Tag: lay of the land

The Wabi-Sabi Path

At this writing I’ve been home from travels twelve days after leaving home nine weeks prior. My pilgrim certificate says I finished the Camino in Santiago de Compostela on June 14, my pre and post Camino not counted. Yet it all seems so very long ago. Perhaps it’s due to an enhanced “now-ness” I’m experiencing. The past having served its significance and the future unpredictable, not yet reality; the present doesn’t feel like limbo but something solid at every moment.

Somewhere along my Camino I realized there were two significant aspects in play. The first had to do with clearing mental, emotional, spiritual elements given perfect opportunity to arise through the physical challenges that came about. In an uncanny way, the walk had become my own personal healing timeline stretching way into the past. Thought forms would come to call uninvited. Some quite old to see if there was still any charge. Others newer to see if I would attach or if resolution had occurred. It was a test, a way to walk out the kinks if I needed to do so. Sometimes I did. Clearing is required before anything new can truly emerge. Otherwise the path remains cluttered with things that should have been ejected long ago.

In the very beginning, I made mention the Camino would show we pilgrims what we’re made of. It does. That’s its gift. I also found what I could depend on within myself, and to the depth I held certain values.

The second thing had to do with such appreciation of simplicity and humility, the imperfect, and respect for the path walked.

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In Japan they have an art form, a practice of embracing the world, as much as it is in the creation of something. It’s about finding beauty—to acknowledge what may otherwise be passed by.

Wabi-sabi is underplayed and modest, the kind of quiet, undeclared beauty that waits patiently to be discovered. It’s a fragmentary glimpse: the branch representing the entire tree, shoji screens filtering the sun, the moon 90 percent obscured behind a ribbon of cloud…Sabi by itself means ‘the bloom of time’.

Within a few days of coming home, the Japanese wabi-sabi art of kintsugi came to my attention. On one level it involves mending broken things, in this case china. On another level it’s so much more. In the three-minute video below young craftsman Shimode Muneaki gives an introduction, “Traditionally, lacquer is used to reconnect shattered pieces of pottery and gold leaf is applied along the repaired fault-lines to accentuate and celebrate the fissure, rather than to hide it.”

View The Art of Broken Pieces.

Kintsugi is a visual manifestation of finding beauty in things that didn’t quite fit, perhaps broken, and putting it back together in a way that’s noticeable and acknowledges a new way of being. In the ways I speak of here, my Camino became—for me—a wabi-sabi path of renewal and simplicity.

All these things have shaped what comes. Whether the Camino delivered me beyond whatever threshold I’d foreseen before beginning my walk remains to be seen…but I believe it has. This imagery keeps coming to me: I’ve got one eye where I place my feet, the other eye given to peripheral vision…while my Third Eye is sensing what’s ahead.

I’ll Know I’m Home When

Somewhere along the way, once I got the rhythm down pat, I began to note somewhat tongue-in-cheek differences between daily life on the Camino and home. But the more I listed the more I realized it’s an intimate glimpse of common pilgrim experiences you normally wouldn’t be aware of unless you’d undertaken the journey. I also began to have insights, reminders and resolutions related to some of them that I’ve included at the end.

