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A Pilgrim Tale: day fourteen


Is there anything I can do to make myself enlightened?

As little as you can do to make the sun rise in the morning.

Then of what use are the spiritual exercises you prescribe?

To make sure you are not asleep when the sun begins to rise.

~Zen master to his disciple


The world is cloaked in mythical clouds of vapor which bring to everything an otherworldly aspect. Rays of early light are bended and refracted by the mist into a delicious kaleidoscope of color. Serendipity is the constant companion of the pilgrim. Extraordinary gifts we could never have planned.


Mike and I have decided to take advantage of a string of shorter days to add on kilometers and make up the time we gave up on the front end. This will enable us to complete the camino in 33 days, one day for every year in the earthly life of Christ, an idea which appeals to me strongly. This means 31.5 kilometers today.


We catch up with Jan and David around mid-day and walk into the afternoon with them. When we arrive in Hontanas we discover a brand new albergue right at the edge of town, Juan de Yepes. It is not in our book. David can’t even find it on his Camino apps. But we see Adam who has already settled in here and he says it’s very nice. So we give it a try. SO glad we did!

We are given a room for four with a PRIVATE BATH!! (Toilet and sink. Shower is still down the hall.) Everything is pristine and new and well organized. And there is a foot bath!! Adam joins us as we enjoy cold cervezas with our toes in the chilly water, and our feet begin to forgive us for the many miles we inflicted upon them this day.


Later, we sit out on the patio which offers splendid views of the village below and, with Jan and David, plan our itinerary for tomorrow. From here on out, the four of us will be inseparable.

The town is very quiet.

A refuge.


Gear Note:

David utilized two different camino apps. They were helpful in that they often gave information that was not in the printed guide. Also, their information tended to be more up to date, as a general rule. Here is what he had to say about each:

The apps I used were: Camino Frances by Wise Pilgrim Guides and TrekRight. The former was the main one we used to determine distances to towns, the availability of coffee (!) in the various hamlets and towns, details of the albergues, phone number of the albergues, availability of wee-fee, etc. TrekRight was useful to find out how much farther we had to go to get coffee, food, beds, etc. (TrekRight has a GPS element)

A Pilgrim Tale: days twelve and thirteen


25 September: I’m surprised to see pâté on the table for breakfast, along with the usual bread and butter, jam and tea. But I like it. 🙂

Today, our pre-dawn start will cost us. When we come to the edge of town, we lose our arrows. We wave flashlights, scanning buildings and posts, looking for stone pillars. Nothing. We back track. Not another pilgrim in sight. We know that the highway will intersect the trail in a couple of kilometers, so we decide to take our life in our hands and walk along the shoulder with headlights glaring in our eyes and early morning commuters furiously racing past. It is only mildly terrifying.

That which does not kill you makes you stronger. ~Nietzsche 🙂


The sky is dazzling. Again. Clouds move in ever changing formations over steep hills, then fertile plains. I can’t not look at them.

At San Juan de Ortega, we stop at a cafe for second breakfast. 🙂 Here, we have our first encounter with “faux pilgrims”. I am confused by their tiny day packs with scallop shells, and their makeup, and their stylish, but impractical, “workout gear”. Then I overhear one of them explaining their “marvelous setup”. A bus picks them up at their hotel in the morning, fresh smelling with cute hair and make-up. They send their luggage ahead on the bus, while they carry a tiny day pack with snacks and sunglasses. And when they have gotten their little workout in, the bus picks them up and takes them on to their next hotel.

This bothers me more than it probably should. And I ask myself why. Is it righteous indignation that this deeply meaningful journey is being somehow cheapened by people who treat it so lightly? Or is it something far more petty and immature–a greediness that is not willing to share the glory with those who do not do the work? I’m not sure. But I will have opportunity to explore this topic again later, as we near Santiago.

We stop at Albergue Peregrino in Atapuerca, where we enjoy a picnic supper with David and Jan, swapping travel stories until sleep overtakes us.


