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The Spirit of The Camino and the spirits on The Camino.

When I first contemplated walking The Camino my head was filled with inspiring thoughts of happy, adventurous people all walking along; a merry band of comrades, climbing mountains and being amazing in their aspirations to reach Santiago. I had a somewhat romantic view of cosy alburgues, relaxing snoozes in the sun and the cameradie we saw in the movie ‘The Way’ (which, by the way, I must watch again before I go).  I had this notion of admiring locals who opened their homes and hearts to the ‘pilgrims’ who walked their way up mountains and down, along paths and through villages and towns, strolling into their chosen alburgue in the evening to find a cosy bed and a hot shower, of meals shared with laughter and fun.

And yes, this does in fact happen; the Spirit of the Camino.

I’ve read some extraordinary stories of people ‘rescued’ by kind-hearted locals who seeing their distress take said distressed person under their wing and guide them to a hostelaria/alburgue, or give them a hot meal, a lift in their car/truck/lorry to a place of safety. How pilgrims help each other out, lending money, clean clothes, toiletries, guidance and very often a shoulder to cry on. The Spirit of the Camino.

The Camino is also, by all accounts, tough!! Some people die. The spirits on the Camino.

There is also the dark side, a little of which we saw in The Way. People die on the Camino. People start walking and never reach their goal; their journey cut short by the grim reaper. The reasons are many: heart failure, complications from surgery, falling off a mountain, falling off their bikes (those who cycle) and some die from traffic accidents; knocked over by trucks or cars. Some people start the walk in the hopes that they will reach Santiago, but knowing that they likely won’t. It’s their final walk. Some people have reached the steps of the cathedral only to drop down dead right there at the last step.

And then there those that are murdered. Wow, I can tell you when I discovered that last year…. it came as one hell of a shock to me. The prospect of dying on the Camino had never entered my head!! I learned about this quite by accident last year when I first joined the Camino forum on Facebook. It literally took the wind out of my sails. Just a simple post to say that she, the person who made the update, had laid a stone on the cairn for Denise Theim, an Arizona lass who had disappeared while walking.  If you have the stomach for it you can read about it here.

I immediately set about investigating the story and that lead me to the reports of her disappearance, death and the eventual discovery of her body. The perpetrator as per the above article has since been captured and tried, soon to be incarcerated.

But what startled me most of all was reading the many stories of people who have died on The Camino. I often see photos on the facebook groups of memorials to people from across the world, both young and old who never left The Way; the spirits on The Camino.

I often think about these people now as I prepare for my Camino in September and of course the thought crosses my mind. Will I die while walking? Of course I have no idea, that is, as they say, and depending on which religious or spiritual belief your follow, determined by fate or the book of life…..your death predetermined before you are even born. Not sure I believe that notion, but there it is.

I have to say that it does bother me a lot. The f.e.a.r. presents itself in many ways, and I am in constant conflict with the emotions that arise from these thoughts. My daughter is getting married next year and I will be walking her down the aisle, guiding her to the man she loves, watching as she and he join their hands and lives in marriage and walk into a new future. I would be devastated if by dying on the Camino I caused her any pain and spoiled her special day by not being there. Although I’m sure she would kick my ass for saying that!! 😉  Mind you, she’s already advised me that she would be seriously pissed off with me if I die while walking. LOL We have discussions about this from time to time. About the reality of death.

I’ve questioned myself over and over. Am I being selfish? Am I not putting her happiness first instead of my selfish desire for adventure? Should I have waited till after the wedding…? I did contemplate that.

See what I mean? FEAR – false evidence appearing real. It manifests on a daily basis and gives me palpitations – and I haven’t even started yet!!!

But after many talks and encouragement from her I went ahead and booked my ticket. Not because we are fatalistic in any way, not because we discussed it in depth and not because I have a flippant answer “it won’t happen to me” (I don’t believe in making promises like that!), but because life is life. I could just as easily step off a pavement in my day to day life and get run over by a car or bus…. I could get knocked over on the many walks I take in my day to day life, some of which are along narrow country roads where cars whizz by at 80 kms p.h. leaving dust and a shivering wreck of a walker in their wake. Or I could contract one of hundreds of diseases that abound and die anyway.

