Category: Camino Francés

Reflections on Process and Destination Or… Days 33-37: June 12-16

Santa Irene-Lavacolla-Santiago de Compostela

I placed my feet at the end point of the Camino Frances on June 14, having embarked this walk on May 10. I stood before the inlaid stone in the middle of Praza do Obradoiro in front of Catedral Santiago de Compostela that signaled I’d arrived, looked up at the cathedral…and have to admit…I had no response.

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Long before I actually began, I reflected on what it might be like when it was over: elation, joyful tears, soaring heart. To imagine the level of emotion actually was an experience in itself. But it was none of those things. For me, it was anticlimactic. I almost didn’t go to the pilgrims office to collect my certificate. I did anyway but know it will get buried in a file somewhere like my degrees or any other certificate of completion I have–except my folks have already asked for a copy to frame and hang on their wall. I think they’re more excited than I ever am.

Others will probably feel differently who have done this walk. But I’m a peculiar bird sometimes. It’s an endpoint, a continuation, a beginning…no different than anything else. It all merges together…and for me…more about the process that brought me to that point than the original marked out destination. It’s a microcosm in time and intent that serves the macrocosm of my life. I can reflect back on my daily life and inform it.

– What was my intent at the outset?
– What deeper learnings did I have?
– What was meaningful?
– What did I find to be insignificant?

What I’m finding dear are the stories I hold that go with the process, as well as being still even though moving, immersing in my surroundings. What the people meant to me whether they ever know how I was touched. Back in Santa Irene I stayed in an exquisitely renovated albergue, an old stone cottage, that appeared to be run by sisters. Who knows how old it was or all the antiques and vintage photos it contained.

During our deliciously simple communal meal that night I met Cheryl and Olla from Australia. In their early 20s they had backpacked together for a year all over Europe. Now…probably 20+ years later…they are walking the Camino together. Olla said, “It’s different this time.” But friendship endures.

Ever since Leon when we met on the train, I kept running into Lois and David, a couple from North Carolina. They’d surprisingly turn up at unexpected places. The last time I saw them was when I rounded the corner to go into the church near Lavacolla that I wrote about in “Stamp and Confessions.” I told them the Camino was doing a number on them. They had a glow on. It’s validating to witness the process of others, which is also why I love the work I do.

Somewhere before Santa Irene, three people passed me on the trail. I thought two of them were ghosts, because I thought the couple, Athenia and Ross, had gone home to British Columbia a week or more before. We met early that first night in St Jean before Day One. They started out with 3 additional women as a group. Along the way folks scattered as they can do for one reason or another. But before I saw them they’d picked up Scott from the Southern U.S. who’d been traveling with them for a week. We had a nice chat in a roadside cafe before they moved on…and I went back to my slower pace. Athenia and Ross were scheduled to fly home in a couple of days.

This becomes significant because as I had arrived in the suburbs of Santiago, walking toward the center point, I ran into Scott going the other way. He’d already been in Santiago for a couple of days and was then headed to catch a train to Porto to walk the Camino Portugues back to Santiago again. But he paused and congratulated me on making it. He was my greeter, and everyone should have one. It meant something.

I was thankful for these simple things, as well as many more. I wrote about the contrast on the journey. I was to have one more. This one over the top. I went to the pilgrims mass at noon the day I arrived. Perhaps it was different on other days but I tend to think not. I’ve seen complaints in online pilgrims forums.

It was a circus, and I’m sure the priests hated to see the service reduced to such. I did. I’m not one who normally attends any kind of church service. But there’s usually have some form of reverent quiet. Not so here. There were tour groups mixed with pilgrims. It was loud. About 15 minutes prior to the start of the mass, a priest got on the sound system, asked for silence, forbid photography of any sort, and directed those not attending mass to quietly leave…immediately. It didn’t help much.

I did enjoy the nun trying to teach everyone a simple song that would be sung later. It was also heartening to hear the welcoming to different groups or individuals from so many places across the world who’d started at various points. That part felt like we were a global community with common intent. The priest gave a sermon, said prayers. Photos still flashed no matter they were verboten. The place it really fell apart was at the end. This was what people were waiting for…and they rushed the front, snapping pictures. Sorry. I hate to be a cynic. By this time it seemed more like a party trick. This is what all were waiting for: the botafumeiro ritual. I do have to admit curiosity myself. But really?

I found so much more meaning the next day when I found this relatively unadorned Capella and sat in silence reflecting on my journey. Afterwards I wandered the streets and came upon the German pilgrim I’d written about in “When the Spirit Catches You” who sang a quiet song in the forest. We smiled at each other in acknowledgment.