26 September: We pass through three eerily quiet towns where buildings in ruin sit side by side with tidy modern homes. At Orbaneja, we find a whole collection of our young friends breakfasting al fresco. A bit further, there are two young women traveling with dogs. I wonder how they are getting on as most of the albergues do not permit animals. Probably, they camp.

We take the highway route into Burgos by mistake. Industrial and bleak. However, it is a fun surprise to see hometown company Bridgestone Tire with a compound that occupies several blocks.


Mike and I decide to forego the large municipal albergue and stay at Divina Pastora. Missing our friends, but it will be good to have some quiet. There are 16 beds. They open to pilgrims at 12:00. At 12:05 we are assigned beds 15 and 16. Whew! Incidentally, Divina Pastora does not accommodate pilgrims that ride bicycles or who send luggage ahead. Also, there are three hard and fast rules: No smoking. No alcohol or drugs. EVERY pilgrim MUST shower. I really appreciate that last one. 🙂


We enjoy a delicious tapas dinner with David and Jan. Then we bid a difficult goodbye to Rhys who is busing ahead tomorrow to Sarria to meet up with her mom and finish the camino from there. Goodbye is not my favorite. But for Rhys, and for us, there are still hellos ahead. Still more beautiful threads to be woven into the glorious tapestry that is The Way.


Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul.
~Thomas Merton

A Pilgrim Tale: day eleven


The rising sun paints the landscape in a watercolor wash of rose as we leave behind the Rioja and enter the province of Castilla y Leon. In the growing light, true colors begin to emerge. Chartreuse sunflowers nod under a pastel sky. Blue green kale flourishes against the distant, copper colored meseta.


In Belorado, we pass a church with one of the more striking accumulations of storks’ nests we’ve seen, yet.


Our goal for today is Tosantos, an easy 20.5 kilometers. We have read that there is an albergue there with much the same ethos as the one in Grañon, and that it is rather small. So we set a relatively aggressive pace (for us) in the hopes that we make it in. Turns out, we are the first two pilgrims to arrive. 🙂

The Albergue San Francisco de Asis has received pilgrims for more than 300 years. We choose two mats near the window in the timbered attic. We shower and do laundry, then head to a nearby bar for a cold beverage and a smidge of internet. (The parochial hostels are not big on the interwebs.)


We return to the hostel by 5:00 for a guided tour of the Ermita de la Virgen de la Pena. This unusual hermitage built into the side of a rock houses a precious 12th century image of the Christ child, and it is normally locked. We are blessed to have this opportunity to visit.

As our guide leads us across the road and up the hilly path, she wisely appoints Damien translator. It is decided that, if he translates her Spanish into both English and French, everyone can more or less understand one of the three. Watching him easily move from one language to another is a wonder. (Oh, did I mention his wife’s native language is Portugese? These two are pretty amazing.) I should say that at one point he looks at us conspiratorially and says, “I don’t understand what she just said but apparently it’s funny so please laugh.” 🙂


The church has an austere and awe inspiring effect. Once there was a school here. And hermits lived in solitary cells above the church. Inside, our guide chooses someone from our group to open the curtain which protects the image of Christ. The image is primitive, but lovely. Once each year, there is a solemn procession in which it is carried to the town below. It stays in the village church for a time before being processed back home.

Back at the Albergue, we assist with dinner preparations, then take a nap. At dinner, there are 19 people seated around the table representing 14 different countries. Our volunteer hospitalero loves music. He asks each of us to sing a song that is representative of our home. Most sing folk songs. The reluctant Hungarian twins, Judit and Rita, are finally coaxed into singing a children’s song with a great deal of laughter. Mike and I sing Rocky Top. The newlyweds add a dance to their number, of course. 🙂

Sitting across from us, beside the Hungarians, is Adam from Poland. This is our first time meeting him. But he will grow very dear to us between here and Santiago. And we will watch him take risks and be brave, and will get to know his humorous side. But on this night, he is relatively quiet. Still feeling his way.

