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The Trek of a Lifetime Part Three

Oct 31, 2014 01:11PM ● By Jennifer Neys
By Lesley Stiles

With legs quivering and lungs burning, we conquer yet another summit. After 350 miles of hiking, we reach the commanding Cruz de Faro, or Cross of Light, symbolizing that which is no longer of service to us and can be released to the cross. Worries, troubles, anxieties, and anguish can be transferred to a rock and left under the cross. Accompanying this release of worldly worries, the cross also represents a guiding torch to those who have passed this life before us, easing their souls away from sorrow into joyous eternity, leading some to leave a ribbon or gift, assuring them all is fine down here, no need to worry about us. Traversing the seemingly endless Meseta, plenty of time accrued to transfer cares to our rocks, along with wondering how much a rock can absorb. This amazing rose quartz rock, a luminous cross etched in its center, crossed my path, perfect for the long awaited experience of surrender, along with a ribbon carried for 350 miles for Kate and Riley, hoping to ease their worries of family sorrows accumulated in the past year. 

Precariously stepping down the mountain, which was more difficult than crawling up, we covered terrain that returned us to astoundingly beatific, precious villages, with winding stone streets and gorgeous stone houses that sported planter boxes overflowing with scarlet geraniums, greeting us at every curve. Looking over each valley to cathedral spires in the distance seemed surreal and almost unattainable, but there we were, looking for shelter and food, a place to wash out our clothes, and a glass of wine to complete the day.

Scaling two 4200 foot peaks over six or seven hours, we crossed into Galicia through the mystical, magical village of O’Cebreiro. Images of lost civilizations flashed before us, guiding us closer to the completion of our journey. Galicia was settled originally by Celts, only to be conquered by Spaniards, leaving many Druidic traditions intact. As we trudged into Fonfria looking for a night’s rest, we came upon the only Albergue available in town and found a room, along with a meal. July 25 is the Feast of St. James, and our hosts had a fiesta planned, complete with Aruzo and incantations. Aruzo is white lightning liquor in a pot with apple juice, apples, oranges, peppercorns, coffee beans, a whole lot of sugar, and some other, secret ingredients. Our hostess, Angela, of Celtic and Spanish ancestry, held forth at the ceremony, mixing the cauldron and lighting it on fire, issuing incantations meant to release fears that hold us back from anything in the year ahead. Lights out, pot ablaze, singing and shouting, we pass a delightfully amazing evening that culminated in savoring the torte de St Jacques, an almond and orange tart, breathtaking and intoxicating.   

We used every ounce of that ceremony to complete a brutally hilly, blazing-sun twenty miles to Sarria, which represents the last 100 kilometers of the Camino where many people commence their journey, and the government awards anyone completing a minimum of the last 100 km of the trail with the Compostela, or certificate of completion. Our trip changed overnight as all the “short timers” crowded the trail as we followed the sunrise out of town the next morning.

A few mornings later, as we started out with headlamps, chasing the sun, the final day on our path into Santiago arrived. Mixed emotions logically rise to the surface as thirty-five days of backpacking come to a close. Passing by a huge Albergue on the outskirts of Santiago, I emotionally tumbled into the enormity of our adventure. Tears filled my eyes as I found Santiago in my focus at last. Sorrow and joy blended into a luscious soufflé of adventure and liberation, permeating every cell as the amazing cathedral appeared on the horizon. Santiago greeted us with live music scattered about the old town, along with fireworks and crowds of raucous party people celebrating the last day of July and signaling the end of the feast of St. James in the village where his body lies beneath stones in the enormous and hallowed cathedral.

After completing the trail with a trip to the “end of the world,” Finnistere, on the Spanish Pacific Ocean, with a coastline rivaling our Big Sur’s, I reflected on many wonderful new friends met on the trail with uncountable lessons on survival and endurance in my heart. The Camino De Santiago, a journey for the books and one recommended highly by this unboundedly grateful pilgrim, I vow to use the steely strength I gathered, physically and emotionally, to embrace new as well as old challenges in my life, overcoming and assisting where I may. Buen Camino.

Persimmons are Plentiful

 As autumn begins to fully engulf the Diablo Valley, it becomes obvious that the sexy fruits of summer are on the wane. Apples are everywhere in every shape, size, and flavor palette, from tart to sweet, pleasing all involved. Grapes are massive in their bulk at year-round farmers’ markets and come in just as many varieties. Thomcord is a really interesting mix of a Thompson seedless, for the sweet, no-seed person, crossed with the Concord grape.

Persimmons have gained enormous popularity in the past several years, mostly due to the availability of Fuyu varieties. They are plentiful and grown in over thirty countries for business as well as pleasure. Divided into astringent and non-astringent varieties, both types have equal beauty and magnificent taste value. Non-astringent Fuyu persimmons, flat and sort of squat looking, are translucent orange orbs with calyx intact at stem end and should be eaten crunchy as you would an apple. Cut firm Fuyus, Chocolate Fuyu, or Jiro into crunchy romaine and crisp spinach greens. Add with creamy chevre, toasted almonds, and orange segments for a fabulous holiday salad.

Newer to the party are the massively astringent varieties, mainly Hachiya, which need to be eaten when totally soft. They’re especially good when super ripe and used for baking in cookies and bars. Persimmons are extremely generous with healthy agents; fiber, vitamins C, K, A and iron are present in every one you eat. Hachiya are full of tannins and will cause brutal pucker up if eaten totally unripe. Leave on a counter or, if you are in a hurry, place in your freezer till solid and defrost for instant gratification and yummy cookies. Persimmon pudding is a seasonal treat not to be missed.

Persimmon Cookies

Makes 50 cookies

1 cup butter or coconut oil

¾ cup molasses sugar (from Trader Joes) or turbinado or brown sugar

¾ cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 1/4 cups persimmon pulp (about 2 large or 3 small persimmons)

2 1/2 cups wheat flour

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons fresh ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg

1 cup chopped and toasted walnuts

1 cup raisins (the dried Thompson Seedless grapes from the Farmers’ Market are awesome)


Preheat oven to 350* and spray cookie sheets with canola oil or line with parchment paper.

Mix flour, salt, soda and spices together and set aside.

Combine butter and sugars and beat until smooth.

Add the egg and persimmon pulp and beat well.

Add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix until incorporated.

Add the raisins and nuts and mix until incorporated.

Drop by spoonfuls onto the cookie sheets and bake for 10 to 12 minutes.

These cookies are cake like and will seem too soft, but pull them out anyway as they will be nice and moist.