And then the Irishman I’d quoted in “Humility.” He was buying ice cream and said he and his friends had just arrived. They were getting their certificates; he’d done it before. I mentioned I’d gotten there the day before. He looked surprised.

“Well, you know I had to take the train to catch up days and then walking again.”

He gave me a long look and said in the his strong Irish brogue, “You got here, din’t ya? That’s what counts. Did ya get your certificate?”

“I did.”

“That’s good.”

Tomorrow I’m headed to Finisterre on the coast, the place once known as the End of the World. It promises to be a good place for further reflection on the process but not the destination.

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When the Spirit Catches You Or…Days 28-32: June 7-11

Sarria-Ferreiras-Gonzar-Palais de Rei-Melide-Arzua

This is the way it happened. I was sitting in a small but lively Italian restaurant in Sarria at a table to myself. A woman with long whitish hair walked in. I thought to myself, she looks familiar. She came over to my table and asked if she could join me, introducing herself as Lydia. I realized I had not seen her before. We quickly fell into conversation. She said she was from the Netherlands. I mentioned two Dutch sisters who introduced themselves during the communal meal at the albergue the night before Day One on the Camino in St Jean. I ran into them off and on as time went on. They’d begun to travel with three new friends from the U.S. also present that first night. I hadn’t seen them for a long time but ran into them all in Sahagun, the last night they were all together. One of the Dutch sisters had to go home as scheduled, the rest also ending their Camino time for other adventures. I shared a train seat to Leon with the remaining sister, and we then went our separate ways.
Lydia laughed and asked, “Did the sisters mention a friend who was traveling ahead?” I vaguely remembered a mention at the first communal meal. She said, “I’m that friend!” We talked until 10 PM, the latest I’d stayed up to date, finding a number of things in common. Now what are the chances we would end up at a table together in this particular restaurant…when there were many to choose from and in this particular village?
Some time that night I told her about a Swiss man I’d met very early who started the Camino by walking out his front door…in Switzerland. We both marveled. I hadn’t seen him since that brief passing. But the next morning there in Sarria? I met him again just leaving town.
I took both of these synchronous occurrences as a good sign. There existed a sense of excitement in the air. This is where a number of pilgrims begin walking the Camino, perhaps because they have limited time…and you can still get the completion certificate if you walk these last 111 km. There were a number of fresh, hopeful faces–probably exactly the way I looked on Day One–and carousing by young ones. The anticipation was catching…and I took it on.
Sarria
Sarria
Plus the realization that I was actually nearing the end. I was like a horse headed to the barn.
And I was falling in love…in a way I hadn’t for a very long time…with this region of Spain called Galicia. image
The next night I spent in Ferreiras, a place so small I almost missed it. If I hadn’t looked up at just the right time I would have passed the albergue on by where I’d made a reservation. I awoke quite early the next morning, having to wait for enough light to set out. That’s when the true magic of the region became apparent to me through the morning mist. Forest, wildflowers,  fields and tiny villages that probably hadn’t changed much in seventy or more years. My footsteps became quite light. My heart was full. My mind was quite still.
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I realized that somewhere along the way I’d stopped conscious wazifa practice. I wouldn’t presume to say I’d embodied the Beautiful Names I was working with. But I would say they were working me beneath the surface. Hard to describe. But I could feel it.
This morning along the trail through the forest I actually came upon someone walking more slowly than I was. Not due to an injury but because it was evident she was just as enchanted as I was. She’d stop and look. Just like I did. She began singing a soft song in German. It added to my day. I finally passed her by. She may be out there singing still.
Traditional corn crib.
Traditional corn crib.
Tonight I’m staying in Arzua in O Albergue de Selmo, a wonderful place. Not because it’s fancy. It’s not. This little slice of heaven has no more than two bunk beds in an actual cubicle–with a curtain sliding across the entrance for privacy, something quite scarce–a bedside locker for valuables, separate men’s and women’s bathrooms and showers–an adequate number for a change–and a super helpful owner. And because I was the first to arrive and check in, she gave me a cubicle with only one bunk bed, at the farthest end. It’s now late for check-ins. No one is in the top bunk. I must be well loved.
I topped off my day with Caldo Gallego, a bowl of hearty traditional Galician soup–their specialty with cabbage, beans, a little bit of sausage and the ever-present potato–thick crusty bread and vino tinto.
Santiago de Compostela is now within my sight. Only 40 km away to the 0 km marker.