After dinner, we gather in another attic room which has been made a chapel of sorts. Here we sing psalms and hymns in an assortment of languages. We read the prayer requests of pilgrims who have been here over the last month and offer them to God, and are invited to leave prayer requests of our own. It is a sweet and holy time. Like last night, and not like. So many ways of being with one another and with God.


In each of us dwells a pilgrim. It is the part of us that longs to have direct contact with the sacred.
~Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage

A Pilgrim Tale: day ten


Listen. Put on morning.
Waken into falling light.
~W.S. Graham

On the road before dawn, we watch the sun bleed into the sky in gentle swaths of pink and purple, like water moving through cloth. Underneath this sky lies a patchwork quilt of red earth, green fields and the white stubble of harvest.


We have begun the day walking with Rhys again. In Azofra we join David and Jan (her camino parents) outside a cafe for breakfast. Rhys’s ankle will begin to haunt her later in the day and she will have to stop short. We will reconnect one last time in Burgos.


We spend part of the day walking with John who is retired from the military. He has some pretty fascinating stories about his various deployments. Now he leads hiking expeditions all over, mostly to places nobody has ever heard of. This is his second time to walk the camino. James, who we met yesterday, is also walking with John. It is good to get a bit more of his story as well. But they are too fast for us, and we eventually bid them Godspeed.


Gathering clouds provide us with rainbows for a while. The sky is an ever-changing canvas. Mesmerizing.

We walk 28 kilometers today, a bit farther than usual, to insure we make it to Grañon. The parochial albergue here, San Juan Bautista, is legendary on pilgrim forums. Tonight, we will find out why.


The hospitalero who registers us is a volunteer from Germany. He explains to us how things work. We will all gather at 4:00 to wash and chop and make preparations for the communal meal. Vespers is at 5:00 in the church below, then dinner. He shows us to our attic room where mats are spread out on the the floor. We have arrived with Jan and David. Soon we are joined by the lads (Lasse, Mike, Paul), the newlyweds (Damien and Psicobeta), friends Claudia and Felipe, Davi and Noe, and a new friend named Winnie. Winnie is the first person we meet who has had a personal, and painful, encounter with bedbugs.

Dinner is soup and salad, bread and wine, and it is DELICIOUS!! Crazy how all the pieces and parts we washed and sliced come together to make something so wonderful. Perhaps this is a metaphor for the Camino itself–this weaving together of individuals into a whole that is so much more. There is conversation and laughter, and passing of bowls and bottles, and it feels for all the world like the very best family holiday dinner you have ever been to.

After dinner, we all help wash up. Then we gather in the choir loft of the church, in candlelight, for a time of reflection. People tell a bit of their story, or sing a song, or just sit and take it all in. A young woman, whose name I wish I remembered, (Isabelle–Thx, Damien!) sings The Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic, “the language of Jesus”, she says, “and the language of so many who are suffering right now”. Her voice is clear and strong and full of love, and excruciatingly lovely. This is a profoundly sacred moment.

Later, I crawl into my sleeping bag and ponder what it might be like to come back here and volunteer myself. Someday…


Paul demonstrating the use of a communal wine bottle. No, he did not drink all of it. 😉

Travel Note: If you should decide to walk the Camino yourself, PLEASE, do yourself a favor and stay at Albergue San Juan Bautista in Grañon. It is the kind of extraordinary experience that can only happen on The Way. Who knows? Perhaps I’ll see you there…

A Pilgrim Tale: day nine


We spend the whole of today walking with our camino niece, Rhys. (See if you can make her out along the wall.) She is still recovering from an ankle injury that required her to bus ahead a couple of days to Logrono, but she is being very brave. We talk about her many travels, including a season in Korea as an English teacher. We talk about the wild beauty of her home state of Oregon. We talk about the complexities of family and friendship. And we sing. Her library of classic rock, as well as Veggie Tales songs, is pretty impressive. 🙂


All along the Way are impromptu altars: Sanctuaries of stacked stone. Crosses of sticks and grass and bits of fabric woven into chain link fences. Tokens of pilgrimage. Of making place for the sacred. Right here. Right now.


