A Pilgrim Tale: day eighteen

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No, the Hobbits don’t live here!

So says the sign in Moratinos. 🙂 These are bodegas. Wine cellars dug into the side of a hill. Historically, each family made enough wine to provide for their own family for a year. Their wine-making operation would have taken place in these bodegas. Afterwards, the wine, and perhaps food as well, would have been stored here.

The job of digging these out was often assigned to children. The soft clay was easy to dig, but when they pushed it out the chimney ventilation shaft to add to the mound, exposure to the air dried and hardened it to a stony surface. They would dig the bodegas in the winter, but the children would be nice and warm as they worked inside.

Some bodegas are believed to be 500 years old. Most are not used any more for wine-making, but as storage cellars or party rooms. (Hence the antenna, I suppose.) 🙂

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When we get to Sahagun, we meet John. His was one of the many stories Otto told us yesterday. His wife died on Easter Sunday. This pilgrimage is part of his healing. Around his neck, he wore a chain with both their wedding rings. His bride had instructed him to find a couple to give them to. She assured him he would know them when he met them.

Two nights ago, he stayed at Espiritu Santo in Carrion de los Condes (as did we). While he was there, he realized he knew who he was supposed to give them to. Espiritu Santo means Holy Spirit, by the way.

He invited Jorge and Kelly to have dinner with him. At dinner, he reached across the table for Kelly’s hand. He slipped his wife’s ring on her finger. It was a perfect fit. In the same way, he asked for Jorge’s hand. Let me pause here to say John is rather small in stature. Shorter than me, I believe. Jorge is a big, strong firefighter. He looks a little like a linebacker. And yet, his ring also fit perfectly. Now, Jorge wears a chain around his neck with the rings he and Kelly will wear when they are married.

John kindly tells us the story again. His voice is soft and reverent, but his eyes dance.

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Sahagun claims the title of half-way point on the camino, although the math is a bit fuzzy. Regardless, we stop and take photos and commemorate this important “thus far” moment.

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Along with the stories, each day brings a whole panoply of images. Some extraordinarily lovely. Some merely curious. Many evenings, as I lie in my bunk awaiting sleep, these wash over me until the line between dreaming and waking is irrevocably blurred. I leave you with a few from this day…

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In silence we must wrap much of our life, because it is too fine for speech.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

A Pilgrim Tale: day seventeen

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You hear about the meseta long before you get here. It can be one of the great trials of the camino. I had expected long, endless days of unbroken plain. It hasn’t turned out to be that at all. Until today. Today is flat and straight with the road stretching out as far as you can see. We begin the hike with a 17 kilometer stretch between towns. No towns mean no food. Or bathrooms. It could be awful, except for one thing.

Today we meet the storyteller.

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Otto is a retired electrician from Winnipeg, Manitoba. Because my daddy also made his career as an electrician, we already have that. He is becoming something of an archivist of tales of the trail. He tells us several, beginning with his own, a tiny bit of which we heard last night.

Otto and his lovely wife, Maria, had been planning for some time to walk the camino. She celebrated her sixtieth birthday in December of 2014, and was thoroughly enjoying the life they had made for themselves, each of them looking ahead to the joys of retirement. One night, a couple of months later, the two of them spent a quiet, easy evening at home. Maria made phone calls to all her siblings and enjoyed catching up with them. She and Otto called a granddaughter to ask about an important event she had just celebrated. Then, she sent Otto to the store. When he came back, she was gone.

His children encouraged him to carry out the plan he and Maria had made and walk the camino. He carries a packet of letters written by them and by his grandchildren. He opens one each day. The one today was from his daughter. It was a letter her mother had written her when she was walking through a difficult time. She asks him to read it as though Maria were speaking directly to him.

He wears Maria’s Virgin of Guadelupe medal on a pink cord given to him by one of her friends. When he speaks of his bride, his voice is tender and sweet. His amazing hat was knitted by 6 year old granddaughter Mia from yarn that belonged to her grandmother.

I hear no bitterness in his story, only gratitude. He tells us about all that he is learning on the Way, as though he were giving an account to the camino.

I am learning to slow down. My feet have taught me that.

I am learning to give it away. My back has taught me that.

I am learning to follow your signs, or I will walk the path twice. My eyes have taught me that.