Contrast Or … Days 25-27: June 3-5

Leon

There’s always contrast on a journey. Things that get your attention because there’s an unexpected juxtaposition. I chose Leon for mine. It’s a city of about 130,000 that grew up around its historical center having significant importance to the Camino. I’m staying toward the train station. Hence, in a more urban area. The first thing I noticed is how beautifully stylish the Spanish city women are. Their fashion sense reminds me of Paris in some ways; what amazing things can be done with jeans, a scarf and the right shoes. Of course, I can tell you…we pilgrims have none of these things. We’re into function no matter where we’re from.
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The second has to do with art. After weeks of appreciating Medieval art, I was ready for a change. I stumbled upon a place on a hostel website. It turned out to be family-run Hotel Quindos. What attracted me was its tag line: For the love of art. One review said, “Weird art.” That cinched it for me. Where have you stayed in lodging that has original artwork in every room, every few feet, including the one where you sleep? I almost feel like home.
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Well, there’s one piece I can’t quite figure out. At first I thought it was a political statement having to do with Franco. It’s a large work and takes a while to sort it all out. Now looking at the image I took…not so sure. Interesting anyway.
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I asked the man at reception about the contemporary art museum. He said they just have rotating exhibitions. I decided I was game. When I returned he said in perfect English, “Sometimes these artists like that don’t let us know what they’re thinking.” Enough said…except I’d rather see edgy art than something made solely for commercial purposes. Art in its best sense documents culture and makes a statement. After all, what we know of the past is well said through art and literature, or tells of the future, reaching deeper. So much more than meeting criteria: It must fit over the sofa perfectly and match the decor color. That’s probably what I appreciate about Hotel Quindos. They don’t care what you think.
Then I wandered down to the historic area and was surprised to find an early Gaudi.
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Then there’s the queen: Cathedral de Santa Maria de Leon. There’s an unusual delicacy about its soaring spires and buttresses. But the same could be said of a number of cathedrals I’ve seen. What makes it so special is the interior “play of stone and light”, as it said in the guide recording. They were referring to all the stained glass, one next to the other with out-of the-ordinary color schemes and images of any I’ve ever seen.
In Michener’s Iberia, he tells of a time when a prominent local coerced him into coming to the church plaza at 3 a.m.–after a few bottles of Rioja–saying he had a special surprise. This would have been about 50 years ago and Leon was a mere shadow of its present-day self. Few were out. The night had wound down. But suddenly as they were standing out in the plaza…all the lights inside the church flipped on, shining through all the stained glass into the night. The local had a confederate inside who performed this trick just for Michener…who said it was a sight to behold. But nothing like when they went inside with full lights illuminating all the glass. It’s difficult to capture all within the format limitations of a camera. But here’s an untouched photo to get the idea.
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I also also spotted an interesting relief on the outside mixed in with the others. I’d seen others similar elsewhere. Built on the backs of men?
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The rest of the time I spent people-watching and couldn’t resist this dog, too.
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Tomorrow I’m headed to Sarria on a train from Leon, to make up for time I was laid up, where it is my intent to finish those last 111 km walking into Santiago. All good thoughts welcome. I appreciate the time-out in the city, but I’m ready to return to the relative quiet of the open path and villages.