There have been stories of a minstrel. This afternoon, we finally meet him. He is walking his camino in a suit and hat and carrying a guitar. We sit together on a scrap of broken wall while he rolls a cigarette and tells us a bit of his story. Tonight, we will hear his music spilling through the open windows of our albergue as he and his band of merry men sing us to sleep.


When we arrive in Najera, we check into the association albergue. Ninety beds in one room! The hospitaleros are all vounteers who have walked the Way themselves. They are very friendly and helpful. They receive our donations and assign us beds. As Mike and I are married, we are given two of the bunks that sit side by side. This a nice surprise.


We stash yogurt in the refrigerator for tomorrow’s breakfast, hand wash a few laundry items and hang them out to dry, then walk to a cafe along the river for lunch/dinner. Here we run into Jan and David, then Kendra and her new friend James who, as it turns out, lives in Brentwood, about 15 minutes from us.

Our sleeping quarters are close and hot, and one woman just across the aisle from Mike throws open her sleeping bag to reveal more than any of us really want to see. But, it is nice to be able to hold my husband’s hand as we fall asleep to the Celtic strains of the minstrel…

A Pilgrim Tale: day eight


Today is the first time I cry on the trail. I wake up in a funk. I have had my fill of other people deciding when I may and may not sleep, of sharing a toilet with 30 or 40 other people, of unpacking and repacking every. single. day. I am tired of no time to myself. No space.

Hear me say, “I love all the amazing people we are meeting on the Way!” Some of them will be forever friends. I am sure of that. Others are important encounters as we enter one another’s stories, for a moment, and talk about what matters. Conversations go deep more quickly here. Hearts are open. For this, I am grateful.


I am in terrible need of a little quiet. I have journaled exactly one time in seven days. Last night I sat down at a table, pulled out my journal, and was promptly joined by a whole family we had met in the Church. As mentioned yesterday, we had a wonderful evening with their plus one. But, when we were done, I sent a couple of messages, posted a few pics to facebook, and it was curfew. I got to our room just as lights went out and had to brush my teeth without toothpaste because Mike (already asleep) had moved it.

So, between having no time or space to myself, having little say about when I sleep or what I eat, I am in a funk. I warn Mike first thing that it might be best for both of us if I not talk. At all. And for the most part, though we are always in sight of one another, we hike today alone.

I am tight all over and feel like I carry a stone in my chest. I pray. I listen to music. I drink in the beauty around us. But something is locked up inside me and I don’t know how to get past it. Then Audrey Assad begins singing in my ears…

I put all my hope on the truth of Your promise
and I steady my heart on the ground of Your goodness
When I’m bowed down with sorrow I will lift up Your name
and the foxes in the vineyard will not steal my joy.
Because you are good to me, good to me…
Your goodness and mercy shall follow me all my life…

And everything opens up. The tightness in my chest dissolves in tears, and accumulated griefs that are bigger than bathrooms and toothpaste and not enough quiet spill out my eyes. And this is the beginning of everything being better.

I will continue to wrestle with the tension of solitude and community. Whereas I expected a great deal of the former, I am experiencing mostly the latter. And maybe that’s why I am here. I’m not sure…


Though I am preoccupied with my thoughts, I am not oblivious to the glory around me. We are back in the vineyards. These are littered with beehive huts. As the farmers live at some distance from their vineyards, they would have traditionally stayed in these huts as the grapes neared the pinnacle of ripeness so they might not miss that magic moment. Most are in various stages of neglect, but a couple are whole. Though not a fan of unsolicited graffiti, I have to smile when we pass one where someone has written “Albergue gratuite!” “FREE Wifi!” “Breakfast 3 euros”


More snail gardens. They seem to love the anise. And I find myself wondering if you can taste the licorice when you eat them.