The camino asked, “Yes, but what has your heart taught you?”

My heart has taught me that when you arrive at an albergue early and get to choose a lower bunk, then a tired, older pilgrim comes in, you give him the lower bunk. When you are the last person to get a spot at the albergue, and someone weary and hurting comes stumbling in and is turned away, you give him your spot and move your burning feet to the next town. When someone is running low on food and water, you share what you have with him, even if you have little.

Then the camino said to me, “How have you learned these things? Are you bragging about your deeds? Remember, be humble.”

And I replied, “These are things that others have done for me.”

You can see why we will stay close to Otto, hungering for his words like a certain group of fishermen who walked with another storyteller long ago…

 

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In the afternoon, we walk for a space with Sieglinde and Hans Pieter from Stuttgart, Germany. I’ve been seeing her for a few days now with her jaunty, feathered hat and flippy pink skirt. It is good to finally meet them. In July, they stepped out their front door, much like a medieval pilgrim would have done, and began walking toward Santiago. They are walking still (30 September). Their children are 23 and 21, the same ages as two of ours. And they, like we, are at a transition. We talk about family, and faith and art. And the world keeps getting smaller…

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This evening, we sit around a table with James from Ireland, and our friend Adam and feast on fresh local trout. And tell more stories, and spin more threads…

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How long the road is. But, for all the time the journey has already taken, how you have needed it in order to learn what the road passes by.

~Dag Hammerskjold, Markings

*I have tried to capture Otto’s stories just as he told them. With a certain storyteller’s license, of course. Feel free to add or correct as necessary, Otto. 🙂 xoxo

A Pilgrim Tale: day sixteen

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The waking dawn plays over the Canal de Castilla, and the canal catches her glorious colors and throws them back at her. Trees line the gravel path, and the crunch of our boots against the gravel is the only sound.

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In Villacazar de Sirga, we see our first Palomar. A dovecote. It is a circular whitewashed stone building with a conical roof made of wooden shingles. Inside, the walls are lined with recesses which serve as a sort of nesting box. Slender beams crisscross the upper portion of the building, reminding me of the drying racks in old tobacco barns at home. Perches. Historically, doves were kept for their eggs and flesh, as well as for their dung, an important fertilizer. We will pass a great many of these over the next few days. I’m not sure any of them are still in use.

We are developing a reputation for singing; Jan and David, Mike and me. Not so much for the quality of our singing, you understand, as for its frequency. 🙂 Jan and I share in common the disease of archiving the lyrics to pretty much any song we have ever heard. It is rare that we start up a golden oldy, but what one of us can come up with at least a verse or two. We sing everything from classic rock, to old spirituals, to children’s songs (Jan likes the Muffin Man for Mike because of his relentless search for another gooey, molten chocolate muffin). Paul jokes that we probably don’t know anything from this decade. But he is wrong.

Anyway, it is no surprise that we are drawn to the idea of lodging with the Augustinian sisters of the church of Santa Maria in Carrion de los Condes. They are a singing order. 🙂 Alas, by the time we arrive, they are already full. They direct us to Espiritu Santo where we happily share a bright, pretty room with Jorge, Kelly, and Cathy. In the afternoon, we run into Jan’s friend, Natthadeou from Majorca, who tells us we would be welcome to come sing with the nuns at 6:00, even if we are not staying at Santa Maria. Natthadeou is a Camino veteran. He has walked it several times. He knows stuff like this. So we go. (Natthadeou is in the red jacket on the right in the picture below.)

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We find a perch on the stairs and are handed a song sheet to share. The sisters choose a couple of songs from the sheets and invite us to sing along. Then, they ask each of us to introduce ourselves, tell why we are on camino, and, if we like, to share a song. So many beautiful, and difficult, stories in that room. This is the first time we see Otto and hear a bit of his story, but we do not know him. Yet.

When they come to a Japanese American woman sitting just below Otto, she says she would rather not sing. They ask her if they can sing a song for her. She nods, and they flip a few pages in their songbook, and begin singing a Japanese folk song. Tears stream down the woman’s face. And it is so good to be here.