People and Places Or… Days 21-24: May 30-June 2

Calzadilla de la Cueza-San Nicholas del Real Camino-Sahagun

Sahagun is said to be the halfway point for the Camino Frances…and I’m here. Arriving, I couldn’t help but notice all the swallows swooping through town and three storks nested on top of the old church now housing the municipal hostel. That and the celebratory halfway point was a good excuse as any to stay a couple of nights.
Pilgrim passport
Pilgrim passport with stamps documenting my walk. Sahagun starts the other side.
Before I left home I’d downloaded James Michener’s Iberia. I enjoyed his books many years ago, although they were often quite dense. One thing could be said for him in that he was faithful to the history and flavor of the region he wrote about, which is why I brought this one along. I finally opened it last night. It’s a combination travel diary and historical reference documenting his lifelong love affair with Spain and her people. There’s a very long section about the Camino. He’d traveled it three times. Below is one reminiscence.
“…Once I had walked sixty miles through this peninsula, carrying a pilgrim’s staff eight feet long, and as it swung methodically through the air…I had discovered what it must have been like physically to lug such a heavy staff across Spain; the kinesthetic sense of the staff swinging ever onward had drawn me forward with it. But not even the walk and the staff had told me how the pilgrim had felt inwardly, but here in Castrogeriz, as I swung along the road and into town, I became a pilgrim in imagination as well as in reality, and from that moment on I was to have a sense of what these distant hordes of people experienced as they picked their way from town to town across an inhospitable land, finding occasionally in a monastery or hospital a friendship so warm as to reward them for all the hours of isolation…”
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I can really resonate with this passage. The walking stick does seem to pull me along. I’ve developed a thump-step-step-thump rhythm. And I can tell you it’s a comforting companion. Particularly when I left Carrion de Los Condes headed for Calzadilla de la Cueza. In the guidebook there was a warning that nothing but dusty road through endless fields existed along this stretch. No trees. No villages with a possibility of rest stop on this 17 km. Take plenty of water and something for lunch. The distance itself wasn’t beyond my capability but being without what was absent made for a tough day walking in solitude in the hot sun.
It’s amazing to me how some of the villages can hide in small dips in the landscape when it appears that the trek stretches on endlessly. I can tell you that Calzadilla was a welcome sight as was the great hospitality in the place I stayed. Many of those who run the albergues and hostels have walked the Camino themselves…and they know exactly what a pilgrim needs at the end of a long day.
Reading Michener’s encounters with local scholars and characters made a point. If you sprint through these places you don’t really experience the people who live there. The other pilgrims and those who service them…sure. But there are whole communities who open their arms and hearts. We pilgrims are guests and most of the locals treat us as such.
Particularly the older residents greet me in passing and say, “Buen Camino!” I got into Sahagun  early and went to a cafe to wait for the tourist office to open for information on a hostel that would lodge me two nights. The cafe owner told me about a family-run hostel – “muy amable” – took me outside pointing down the street, indicating to just go straight. No street name. Well, pretty soon a few streets came together, and it was impossible to tell what straight was. I finally ended up on Plaza Mayor, looking quite lost I’m sure. An older gentleman approached me asking if I was looking for the Camino. I told him not today but showed him the paper with the hostel’s name. He motioned to come with him, talking all the while we walked, until he showed me a street and motioned. I thanked him and set out. But not before hearing him stop a very elderly woman going in my direction, asking her to make sure I got there. She did. This morning I returned to the cafe from yesterday for coffee and croissant. The owner’s face brightened. She beamed at me and said, “I was thinking about you so much and worrying if you would find it!” She was genuine.
Spain has had a very rough time in the economic downturn. Many of the villages look deserted, a number that were once rich strongholds of the Knights Templar now greatly diminished in size and importance. There has been an ebb and flow of pilgrims over the centuries. I am so glad this current upsurge has brought a new economy to these small burgs, making life a bit easier for these down-to-earth, hardworking people. I’m happy to spend my euros here.
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 If I have any regret, it’s that I don’t have better fluency in the language or the privilege that Michener had in being introduced to local sages and scholars…or his vast understanding of the art and architecture of the Middle Ages. His words on the page make the mysteries and meaning of those times come alive for me. I’d like to return and linger in each village and town, his writings on these places helping to ferret out what once existed and more appreciate what still does.

Humility Or … Days 15-20: May 24-29

Burgos-Hornillos del Camino-Castrojeriz-Boadilla del Camino-Villalcazar de Sirga-Carrion de Los Condes

Three days ago a French pilgrim came abreast with me on the path …
I can’t even remember where but we were out among the fields as we often are. The days and places are running into each other. In order to see how long ago I’ve written I had to consult the calendar and then the guidebook for the places I stopped for the night.
… The French woman inquired if I was okay. I told her I was getting there, albeit slowly. “Courage,” she said and then continued on. That must be the operative word for this walk. I’ve now heard it said to me directly three times. But truly it could be said about anyone who has chosen such a spiritual undertaking. And whether all the pilgrims admit it or not, they have.
A couple of days ago, an Irishman told me he’d come before and advised, “The Camino will have everyone one way or another. The first will be last. And the last will be first.”
I would project that to be true. I know it’s working on me. Yes, my foot still has plenty to say, and my attention is at a basic level toward self-care. I’m mindful to travel within my current level of capacity. I don’t overdo it. I’ve chosen to send my pack ahead to each destination. It’s helped.
Yesterday a young pilgrim lounging at a cafe table laughed and said to me, “There’s no trouble telling who’s a pilgrim. They’re the ones limping.”
Well, that would also be true. The great leveler: young or old. But I’ve noticed something else. I’ve seen a softening overall. A sense of humility, I’d call it. There’s a spirit alive. An acknowledgment: We’re all swimming in the same sea. What any of us “do” is of little importance here. Often we don’t even exchange names. More often the question is: Where are you from? And most often: Where did you start?
Community
Find yourself and you will be free… Find each other and we will all be free.
A while back a Dane said to me smiling, “Would you ask these questions of a stranger? Then before you know it…sharing some experience?” Food for thought indeed.
We tell stories about what’s important to us as much as commiserate on any physical challenges any of us are having. We help each other.
And for me…swimming in the Camino sea…I have bursts of pure happiness, sense of wellbeing, limping along in the middle of nowhere listening to bird songs and watching the wind play with the fields of grain.
Bird song
 Wind and grain
One morning I added a small stone with all the others beneath a cross marker to document I was there and walked on.
Documentation