When we arrive in Logrono, a harvest festival is exploding all around us. The streets are thronged with people. There are streets artists, balloon bouquets, children in traditional garb; and in the plazas, smoke and food and great jugs of wine.


We duck into the relative quiet of a cafe for a late lunch with David, Jan, Rhys and James. A well dressed woman in her late sixties comes over to our table. “Peregrinos?” she asks. “Si.” She tells us she too has walked the camino. Twice. Then she pulls up her sleeve to show us this:


By mid-afternoon, the streets have cleared for siesta. We return to our albergue, where we join others crowding around the icy cold foot bath. We buy cans of cold beer from the vending machine in the courtyard and swap stories. And the conversation and laughter are good medicine.


Later, there is a mass run to the mercado for picnic supplies, and we sit around tables in the courtyard and pass around cheese and bread, asparagus and chocolate, and pour glasses of wine, and spin the threads that continue to bind each of us to the other.


David Whyte

The way forward, the way between things,
the way already walked before you,
the path disappearing and re-appearing even
as the ground gave way beneath you,
the grief apparent only in the moment
of forgetting, then the river, the mountain,
the lifting song of the Sky Lark inviting
you over the rain filled pass when your legs
had given up, and after,
it would be dusk and the half-lit villages
in evening light; other people’s homes
glimpsed through lighted windows
and inside, other people’s lives; your own home
you had left crowding your memory
as you looked to see a child playing
or a mother moving from one side of
a room to another, your eyes wet
with the keen cold wind of Navarre.

But your loss brought you here to walk
under one name and one name only,
and to find the guise under which all loss can live;
remember you were given that name every day
along the way, remember you were greeted as such,
and you needed no other name, other people
seemed to know you even before you gave up
being a shadow on the road and came into the light,
even before you sat down with them,
broke bread and drank wine,
wiped the wind-tears from your eyes;
pilgrim they called you again. Pilgrim.

*Thank you, dear Jan, for David Whyte. And for so many other gifts. xoxo


A Pilgrim Tale: day seven


We leave our communal breakfast this morning full of anticipation. Early on we will pass one of the more popular landmarks of the Way: The Bodegas Fuente del Vino. For many years, these wine making families have refreshed pilgrims along their journey. A sign posted beside the fountain reads (approximately), “If you want to get to Santiago with strength and vitality of this great wine, take a drink and toast to happiness.”  Each pilgrim shows remarkable restraint, pouring only a few sips into cup or water bottle, insuring that those who arrive later in the day will also be served.


If you should decide to walk the camino, I can’t imagine a lovelier time than autumn with voluptuous clusters of grapes dripping from the vines, freshly mown cereal fields, feathery fronds of white asparagus, and congregations of sunflowers that look as though they are praying, heavy with seed. We climb up to one hilltown after another. In Azqueta, we stop to admire two ancient grapevines that have had their way with one of the village houses, climbing all the way to the third story.


Near Villamayor de Monjardin we are happily caught in a sheep stampede. We have been watching the flock move across distant hills for almost an hour before we finally meet. Later in the afternoon, we will pass another shepherd, resting in the meager shade of the only visible scrap of tree with his dogs and one of his flock, looking every bit the part of The Alchemist’s Santiago. Except for the cellphone in his hand, of course. 🙂


We land in Torres del Rio for what will prove to be one of my least favorite albergue experiences of the trip. Not because of the albergue itself, which is clean and bright with an open window looking out over the church, but for people banging impatiently on the shower door almost as soon as I get in and rushing me out of the bathroom, and old men who insist on walking around in their tidy whities. Nobody wants to see that.