I have noticed that two of the nuns are in black, not white. And that their habits appear to be Orthodox. When they introduce themselves, we learn that Orthodox Sisters Jacovi and Stephanie are here for just a few days to help minister to pilgrims. Sister Stephanie walked the camino several years ago and has asked to come back and volunteer. Sister Jacovi has been sent along as well because James is her saint. We speak to them after and find that we have friends in common. Sister Stavriani, whose family is part of our parish, belongs to their order. Truly, the world is smaller than we think.

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We piece together a supper in the kitchen of our Albergue, then go to the church of Santa Maria for the pilgrim blessing. We are given paper stars that the sisters have made for us, praying as they did for pilgrims they had not yet met. Then the priest, or one of the sisters, takes our head in their hands and prays for us. This is a beautiful, sacred moment.

A sacrament is when something holy happens. It is transparent time, time which you can see through to something deep inside time…you are apt to catch a glimpse of the almost unbearable preciousness and mystery of life.

~Frederich Buechner

*Hat tip to David who took the photo at bottom. Thanks, friend.

A Pilgrim Tale: day fifteen

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Whether we know it or not, we need to renew ourselves in places that are fresh and wild. We need to come home through the body of alien lands. ~Joan Halifax

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We rise before dawn, pack our gear, and walk up to the cafe for coffee and fruit before hitting the road. Several pilgrims are there before us, with road dust already in their shoes. They awoke at 3am to see a lunar eclipse. As we are somewhat disconnected from the world, we have missed the news of this phenomenon. We console ourselves by walking our first couple of miles into the radiant full moon.

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Five kilometers in, we pass through the ruins of the Convento de San Anton. I tell Jan that he is one of the patron Saints of Animals and she loves him at once. We notice several tau crosses, long associated with this order, and increasingly known as the Cruz de Peregrino (pilgrim cross).

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We come to the beautiful hill town of Castrojeriz around mid morning. Here, two wonderful surprises await us. The first of these is the Hospital del Alma (hospital of the soul). A door stands ajar along the main route through town. An inconspicuous sign bids all pilgrims welcome and requests that we honor the silence of this place. We step inside the cool, dark interior where herbs smoke in a bowl, the table is laid for tea, and all along the walls are lovely photographs with wise words underneath. We wonder through the rooms, then out to the garden which is filled with sculptures and plants, and where a meandering path leads to a grotto carved into the mountain. I find my breathing deepens and slows here. And the stillness flows into me and becomes something I can carry inside.

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The ideal man is he who, in the moments of most intense activity, knows how to find the silence and the loneliness of the desert. This man has achieved self-mastery. (One of the quotes along the walls.)

The other surprise we find at the cafe just down the street: Jorge, Kelly, and Cathy! We have not seen them since lunch at Orisson on day one. It seems Jorge encountered food poisoning, so they had to rest for a day. Though I am sorry for Jorge, I am delighted to see them again. Don’t worry that there is no photo here. You will see them soon enough. 🙂

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We pass the lads (and Isabelle) in Itero de la Vega. They have stopped here for the day, after waking at 3 for the eclipse. We grab lunch, then press on to Boadilla del Camino.

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All along the camino, we have passed field after field of sunflowers, many of them completely dry and full of seed. Yet, not once have we seen anyone harvesting them. Though I would still like to observe the machine that removes the seed from its head, I am pretty excited to finally see this.

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We secure lodging at En El Camino, one of the more memorable albergues of our whole trip. Though it doesn’t look like much from the outside, once you step into the courtyard, you are surrounded by an explosion of color. Lush plants, murals along the walls, sculpture, and a pool. Grapes grow all through the apple trees on the patio. And the sleeping quarters are in an old timbered house with bunks on the main floor, and cots in the floating, cantilevered loft.

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Though none of our party is brave enough to take the plunge into the frigid pool (some others do), we gladly sit along its edge and cool our feet. Our friend Adam is happy to find a fellow ukulele player who is traveling with ukulele in tow. It doesn’t hurt that she is pretty. 🙂

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After a delicious, hearty, communal Castillian meal, we drift off to sleep, full of memory…

A Pilgrim Tale: day fourteen

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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 🙂

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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.

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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.

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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. 🙂

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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.

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

A Pilgrim Tale: day eleven

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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.

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

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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.)

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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.” 🙂

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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

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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. 🙂

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

But…

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…

beehives

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”

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

angel

Camino
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