So should I not go on this walk? Should I allow the fears to win? Or should I grasp life and go anyway. Well since I’ve already booked my ticket, obviously so far, that is what I will be doing.

But it still doesn’t stop me from thinking about the people who do die. I’m sure it must be absolutely devastating for their families. I can’t imagine what it must be like for them to receive the news. I have read of one Mother whose daughter died before they started their Camino. She will be taking her daughter’s ashes along with her to distribute at special places along The Way. God, I can’t even imagine how hard that would be.

I was doing some research this morning and found this blog https://gabrielschirm.com/2016/08/22/deaths-on-the-camino-de-santiago/

Gabriel gives a number breakdown of the more recent deaths on the Camino. It’s not a macabre list, just a matter of fact observation that yes, people do die while walking the Camino.

I also found this amazing blog; a beautifully compiled memorial to Camino pilgrims who have died on the way – some on their first day, others as they completed their walk.

http://amawalker.blogspot.ie/2016/12/memorials-to-pilgrims-who-died-on-camino.html

It makes a sobering read. The spirits on the Camino.

So again it brings me back to the age-old question! Should I or should I not? F.E.A.R. But as mentioned earlier I’ve already booked my plane ticket for this year, booked and paid for some of the accommodation, bought the backpack, the badges, the clothes and equipment, the books…..and so on. And with my daughter’s blessing, I will walk the Portuguese Coastal Route in September.  I certainly plan to discover the Spirit of the Camino; but I have no plans to become a spirit on the Camino. And yes, despite the fear, I am excited 🙂

 

 

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‘Pilgrimage’ What an evocative word. When you hear the word pilgrimage it has so many meanings and connotations, different meanings for each person. You can go on a religious pilgrimage, a spiritual pilgrimage, you can take a pilgrimage to a previous home or favourite place. A pilgrimage can be something you go on or aspire to.

Since medieval times, the main connotation of the word pilgrimage has been in relation to monks or religious persons making a journey to one place of worship or another, either as a desire to gain more knowledge or in penance. Most of these pilgrim ways have followed main route of transportation; routes well-worn and familiar, travelled by many – creating routes of pilgrimage; corridors towards a shrine.

As with the thousands of people who traversed these routes, the paths used, varied over time – always flexible, always changing to accommodate one change or another. Perhaps a muddy field needed to be avoided in one particular year of bad weather and so ‘pilgrims’ found a ‘way’ around it and formed a new path. Towns sprung up along these ‘ways’ to accommodate the pilgrims who were needing shelter and food or rest; albergues and hospitals were opened, relics were discovered and distributed to tiny churches along the way and so a path was beaten to that door.

I remember my delight on discovering a Pilgrim’s ‘hospital’ on one of the many visits my daughter and I have made to Canterbury.

pilgrimage

The Pilgrims Hospital in Canterbury, Geoffrey Chaucer and the River Stour through Canterbury

Perhaps some hardy monk or another decided he needed to test his mettle and climbed higher than before and so a new path was created.  Perhaps a pilgrim grew old and tired on his journey and so sought an easier way around the hills and mountains; found obstacles in his way and so created another new path……

And yet, despite these many paths, both old and traditional or new, some still to be forged, the pilgrims always found their way to where they were headed. In this case the road to Santiago – also known as The Way of St James.

I love the idea of this, different paths for different folks; isn’t this true of life as well? Traditional is great, but one thing I’ve learned in life is that we each walk our own path. We can create new traditions. Nothing is original. If we went back in time to when St James first walked and preached the gospels in Spain, the paths he travelled along then are probably very different to what they are now. And after he died and was buried, then found and his relics installed at the Cathedral in Santiago, and eventually pilgrims first started walking to Santiago, even the ‘original’ paths, of which there are many, would be vastly different to what they are today. Certainly more well trod!!