We walk around to the beautiful 11th century Knights Templar church, Iglesia de Santo Sepulchro. The lady taking our humble 2 euro donations is gruff and businesslike and looks tired. Once several of us have seated ourselves around the perimeter of the church, snapping photos and drinking in the beauty, she signals, rather humorously, that we should try singing. (I have read that the acoustics are extraordinary.)


Mike and I begin to sing the Exapostilarion of Pascha, a hauntingly lovely hymn with simple, but beautiful harmonies. Something happens to the sounds in that place and they become a music far more exquisite than what spilled out over our lips. When we are done, our hostess’s face is radiant. “Muy Bonita!” she breathes. And she is completely changed. Later, as we sit at a table outside our albergue with the folks we met in the church, she walks up behind me and kisses me on the cheek. And I am reminded that music is a language of the soul and that connections of the heart sometimes have nothing to do with words.

One of the people we meet in the church is Kendra, striking both because she is very pretty and because she laughs easily. We have dinner together and discover that she has been part of the community at Trinity Grace church in New York, a church planted by our friend, Jon Tyson. She has just left her job as a textiles designer at Gap, moved back home to Philly and, like many of us, finds herself in a place of transition. Walking with open hands…

The readers will find in my diary a random collection of what I have seen of the road, views somehow remaining in my heart.

A Pilgrim Tale: day six


When my kids were little, one of our very favorite books was Meindert DeJong’s The Wheel on the School. It tells about a village in Holland where the storks no longer come to nest, and how a group of school children go about bringing them back. It is a magical story and we love it.

On our way out of town this morning, I am confused by the enormous circles of twigs and grass on the church until I realize… They. Are. Stork. Nests!! I am giddy with excitement and immediately wish my children were here to see them. We will continue to see them all across Spain. Apparently the Iberian Peninsula is a favorite nesting place. And every time I see them, it makes me happy. Every time.


Today there are rolling hills and Templar towns, aquaducts bringing water from the mountains, and grapevines groaning under the weight of their voluptuous burdens. There are snail gardens and more haystacks. (We later learn that Mike and Paul stop to climb all of these. Naturally. :))


The day has grown very warm, and we eagerly join several others under a medieval bridge where we plunge our feet in a mountain stream. The water is icy cold and I can only bear it for a few seconds at a time. But, my goodness, it is refreshing!! While we are visiting with Shay and Nicole, we are joined by a pair of young pilgrims bearing a bag bulging with grapes. They tell us how the farmer talked with them, proudly showing them the bounty of his labors, then generously filled a bag for them. They have eaten their fill and want to share his gifts with all of us. The grapes are sweet and juicy, a delectable treat.


We have lost track of the days of the week, but today is Saturday. And when we reach Villatuerta, we are just in time to see a wedding party exiting the church. The bride is radiant in a timeless gown of heavy brocade. I can’t stop looking at her. I ask her if I may take a photo. She hands her cigarette to a friend :), grabs the arm of her new husband, and flashes a smile that is all joy.


In Estella, we check into the parochial hostel where we find Mike, Paul, and Lasse (Denmark), along with the beautiful newlyweds, Damien (France) and Psicobeta (Brazil), who are still on their year long honeymoon! For the first time, we pay to have our laundry washed in a machine. Though we still hang it to dry, it will dry faster after a nice spin. With the laundry done, we head out in search of a couple of cervezas grandes. On the walk back up the hill, we see clumps of people in traditional dress. I try to find out what’s happening, perro mi Espanol es no muy bien.

