Galicia.

Barcelona – Luarca (by bus)

Travelling with bikes proved to be a bit of a hassle, unless of course we were riding them. Not only did the bus company require us to pay a 15 euro charge to transport each bike, but upon arriving at the bus terminal, they also required us to pay 12 euros each for a bike bag. But at this point, what other choice did we have?

A long 15 hour journey through Lleida, Zaragoza, Burgos, León and Ovieda, drifting back and forth between sleep and snacks. Met a Belgian guy on the bus who had walked the Camino del Norte three years ago, and now embarking on the journey again, starting in Gijon. So, there must be something to this camino business, or at least something a bit addictive…

Luarca greeted us with typical weather – rain and rather cool, and we both wondered if we’d packed appropriately – definitely a contrast to the scorching temperatures in Barcelona. Re-assembled the bikes, warmed up with a cup of chocolate and headed to the first albergue we saw.

Luarca, the quaint coastal fishing town where we started our camino

Luarca, the quaint coastal fishing town where we started our camino

An albergue is the type of accommodation you find along the camino – cheap (usually about 6 euros a bed), anywhere from 12 to 60 pilgrims or peregrinos in a room (so sometimes a symphony of snoring to listen to through the night), basic yet all the essentials. At our first one, in Luarca, we obtained our pilgrim’s credentials and got our first stamp!

At the albergue, we met a 16 year old guy from Olot (a city in Catalonia). Our conversation began when he asked me if he could cook rice in the microwave. I wasn’t sure but gave an encouraging response. He’d been walking the camino for 16 days, starting in San Sebastian. With dismal summer job prospects (remember Spain’s unemployment rates), why not walk the camino? With just a couple hundred euros in his pocket and needing to make it last the trip (and too proud to ask his parents to send him more), he hadn’t eaten the day before and had camped in the forest the previous night, or at least tried to. Woken up by rain, he fled to the awning of a shop. He was getting tired he said and had 10 days left and wasn’t sure if he would finish. Not sure if he did, but I sort of think so.

That night, as with almost every night, we anxiously awaited the re-opening of restaurants around 8 PM. Appropriately, we went to a sideria and had some local cider with croquetas de jamon and a board of different Austurian cheeses and some apple jam. We even had some leftovers to take on the trail with us. Early to bed, early to rise – we wanted to get a nice early start for our first day – a bit nervous or at least uncertain of what it would hold.