And let us not forget one of the most famous of all pilgrims; Geoffrey Chaucer

pilgrimage, geoffrey chaucer, canterbury tales

Geoffrey Chaucer; author of The Canterbury Tales – a pilgrimage (journey) to Canterbury

In September of this year I’ll be walking the Portuguese Coastal Route to Santiago de Compostela, and I’m planning on following my own path with an eye on the general direction towards Santiago. From Tui I expect I’ll be following more traditional routes, but I’m not going to stress too much about the exact route, after all, it’s the journey that’s important and what we learn along ‘The Way’.

pilgrimage the way to santiago

finding my way to Santiago

Santiago de Compostela is the capital of northwest Spain’s Galicia region. It’s known as the culmination of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route, and the alleged burial site of the Biblical apostle St. James. His remains reputedly lie within the Catedral de Santiago de Compostela, consecrated in 1211, whose elaborately carved stone facades open onto grand plazas within the medieval walls of the old town.

I follow the blogs, instagram profiles and facebook updates of a number of people who are either currently walking or have walked one or another of the many many routes to Santiago, and I often read how they got lost, lost the path or were misdirected and again you can so easily relate this to life.

I travel a lot with my job and I love to travel in my off time between jobs, and when I lived in London in particular, people asked ” aren’t you afraid of getting lost?”. My answer is always the same…..you can never be lost, you are just in a place you are unfamiliar with and it’s not where you had planned to be. Jump on a bus or a train, look at a map, you will find you are not lost at all. I remember when I first lived in London back in 2002/2003, I had a conversation with my Father about how big London was and how much it terrified me to travel around that vast city. He replied: “just think of London as many small villages all linked together by the network of the tube/underground system. You are never more than a few meters from either a train or a bus, you can never get lost.” It changed my perception of London completely and from then on I was never afraid to go out and explore the many ‘villages’ of London; often getting ‘lost’.

As I walk the Camino in September, I will have my handy wee app ‘mapmywalk’ switched on, and with an eye on the east to my right and the west to my left I will follow my own path north till I reach the Minho river that separates the north of Portugal from the south of Spain. From there; at Caminha, I will head inland with the sun in my eyes in the morning and at my back in the evening till I reach Valença and finally cross over into Spain to Tui.

looking east

Looking east at Broadstairs; sunrise

looking west

Looking west at Florence; sunset

From Tui I will follow the more traditional routes as I traverse the final 100 kms to Santiago so that I too may gain my ‘compostela’. A pilgrim.

Footnote:

The Minho divides the Spanish Tui and Portuguese Valença do Minho, towns that guarded an important bridge for road and rail. Both towns preserve fortifications and are national monuments.

Addendum: you can even go on a pilgrimage to a famous place to see the final resting place of a King; Richard III (thanks Beth 😉 your facebook update was most timeous).

http://leicestercathedral.org/about-us/richard-iii/richard-iii-tomb-burial/

a pilgrimage to visit the tomb of Richard II at Leicester cathedral

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I love books. I have a weakness for books. I have a shelf of books (now in storage) that I love to look at and recall the tales between the covers. In South Africa I had hundreds of books…some as old as 60+. Sadly when I moved my possessions over from SA to UK I had to leave a great many behind due to lack of space in my current home and plans for the future….100’s of books won’t fit into a campervan 😉

I read voraciously as a child, seldom without a book in my hand, I read at every opportunity from morning till night and then some. At school my teachers were hard put to keep up with me….I’d get a class book and bring it back within a few days having read it right through. My teachers would get suspicious and ask me questions…..they soon learned to not bother but just kept me topped up.

Even today, I love nothing more than a quiet corner and a good book. As for organising them…..sometime, maybe, I may. But mostly they just live happily wherever they land. 😉 Most recently a very lovely and dear friend of mine sent me a book on the eve of my visit to Florence, Italy. – ‘A Florence Diary’ by Diane Athill.

a florence diary diane athill

One of the many fun things about coming ‘home’ after being away for 3 weeks is opening my mail. To my delight one of the envelopes contained this wonderful book ‘A Florence Diary’ from my lovely friend Lucy

 

What a delight. I started reading immediately, but unfortunately, once I actually arrived in Florence I was out from early morning till late a night, returning to the apartment only to brush my teeth, change into pyjamas and fall into bed till the morning; at which time I would repeat it all over again LOL So no time to continue reading in Florence I’m afraid.