Vale. (Spanish for, it’s all good.) Shortly after we return to our lodging, they come parading right by us, stopping occasionally to dance. It is fantastic!! I follow them down the hill and across the bridge before my legs refuse to carry me any further. Later, we will go back out to a market for picnic provisions. We sleep in close quarters with mostly people a lot younger than us. Next morning, we enjoy a communal meal of bread and jam and coffee. And begin again…


Every second of the search is an encounter with God. When I have been truly searching for my treasure, every day has been luminous…I’ve discovered things along the way that I never would have seen had I not had the courage to try things that seemed impossible…

~Paulo Coelho

A Pilgrim Tale: day five


Do not forget that to live is glory. ~Rainer Maria Rilka

Up and out early walking through farmland and past towering haystacks where I half expect to see “Jack from Ireland”. (Inside joke for those who have seen The Way) We are joined for a while by an ebullient school group out hiking with day packs. They chatter a mile a minute and sometimes run ahead. One of them has a bag of tiny kinder eggs that he is passing out to his mates. He stops to hand one to me. 🙂


Out across the rolling landscape, one can see several hill towns scattered about. Villages were built on hills: a. so that you could see the church from far away, and b. because they are more defensible. And here’s another thing: everyone lives in the villages. No farmhouses dot these great sweeping expanses of farmland. No sheds or barns. The farmers live in the village and ride their tractors out to their fields. Great towering windmills whir in the distance. We are slowly overtaking them.


We have been playing leapfrog with Rhys and the guys all morning. Part way up the hill that will finally deliver us to the windmills, we stop under a scrap of tree for a rest and a snack. Claudia and Gabbi are eating yogurt from glass jars. Mike tells them the yogurt must be really good to justify carrying a glass jar all this way. Claudia assures him, it is. 🙂

Mike and Paul join us. Mike stretches out on the grass, and Paul enlists our help in a clandestine project. He has “borrowed” Rhys’s video camera. He assigns us all crazy tasks. For instance, I am supposed to describe the texture of egg salad. He will knit our responses together to make a hilarious little Camino souvenir for Rhys that she will not discover til she is home.


At the top of the hill are iconic iron statues reminding us of pilgrims who have walked this way for centuries before us. The windmills stand sentry all along the ridge, as far as the eye can see.


In the afternoon, Mike and I decide to take an optional detour out to Eunate, a beautiful 12th century Romanesque church with links to the Knights Templar who once were the guardians of the Way. It is extremely hot. And more than once, we will question our decision, especially when we learn that the church is only open to visitors at certain hours and that we will need to wait more than an hour to see the interior. We pull off our shoes and lie on the grass in the shade for a bit, then resume walking.


On the up side, this walk has taken us past some of the most verdant farmland we’ve seen. Padron peppers are literally dropping from the plants. There are artichokes, asparagus, corn, sunflowers, olives…

In Obanos we run into new friends Tad and Melinda and walk the remaining 1.8k into Puenta la Reina with them. There is an albergue in the basement of Hotel Jakue, and this is where we decide to stay. We are assigned to the Paulo Coelho room(!) which makes both Melinda and me very happy. We talk about The Alchemist and The Pilgrimage and she tells me about his On Being interview. I load it onto my phone to listen to tomorrow.

After doing a little laundry, Mike and I walk into town to see the Iglesia del Crucifio, so named for the unique Y shaped crucifix brought here by medieval pilgrims from Germany. It is only one of three such crucifixes in all the world. We are unprepared for the impact of our encounter. The whole of it is carved of wood. And the figure of Christ is so compelling, so full of anguish, that I can’t breathe.

We don’t talk much about it. I think each of us is guarding this profound moment in our hearts in our own way. But when we are home, I will walk into Mike’s office one morning to find a postcard of this image leaning against his computer. And when we compile a list of “luminous moments” from the Way to share with friends, this is the first one he mentions.


The remembrance of Christ’s sufferings cures the soul of rancor, so confused is it by the example of Christ’s love. ~St. John Climacus



A Pilgrim Tale: day four


At its heart, the journey of each life is a pilgrimage through unforeseen places that enlarge and enrich the soul.

~John O’Donohue

Before leaving Zubiri, we tuck into a bustling little coffee shop for one of the more decadent breakfasts we will have on the camino. The proprietor offers to warm our chocolate chip muffins, and when we break them open, we discover a gooey, molten center. Oh! My! Mike will tell stories about these muffins for the rest of our trip, stopping at one bakery after another, trying to find them again.