The Kindness of Strangers or…Days 11-14: May 20-23

Ventos-Najera

The opera Carmen is filling the room as I sit in a comfortable chair documenting these past few days. I feel uplifted by the music and hospitality that permeates the Hostal Hispano here in Najera, the welcoming atmosphere distinctly put in place by Anna who runs it. I can testify to her warm-heartedness, and she carries this quality readily on her Spanish face.

Anna

 

This wayward pilgrim is in a very different place today than on Day 11, specifically due to the kindness of strangers. If you track on the graffiti map below, you’ll see I haven’t made it very far in distance miles since I left Logrono after two days of resting my resistant foot. It’s hard to tell what the map is tracking since there are 20 possible villages or towns to lodge between Logrono and the city of Burgos, not one-fifth that’s shown. I’m likely at point 18 shown on the map now.

Camino map

 

Unless a pilgrim wants to sleep in a field, the amount of foot travel each day is gauged by the distances to be undertaken between places where there’s lodging. On Day 11 I left Logrono and walked 20 km to Ventos, my right foot speaking ever more loudly as the miles went by. I’d been fooled by its silence when I’d embarked that morning. I arrived at the only Ventos albergue in early afternoon run by an Austrian woman with lockstep efficiency. I pled for a lower bunk. It was evident I was having trouble. Her partner showed me to the 3rd floor (American). No elevators in these places. The women’s bathroom and showers were on the 2nd. But I was happy to have a ground bunk. I was also happy when another woman was shown a bunk later. Otherwise, I would have been the only female bunking with 8 men. No problem really. I just would have felt under-represented.

I knew by nightfall that I was in real trouble. I could put no weight on my foot without significant pain. Some of these albergues have stringent rules about leaving your walking sticks at the door, along with hiking boots. (The latter I understand.) Consequently, I had no support in getting around. Still no swelling on the foot and no injury done. A sign was clearly posted that pilgrims must leave by 8 AM and the albergue would close. The next morning I waited in the lobby, other pilgrims departing. A few I’d met in earlier days expressed empathy at my predicament. I intended to prevail upon the Austrian manager to help get me to a doc, unlikely there was one in this tiny village.

She finally showed up. I placed my petition before her. She confirmed I’d have to travel to Najera via taxi to the health clinic, gave me a map and called a taxi which would arrive in 20 minutes. Then she told me I’d have to wait at the bar down the street because she was closing. I said nothing, but perhaps I looked resigned because she relented. When the taxi came she told the driver where to take me even though I told her I could handle it. As I settled myself in the back seat, she reached out and laid a hand on my shoulder and told me all would be okay. That light touch of acknowledgment finally filled my eyes with tears when nothing else had.

No one at the health clinic admissions spoke English. French was rolling easily off my tongue but no one spoke that either. My Spanish was hiding. Times of stress, I suppose. Finally, the admissions tech sat down in front of a computer and accessed Google translate or similar. He typed out questions. I circled the answers. He set me up for an appointment with a doctor within the hour, never exploring how I would pay.

The doc opened his door to me 30 minutes early. How often does that happen? Gentle demeanor. He had no English, no French. But by then my Spanish wasn’t quite so shy. I was able to tell him it was all a mystery. He pushed around on the foot, not finding much either. He sent me to x-ray. No stress fracture. Thanks to the gods…nothing. He asked did I want to continue the Camino to which I said, “Of course.” He replied that there was nothing to be done but take the high dosage ibuprofen I already had…and stay off my feet for 3 days. I thanked him and asked how I pay for services. He waved me down to admissions. To which, I asked the admissions tech the same question. He asked if the doc gave me a paper. He didn’t. “Then there’s no charge,” the tech said.

Really? Anyone reading this from the U.S. knows that would never–repeat never–happen at home. And I would have had to fill out multi-paged forms with medical history and insurance. Not 3 strips of paper each holding 1 question with a circled answer. I felt like a person in need…not a commodity.

Then I found Anna. She somehow pulled a room out of her hat when they were full, apologizing it was on the 3rd floor, toted my pack up for me and gave me ice for my foot. I like it up here under the eaves. It’s quiet. The window opens to the sky and pigeons cooing.