I’ll know I’m home when…
   … I’m no longer looking for markers every few minutes to tell me where to go, except perhaps subliminally.
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   … I’ll no longer be walking continually for 4-8 hours on a daily basis, with the exception of a brief rest or rest day.
   … I’ll no longer be so consistently in nature.
   … I’ll no longer hear the continual click-click click-click of walking sticks telling me that a pilgrim is coming along the trail.
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   … I’ll no longer hear the well wishes Buen Camino spoken to me by nearly every pilgrim and so many locals, or say it myself, as we pass each other.
   … I’ll have a cat in my lap not observing one from a distance.
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   … I’ll no longer sit people watching, daily, at an outdoor café while having café and croissant, or a glass of wine and tapas.
   … I’ll have more than one change of clothing.
   … I’ll have more choices to wear on my feet than hiking shoes or flip flops.
   … I’ll keep my belongings in a closet or chest of drawers rather than a backpack.
   … I’ll no longer do my laundry on a daily basis rather than weekly.
   … I’ll no longer be required to vacate my lodging each day by 0800, or be restricted in any movement or slight noises between 2200-0630.
   … I’ll know on a consistent basis where I’ll lay my head each night.
   … I’ll no longer wear ear plugs.
   … If I’m sleeping in a roomful of people, I’ll know them all ahead and never in numbers between 12-100 in one room.
   … I’ll have as much privacy as I choose.
   … I’ll be able to sit upright in my bed without bumping my head on the bunk above me.
   … I’ll be sleeping between sheets, not in my sleeping bag.
   … I’ll take a shower for as long as I like without pushing a button every ten seconds to keep the water flowing.
   … I’ll no longer speak three languages, daily, sometimes all within one sentence—the latter because my brain isn’t adequately sorting.
   … I’ll no longer hear five or more languages around me or engage with so many different nationalities at once at any given point, daily.
   … I’ll be drinking French roast—strong and black—in the morning rather than café con leche.
   … I’ll return to my normal diet, rather than the “pilgrims menu” offered in restaurants.
This statement probably needs some explanation. Nearly every restaurant on the Camino offers a lower priced 3-course meal, limited options for each course, with bread, wine, coffee, or water included, typically between 9-12 euros. While offering benefit to pilgrims in the amount of food for a lower cost, they’re high carb, meat and potato meals, nearly devoid of vegetables, no fruit. Lots of gluten. Also typical of the entire other-than-pilgrim menu in Spain. I consumed more gluten, dairy, potatoes and meat in these two months than I’ve eaten in at least five years, maybe more.
My Take-Aways…
   1. It’s important to be alert to the lay of the land to avoid becoming lost or overlooking tell-tale signals that things are off track or hidden. I resolve to sharpen my peripheral and x-ray vision.
   2. Flexibility is a virtue. It’s also important to set your limits and abide by them. I resolve to identify with even more depth and breadth what is true for me.
   3. A simple life in the best sense is a pure one, devoid of clutter in the mind or unnecessary material goods, anything that weighs down the spirit. I resolve to uplevel my sorting and pitching process.
   4. Nature is a great gift, healer and stress reliever. I’m fortunate to live where I do. Nature—miles of it—is just outside my door. I resolve to do these things more: hike, take breaks, sit on the deck, notice the wildflowers—however small—and watch the lizards, birds and other wildlife. Absorb energy given by the moon, sun, stars, wind and rain with intent to return it in ways that are life-giving.
   5. Diverse encounters—people, places, new ways of doing things—make life rich and support intellectual, emotional and spiritual growth. I thrive on diversity and already seek it out but miss it at home. I resolve to discover more opportunities to insert myself in such foreign lands locally.
   6. I undertook this journey through willing choice. If you look at the list, you may notice there are aspects that are similar to those whose lives often aren’t through choice but circumstance. In a certain way, I had a light taste of what it’s like to be homeless, to experience restriction. The more days I walked the more this awareness settled on me. It increased my compassion toward anyone who finds themselves in such a place and has difficulty finding a way through. There’s always a way across a threshold. It also deepened the great gratitude I hold for having the life I do, and the capability of coming up with strategies to navigate the tricky times.
   7. The pilgrims I met on the Camino came from different walks of life, ages, cultures, circumstances, personalities but all held one thing in common: an intent to deepen their lives in some way. That’s the Spirit of the Camino…or any challenging spiritual journey really. It’s an initiation process, one so worth undertaking. You meet yourself coming and going resident in the land you travel and those you meet. You discover who you are. Then the grandest part of the journey is taking it all home to shape your daily living from that point on. I resolve to do so…as gracefully as possible and forgive myself when I stumble.
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   This may seem like quite a list of resolutions, maybe overwhelming. But…for me…it boils down to something core. Being present. When I think about it, that’s what the Camino reinforced to me overall. Be awake—fully. Then all starts to fall into place bit by bit: small adjustments build upon themselves and create alignment. That’s absolutely doable. It’s something I know.