But I have brought it with me to Ireland and with a few days of mucky weather in store I plan to read it…..Thanks Lucy my sweet, I shall treasure this little book and add it to my collection in the campervan 🙂

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I’m absolutely thrilled and delighted to announce that my delightful, darling daughter has said YES!!!! to her wonderful beau, Simon’s question 🙂 They’re engaged and I’m thrilled.

they're engaged

Cémanthe & Simon…he proposed, she said yes 🙂

They went to London for the day with some friends. They went all over the place and then when they got to Tower of London for the ice-skating….he proposed…on the ice!! 🙂

Bless him, he’s been practising like mad to learn to ice-skate and not fall over….so tonight he asked her the big question. First he had the DJ play their song ‘At Last’ by Etta James, and then as she rushed back over the ice to be with him, she noticed a big sign, held up by his friends, that said “Cémanthe will you marry me?” He then, so very romantically, went down on one knee, on the ice and popped the question….the ring was all ready. They then announced over the tannoy that she had said yes, and everyone cheered. Awww, I love it…..so romantic.

Love is in the air….I guess I have a wedding to start saving for. Welcome to the family Simon. What a gem you are. Clever man!!!!

At last…….

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Gathering Leaves by: Robert Frost (1874-1963)

autumn colours in Canterbury

autumn colours in Canterbury

SPADES take up leaves
No better than spoons,
And bags full of leaves
Are light as balloons.

I mage a great noise
Of rustling all day
Like rabbit and deer
Running away.

But the mountains I raise
Elude my embrace,
Flowing over my arms
And into my face.

I may load and unload
Again and again
Till I fill the whole shed,
And what have I then?

Next to nothing for weight;
And since they grew duller
From contact with earth,
Next to nothing for color.

Next to nothing for use.
But a crop is a crop,
And who’s to say where
The harvest shall stop?

work and travel as a carer

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 13,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Heading off to the airport, bursting with excitement, my bags packed; 1 rucksack and a backpack, my stomach swirled and whirled with a mix of excitement and terror.

The journey to get to this point had been fraught with loss, anxiety, fear, hard work, worry, excitement and the thrill of setting off on an adventure to lands unknown…..loss of a job, giving up my home, fear of the unknown, the anxiety of leaving my daughter on her own (how daft am I), fear of being in foreign countries, worry of what to do when I got there, and how to get to where I had to go – the future spread before me and I had no idea of the adventures that lay ahead.

10 years ago today; 8th October 2001 = (3652 days, 87648 hours, 5258880 minutes ago) I left South Africa.   The first time ever I was leaving the shores of my country of birth, I was flying across continents and seas over to Ireland to visit my little sister and to celebrate her 30th birthday with her which was the following day (and also the day I arrived in Ireland).

3 months before this day, I had come to a fork in the road of my life.  The company I was working for had gone into liquidation in July, my daughter had attained the age of 21 in August (we had a fab party for that), and my sister who was living in Ireland at the time, as mentioned was due a landmark birthday in October and wanted someone from the family to join her.   So, since I would have no job from the end of that September, it made perfect sense for me to go.  There had of course been many forks in the road and I had gone on many a new journey in the preceeding 46years, but this was the first time I would be travelling overseas.

Getting to the point of departure was a journey of it’s own.  I had to obtain a visa, arrange for my house to be sold, worry about where my daughter was to live, sell my car, pack my belongings into storage, find the money to live on while I was away and pay the bills, fight with the airline that went into liquidation 3 weeks before I was due to depart (think Swissair), talk myself onto a packed flight with South African Airways, and spare a thought or two about what I would do for a job on my return……little did I know.  (and as I write those four words: ‘little did I know’ I am overwhelmed with emotion).

One of the most incredible things about being human, with a logical memory and perception is that….we can look back on events that change our lives and be amazed at the sheer wonder of it all.

My wonderful family; daughter Cémanthe, sister’s Sue & Joanne, nieces and nephews all came to see me off at the airport.  I literally bounced through the airport, both terrified and excited beyond words, so much so that I could not contain myself and as I bounced along towards Customs I jumped up and down like a kangaroo, laughing and crying at the same time.