I’m one to find metaphors in what presents itself externally. It’s the way my mind works and has served me well as learnings for my inner life. I can’t ignore the mystery issue is with my right foot–the one that represents moving out in the world. I also find it interesting that there’s an empty, derelict apartment building immediately next door that looks like it’s been that way for years. Quite an unusual thing here, I’d say. It got my immediate attention. I spent some time shooting images of it last night when I ventured out for food.

 

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Sometimes there are things we need to leave behind, that we’ve grown beyond. And we may not even know they’re still hanging out in the psyche until we’re presented with such…or slow down to consider.

This morning I went out to get some info at the tourist office. Afterward, I passed by the Santa Maria la Real Monastery and stopped to read the sign by the door. A man appeared out of nowhere, opened the heavy door to the church and motioned for me to go inside. He didn’t do so himself.

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I was the only one there and sat down in a pew to gaze around. No sooner had I done so than silent tears began to stream, going on for awhile. This used to happen to me off and on in my early days of meditation 30 years ago. I never knew why then. Nor was it revealed to me today.

I can thank my foot for this slower walk that brought me to this unexpected place specifically…and receiving the kindness of strangers. I also have a further recognition of whatever surrounds me and keeps me protected.

Why the Journey or…Days 8-10: May 17-19

Estelle-Logrono

A couple of hours into my walk the morning from Maneru I was well into the countryside. Somewhere in memory are steep climbs. I’d just pulled myself up one of those when an older Spaniard with a white goatee slowed down alongside, speaking to me in Spanish. I got about half and cocked my head. He said it again, “A woman walking the Camino alone. You have much courage.”
I didn’t start out meaning to walk alone. It’s happened that way. I didn’t think I would walk so slowly. At first it was the Pyrenees and the pack. But the Pyrenees are past and the landscape more even. The pack on my back now seems almost a part of me. Still, the paths are often arduous, the rocks being most problematic for me. Imagine angled uneven trails with cobblestones but not human-made…off and on for miles. Most everyone passed me up. I didn’t care about that. From the beginning I was never in a race or on a schedule. I wanted to get to Santiago in one piece, enjoy the scenery, collect material for later artwork and any new revelations the way may bring.
Oscar was always well ahead. I had no problem with that. I was often with my own thoughts and practice anyway. And he’s more prone to strike up conversations with other pilgrims. He’d stop around lunch to wait for me or we’d meet at the closest 20 km point to find an albergue for the night.
By the time the Spaniard came upon me I was starting to have problems. My pace had slowed to that of a snail rather than the tortoise. A tendon on the top of my right foot was straining and my left knee was also talking to me. I’d felt the foot the night before but thought I could walk it out as I’d done a number of different aches and pains since we started. I couldn’t. Both were more and more insistent. I hadn’t twisted anything. I’d been very mindful of how I placed my feet. I think all the big rocks just finally had their way with them.
The trail was pretty much empty. I just toddled on. Another older gentleman, this one French, checked on me in passing, “Ca va?” In the middle of nowhere there’s nothing to do but go on. He must have taken a break somewhere because later he whispered as he passed again, “Courage!”
Wazifas were my steady companion and likely what got me through. I finally entered the town of Estelle. Luckily, the municipal albergue was the first thing I saw and checked myself in. Oh luxury, I was assigned a room that probably had 16 bunk beds but I was the first there. I went horizontal, shoes off. Soon the room was filled with chattering, mostly French and Italian. Later I was able to find a farmacia to get some high dosage ibuprofen. I could barely walk.
Why am I telling you all this? People tend to romanticize things. The Camino de Santiago is not romantic or airy-fairy. But it is a choice. As I walked I imagined medieval pilgrims with heavy robes and inadequate shoes, maybe no shoes, little food. Accommodations not what they are today. The paths were much less than they are now. None of the present-day pilgrims I’ve thus far seen are having an easy physical time. I’d say most better than me and some I’ve encountered are having more difficult times.
And with all that, there’s a reason people undertake this challenging journey…any such journey…with many returning to do it again. After all is said and done…it does something to us.
That’s why I made the choice. I don’t know where this will take me any more than I’ve known the outcome with all the similar choices I’ve made in the last 20 years…after I woke up. But I know it to be true and right for me.
Back to the storyline…. I never saw Oscar that day but we did reconnect via email. He was in the same town in a different albergue.
I decided the smart thing for me to do was bus ahead to Logrono, equivalent to a couple days’ walk, find a pension with a room to myself (ah, bliss) and stay off my feet a couple of days. I have done that. A quiet (more bliss) clean place across from the Catedral La Redonda. Below you’ll see the scene directly eye level out my window. It’s my first attempt at sketching using Art Set Pro, an art app I downloaded to my iPad. It’s tricky using a stylus on a screen. The mark doesn’t always go where I attempt. Learning curve. Probably a lesson in that, too.
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Last night I went into the cathedral for a short time and found strong energy. This morning I returned for a couple of hours and took my prayer beads. Wazifa practice was extraordinary there for me. From some depth two wazifas that I’d forgotten came swimming up … Ya Shafi! (O Healer) Ya Kafi! (O Remedy)…
I now feel ready to continue on tomorrow.