The Unknown World Or…Days 38-40: June 17-19

Finisterre

   When I was still in preparation for this pilgrimage, I wrote a post entitled “Momentum” about the phases of the journey and the idea of sliding my own footsteps into those of pilgrims many centuries old once I began. Now I can’t even begin to imagine what it was like after, in some cases, many months depending on where they started…finally arriving in Santiago de Compostela–the Field of Stars–and the cathedral with all its opulence, pomp and circumstance. But even more so, for those who elected to make the further journey to Finisterre, Land’s End, all the way to the sea. For some, seeing such a large body of water for the first time.
   What it must have been like…gazing out from the End of the World, as it was known at the time. Anything beyond the horizon was unknown and, for all they knew, could have been The Great Abyss. From the Field of Stars to the End of the World, the two seem linked in some way.
   This is where I went to more reflect on my Camino and where it has brought me. Finisterre is a small town, but I elected to stay out of town away from the crowds, overlooking the sea and a short walk away from the lesser frequented beach on the western side called Praia Foro do Mar. I spent most of my time there gazing out at the view and walking the beach. Indeed the ocean seemed to stretch into oblivion. Depending on the time of day, it shimmered, not much differentiation from water to sky, and could have been easily taken in those old times for a pathway continuing to the heavens.
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   I have been sheltered on this journey in a way pilgrims weren’t back then, or for so many people today. Life has been simple. You get up. You walk. Although I had some challenges, I was not attacked or robbed. I had food and water. I had a bed to sleep in. I was not isolated. The outside world was kept at bay. Life has been simple.
   I made the mistake of turning on TV for the first time since I began the Camino and watched the news on Al Jazeera, known for not candy coating the facts. I saw the reports from home on the latest acts of racism and violence. Having been sheltered from these increasingly regular occurrences for the last two months, I can’t describe the level of horror and sadness with which I took this in.
   Somewhere on this pilgrimage, I read where–I believe it was the Dalai Lama–was quoted, “We see bad news because it is news.” Essentially saying, so much good is in the world it’s not news of difference but the bad is. Perhaps seeing that statement was preparing me for the moment I mentioned above.  It’s something to sit with. About halfway through the Camino, a woman from Greece asked me if I thought evil exists. I answered yes. You can’t have light without the dark. Somehow there’s a way to integrate the two and/or accept what is. I know Indigenous traditions that do, the Maya being one. I don’t know much about Buddhism but think something similar is true within that belief system.
   Although I never really left this world, there was a buffer. Now I’m faced with being reminded to provide my own buffer, while still acknowledging these things are there. It’s the world I’m re-entering. To deny otherwise is fooling myself.
   I started this walk asking to learn how to be most present, and continue doing what I love and care deeply about…but with more grace and ease…and give care to myself much more. I come back to this intent, this question.
   When I bought the bus ticket back to Santiago, the agent said, “It’s good for any day. There are no assigned seats.” To my ears I heard a deeper message: This must be the threshold I spoke of at that communal meal back in St Jean when answering why I chose to undertake this pilgrimage.
   I’m at a choice point. There’s no prescribed path but the one I choose. There never is. I’m disengaging from the footsteps of pilgrims past and landing firmly back into my own–although I never left them.
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   In “Momentum” I spoke of the small (but mighty) Singing Bowl my dear friend Hilary Bee had entrusted me to carry on the Camino. I sounded it during key points for me along the way, the most recent standing, facing the sea, at the End of the World. The vibrations of the Camino live within its shape as much as its pronouncements are sent ahead. With gratitude I’ll send it back across the ocean to Hilary in the UK once I’m back home where I’ll sound it to introduce those vibrations to the larger bowl she made, her community supported, and she gave to me. Full circle.
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***
In Finisterre I booked a place through airbnb.com with Rosa Trabo Martinez for a room listed as Einzelzimmer Cape Finisterre. It’s actually a modern three-story home with other bedrooms available and common rooms, bathrooms and kitchen. I had the good fortune to be the only guest while there at a very reasonable rate. Rosa lives next door and was so accommodating to me. And you can’t top the quiet or view. If you’re thinking of going to Finisterre, I highly recommend.

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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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.

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.