Today’s walk is up and down hills, past grapevine clad houses and trees heavy with fruit. We pay a brief visit to the Abbey of Eskirotz and Ilarratz, the ruined church of Santa Lucia, which has recently been purchased by a former pilgrim from South Africa and his Spanish bride and is being lovingly restored in the hopes of creating a museum of Basque culture and possibly an albergue.


We also pass a house that will be familiar to you if you have seen Emilio Estevez’s film, The Way. Do you remember a long table in a garden, Tom’s first encounter with cynical Sarah from Canada, and the innkeeper who would have liked to be a bullfighter? Yeah, that house. Cue James Taylor. 😉


We take a most meaningful detour up to Zabaldika to visit the 13th century church of San Esteban (St. Stephen). Here we are invited to climb the winding stone stairs up to the belfry and ring one of the ancient bells, sending our prayers out over the valley.

The trail leading away from the church is lovely, along a dry desert hillside where lavender and anise grow in profusion. The scent is intoxicating. I stop from time to time and run my hands over them, drinking in their fragrance. Also, there are dry stems covered in what I first believe to be white blossoms, but they are actually snails. Hundreds of snails. I’ve never seen anything like it. But I will, again and again, before we are done. And there is a farm with turkeys and ducks, chickens and goats. A fun surprise.


The entrance into Pamplona is impressive, leading us under and around and finally through the ancient walls that once protected her. We secure beds at the albergue Jesus Y Maria, built into the nave of a 17th century Jesuit church. A clean room with rows and rows of bunks accommodates several of our friends including Rhys and the lads–who we will find practicing some restorative yoga later–David and Jan, Shay and Nichol.


After a shower, Mike and I head out for an explore. First up, the art deco masterpiece, Cafe Iruna.

“The square was hot. The flags hung on their staffs, and it was good to get out of the sun and under the shade of the arcade that runs around the square…We take coffee in the Iruna, sitting in comfortable armchairs, while from the cool shadow of the arcades contemplating the great square.”

~Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

We forego the coffee, but do share a piece of chocolate cake. And there is an accordion player. And the square is hot.


Mike runs for a bit with the bulls. Then, like the bulls, we make our way to the famous Plaza de Toros, where I have my picture made with a bust of Papa Hemingway.


Dinner turns out to be another of our more memorable meals. We feast on pintxos (pronounced pinch-ohs, Basque for tapas)  at a table on the plaza directly opposite the lovely town hall. Many of the cafes offer pintxos specials. Our plate–chef’s choice of nine pintxos–and bottle of wine is only 12 euros. There is plenty for both of us and it is so good. Padron peppers (amazing!!), tortilla con papas, chorizo, another type of sausage that is tasty but it is best to not ask too many questions about, seafood salad, calamari, chicken wings, and a couple of things I have forgotten.


Travel notes:

It is entirely possible to do the camino on the cheap. Though we anticipated spending the occasional night in a hotel, we ended up electing to stay in albergues all the way. These ranged in price from 5-12 euros/person. Some are donativo, meaning pay what you can. We usually paid the same amount at these, or more if a meal was included. We probably averaged around 15-18 euros each for food per day.

Also, a word about bedbugs: It is one of the great preoccupations for pilgrims. Hospitaleros do what they can, but anytime you move this many people through the same space day after day, it is always a possibility. We personally did not encounter them, but we met people who did. Here are a few tips: Pretreat your backpack and sleeping bag before traveling with a natural product called pyrethrin. One treatment is good for 30-40 days or so which will be just about enough. Also, lavender oil is said to repel them. We always travel with lavender oil, so any time we felt like the risk was higher, and especially toward the end of our trip when our spray was wearing off, we used it as well. Some people made a spray with lavender or clove oils which they used to spray mattresses. Finally, bedbugs tend to leave droppings in the seams of mattresses, so that is a good place to investigate before bedding down.


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