The flight was long, and overcrowded and tiring.  I arrived in Zurich the next morning, absolutely terrified at finding my way to my next flight.  In the event I did and as we flew over Europe I was in tears; tears of excitement, of joy, of wonder, of fear and the overiding thought was that in these very skies the 2nd WW had been fought.  As a 2nd WW aficianado it was so emotional to think of those people who had lived through that time.

Next stop was London City airport.  How foreign then, how familiar now.  Finding my way to the tube; a time of confusion and fear. Trying to convert Rands to Pounds, thank goodness they spoke English.  First a bus ride and finally onto the Piccadilly line and I was on my way, one more leg and I would be in Ireland!!! Hooray.  I thrilled at the novelty of riding on a train underground, amazed that this was possible, amused at the people around me, the changing faces, the foreign languages, the suitcases and the fact that I, me, was there too!  I felt as if I was in a dream.

Then suddenly we left the underground and I saw the houses of London for the first time and I was smitten.  I often tell this story because it was life changing: as we left the tunnel I looked up and saw the houses and the chimneys that reminded me of Mary Poppins, and I fell in love.  A love that has never waned, grown stronger and as I said to someone today…..if I had felt as much passion for my husband as what I feel for London….I would probably still be married!!! (and no offence to anyone who is happily married, but I shudder at the thought 🙂 ), imagine all that I would have missed out on if I had not been single.  It still amazes me today that all my life I never expressed an interest in even visiting London and now it has become my home and I can’t imagine wanting to live anywhere else in the world.

The next surprise was Heathrow.  A LOT smaller than I had anticipated from the stories I had heard and then suddenly we were airborne and my excitement knew no bounds.  The patchwork fields below me looked enchanting, then the Irish Sea spread before me and my excitement escalated, then suddenly the coast of Ireland started to appear!! And as we came in to land, I heard gaellic for the first time, realised why Ireland is called the ’emerald isle’ and whoa……there below me I could see a castle!  A real genuine castle, castle.  Alice in Wonderland had nothing on this!!

At the time I arrived Ireland they were in the midst of an outbreak of foot & mouth disease and we had to walk through a special fluid to clean our shoes.  That was quite symbolic for me as I felt like I was starting with a clean slate. (I know, I know, but it makes sense to me!).  The Customs man waved me through, but I stopped and asked him to stamp my passport…..duh!!!  My third stamp in 24 hours.  Meeting up with my beloved sister and brother-in-law was out of this world.  The joy I felt at being there, seeing them again was beyond words.  My head was buzzing with all the new experiences I was having.

The next 24 hours were just beyond description….and I never went home!