Days 4-7: May 13-16

Villava-Pamplona-Zariquiegui-Maneru 

I’m sitting in the sole bar-restaurant in the tiny medieval village of Maneru, the only foreigner along with a few locals. More are starting to drift in. Too early for dinner. But it must be their equivalent of happy hour. I’ve got a plate of olives I’m munching on along with my beer. When I asked the young woman behind the bar if it was possible for me to have some from the large bowl on the counter, she kept shoveling them onto a plate until I said stop. They’re to die for. I could make a complete meal with the local bread. 

I think most of the villages on the Camino must be medieval, each looks so similar to the next. Most have the big blocky churches with a tower. The few we’ve been able to see inside are spare by comparison to the Gothic cathedral San Cernin in Pamplona, which was quite elaborate.
The days are starting to run into each other with little differentiation. I’m able to keep track by any photos I may take, but more so by the thoughts I hold along the way. If I don’t jot a few things down they may be gone forever. For some, that’s appropriate and part of the process. Others have so much more meaning to me.
A few days ago my friend and old mentor Chief Hawk Pope of the Shawnee Nation United Remnant Band in Ohio passed. I’d been thinking of him consistently the day prior as I walked. I saw the news the next day with shock. Since then, he’s continued to be present on this walk as I’ve gone over so many things he told me, having to do with his own walk and that of his people. When I can sort through the jumble tumbling over in my mind, I’ll probably write more. Right now, my heart is heavy.
We’d walked from Zubiri with the plan to arrive in Pamplona the same day and stay 2 nights to look around. However, the temp soared into the 90s along with high humidity. Humidity is not my friend. By the time we arrived in Villava I was about to have heat stroke. I knew if we continued to Pamplona it would be a serious mistake. 
We crossed the bridge to Villava. Everything was closed. Oscar went ahead to see if he could find the municipal albergue, while I trailed some distance behind. Just as he rounded a corner out of sight, a young man on a bicycle approached me and asked if I needed a room. I usually blow off anyone who approaches me on the street. But Pedro was quite charming and had an earnestness about him. We ended up staying at his family’s pension, and he turned out to be the chef as well. Quite good. Since the place was new and off the main street, it was also his job to search out likely lodging candidates. Probably not too hard. We all pretty much look the same: dragging feet, slack-jawed, hair wild or hats askew.
  
The next day we went into Pamplona, a nice respite from the trail. 
   

       

Climate change is an interesting thing. After all the high heat, the next day the temp dropped by 20 degrees. And the next another 15 and it began to rain. 
   

 

In the afternoon we arrived in Zariquiegui that held 2 albergues. Ours was cramped and overloaded with pilgrims trying to shelter. This was also the first time we’d been with so many young ones. Most had thus far averaged between 50-68, a guess. We sat shoulder-to-shoulder for the evening meal, which was ample. Lots of noisy conversation. I will admit to meeting my threshold that night, especially with so few physical reserves. I’m an introvert who lives happily alone. This subject deserves a separate post. The contents have been running through my head.
It sounds as though I’m doing a lot of thinking. Much of the time my mind is blank appreciating the landscape, focused on my feet getting up a hill or doing a silent wazifa chant. There are the bigger things that do come up. Like the one I mentioned. I already knew this was an area where I would be challenged. It has to do with energy. But another time, maybe when I’m farther on down the road.
So that brings me full circle. The olives are gone. I’m going back to my home for the night and see if my laundry is dry.

Things I Will Remember

Thomas Merton wrote: “The little flowers growing alongside the road are saints.” Saints are plentiful along the Camino from St Jean to Pamplona. I recognized them in their colorful robes, the smell of incense clinging. They bore witness. It helped me to imagine their blessings and encouragement as I passed.
   