Since that day I have travelled the length and breadth of Ireland, visited and stayed in hundreds of  villages, dozens of towns and many cities of England, Scotland & Wales, visited dozens of islands and 2 continents, been to America (3 times), Venice, Verona and Sirmione, Paris and Versailles, Amsterdam & Gouda, Bruges & Damme, Gibraltar and been on a cruise to the Bahamas.  I have explored medieaval forts and towers, meandered through Castles, Abbeys, Cathedrals, Churches, world-famous Universities and two Roman amphitheatre’s.  Walked on a Roman road in the crypt of a church, visited many other crypts and a 5,000 year old burial mound, the sites of significant historical battles, a medieaval Tower and Palaces, seen the Queen of England (a live one!), walked in the footsteps of a beloved Princess, Winston Churchill, Christopher Wren, Oscar Wilde, Chaucer, Charles Dickens, Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy, Kings and Queens, Dukes and Duchesses, and watched the Royal Wedding of a future King and Queen from close proximity on The Mall in London.  I have participated in and watched ancient parades and ceremonies, waded barefoot in the Irish Sea, the English Channel, the Baltic Sea, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic ocean on the other side of the world, seen the Crown jewels of England, the crow’s nest of Shackleton’s ship, and sat on the seat where Alexander Pope rested and Walter Raleigh planned his round the world trips.  Seen the Atlas mountains, the Swiss Alps, the Sahara desert, and the Grand Canyon from the air, walked on fire, tramped along jurassic cliffs and historic tunnels, clambered through caves and grottos, travelled on planes, trains, boats and a barge, the Eurostar, a limosine and a horse & carriage in New York, in a soft-top Cadillac in Paris, a riverboat steamer, a ferry in Ireland, a gondola in Venice and a ship across the Caribbean sea, walked across historical bridges, been rock-wall climbing, para-sailing, climbed a 60′ pole and then bungeed off, had a white christmas, built a snowman in Hyde Park, and went sledding at Alexander Palace, had a cruise on the Seine and rowed on the Thames, been to the top of the Empire State Building, St Paul’s Cathedral, and the Eiffel Tower, heard the bells of Big Ben in London, St Marks Cathedral in Venice, Westminster Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Southwark Cathedral and St Paul’s in London, St David’s in Wales, the Notre Dame in Paris, and listened to the sirens of WW2.  Stood on the most central spot of New York, Paris, London and Dublin, I’ve seen amazing sunsets in 8 countries and many more counties, and very few sunrises in any!!   I have seen world-famous paintings by VanGogh, Monet, Van Dyck, Gainsborough, Rubens and others, ancient pottery and artefacts 1,000’s of years BC, medieval art and dwellings, stood on the spot where artists like Bellini, Canneletto, Carravagio, Titian and Tintoretto stood as they splashed their paint onto church walls in Italy that still stand today.  I’ve walked through the red-light district of Amsterdam, along the decking of Horatio Nelson’s ship, through the house where Shakespeare was born, the Tower where Sir Walter Raleigh was incarcerated, seen the bed where Queen Mary was born, sat on the couch where Keats lay dying, had tea in a cafe where Princess Diana once did, walked up steps that have seen the feet of Saint Patrick, pilgrims, monks, and travellers of old, walked through ancient Monasteries and woodlands, a Masonic Temple, stood on the Meridian line and the spot where 3 English Queens were beheaded.    I’ve seen red deer, hares and foxes, painted ladies and for the first time heard a robin, a cuckoo and a blackbird sing.  I have eaten key lime pie and conch fritters in America, crepes in France, pizza in Italy, chocolate in Belgium, cheese in Amsterdam, soda bread in Ireland, Cornish ice-cream and fish and chips with mushy peas in quintessential English seaside resorts.

In these 10years I have become an aunty again for the 4th time, a great-aunt 3 times over, been to 3 weddings and one funeral (non family), lost a dearly beloved (almost) father-in-law, travelled to South Africa as a ‘visitor’ 5 times, slept in airports in 3 countries I haven’t visited, started a business and learned about MLM, internet marketing, spread betting (still haven’t figured it out), learned about personal development, the universe and being in your flow, listened to world-famous speakers and bullshitters, been on courses that have altered my perceptions and learned about values and beliefs, read ancient manuscripts and The Book of Kells, had my daughter join me in London for a holiday and end up staying 🙂 made many new friends and lost a few, fell in and out of love and almost moved to America, lived in cottages, apartments, flats, houses, mansions, a loft, a boat and a gypsy caravan (none of which were my own) and slept in a tent on The Mall.  I’ve learned how to use a mobile phone, send text messages, use a phone in a foreign country (Italy), edit photos on my computer, to blog and to tweet, written 2 books, had 3 poems and a book of photos published, I have stood up in front of a room full of people and done a presentation and yet just 10 years ago my sister in Ireland  had to coach me on how overcome my fear and to speak to people I didn’t know 🙂  Now I can and do speak to anyone, anywhere, anytime.

From one rucksack and a backpack when I left my home shores, I have during the last 10 years accumulated so much that I now have 12 suitcases, 30 boxes filled to the brim, a chest of drawers, a rebounder, books by the dozen and mementoes galore, a postcard collection to rival any other and so much stuff that I now need a storage unit to store it all.   And in my heart I have stored some of the most amazing sights, sounds, memories and experiences.

I have done more in the last 10 years than I did in the preceeding 46, and as I write I marvel at the journey it took to reach this anniversary, and dream with anticipation of the possible journeys that still lie ahead.

I am one of the luckiest people in the world. Long may the journey and the adventures continue.

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