       

Then there were the cuckoos and woodpeckers calling a steady rhythm. My footsteps kept in synch. And so many others whose songs I heard but were unknown to me.
A surprise: Lizards in the Pyrenees–just a bit smaller than the little guys who lounge on my front porch at home and do the occasional push-up–running across the pathways and even beneath the tables at outdoor cafes, fearless. Occasionally, tumbling over each other fighting. Perhaps an invitation to look at any of those aspects in myself, either to encourage or leave behind.

Days 1-3: May 10-12

St Jean Pied-de-Port … Orisson … Roncesvalles … Zubiri

The official start of the Camino Frances is in St. Jean on the French side of the Pyrenees. We arrived from Biarritz via shuttle to this medieval walled village, replete with citadel at its highest point, and made our way directly to the pilgrim’s office. It’s staffed with volunteers from different countries. Got the stamp on my pilgrim passport and picked up a shell to hang on my pack. I’m a bona fide pilgrim.
   

 

We wandered the village until we could check into our hostel, which began “welcoming” at 2:30. There we had our first experience of hospitality, dorm-style living and delicious food. There really is such a thing as a Camino family–pilgrims you meet, travel with off and on, lose touch with and meet again. It started that night. Folks from Canada, Germany, Brazil, US, Netherlands, Australia … And later France, Japan, Cyprus, UK and on. Not as many Spaniards but did notice some on the path once we got to Roncesvalles.
   

     

We left St Jean around 8 the next morning. I was surprised when emotion arose, a mixture of excitement and tears. I guess I’d downplayed the enormity of what was ahead.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, the first phase of the Camino is described as the “physical Camino.” I can attest to it. We’d listened to advice to only go 6 km the first day and made an advance reservation in a private hostel in Orisson. A good thing because I swear the entire way was straight up. We were walking through storybook-beautiful countryside. But after a short time it was hard to take it all in. Primarily, this was a time of getting used to the pack on my back and the sheer physicality of the undertaking. 
I decided I was a tortoise: my home on my back … Slow and steady would do it. Wazifa practice was finally what got me up and down the mountains in these days. Ya Fattah! O Opener! To open the way–attuned my breath, slowed it down. Focusing on the chant took my mind off the strain in my body, the heaviness of my pack. I also saw another woman zigzagging on the trail and remembered there are switchbacks at high altitudes for a reason. Somehow I managed and stumbled into our destination. I’d met a German on the road coming from the other direction who encouraged me saying it was just this last incline…and then Orisson. 
  
That’s a thing I noticed right away: the support people give each other, perfect strangers. Would that the world was so.
  
Thank the Infinite I was assigned a lower bunk. If I’d had to climb a ladder I don’t think I would have made it. Truly, I barely had the strength to put the mattress cover I was given on the bed. I went horizontal for a couple of hours. Then I was able to join Oscar and fellow pilgrims for another delicious meal and more hospitality. The next morning we awoke to clouds below us. Breathtaking.
  
Day 2: Orisson to Roncesvalles… 11 km. I was thankful for the 20-25 mile an hour winds that kept us cool on this strong sunny day at 30 to 45 degree inclines. I don’t know how many ways I can say beautiful and breathtaking. An enterprising Basque parks his lunch truck right before the border advising with a sign it was the last opportunity to get a French stamp. We obliged, had a cafe au lait to fortify ourselves. Soon we crossed over into Spain, barely an indicator we had done so. These first two days we went from 200 to 1400 meters in altitude.
   

 

This night in a medieval monastery renovated for pilgrims and currently staffed by Dutch volunteers. Quite modern. It holds 300 in open cubicles of 2 bunk beds. That was an experience. Oscar and I went to pilgrims mass and knocked out.
  
Day 3: Roncesvalles to Zubiri … Approx 20 km. Oscar asked me if the wazifa for the day was Ya Fattah. I said it would remain so until my body acclimated. We entered forest off and on. I was thankful for all the Grandmother and Grandfather trees, as well as the youngsters, that provided what shade they could. I started noticing all the ferns, the young ones with fronds unfurling. I thought about us pilgrims discovering what we’re made of and building strength of body and mind. Then there were all the wildflowers. 
We were assured the worst aspects of the physical Camino were behind us. I wasn’t so sure. For the most part we were descending, the path still going up and down, often quite rocky and somewhat treacherous. I learned to watch my feet and noted the walking stick I’d purchased in St Jean not only helped pull me up the path, it stabilized going down. As in much of the world, the weather is unusual. We’re experiencing unseasonably high heat and humid weather. No need so far for the heavier jacket or rain gear.
   
We’re tucked into the tiny village of Zubiri for the night. Tomorrow… Pamplona.