Tag Archive - Camino de Santiago

A Pilgrim Tale: day twenty-four

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The morning comes clear and cool. And dry. We race the sun up the mountain. She reaches out rosy fingers, gently caressing everything we see, as though she is as glad to see the world again as we all are to see her.

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Foncebadon is like a little hill town that time forgot. Scattered between albergues and cafes are neglected relics of another age; lovely stone cottages that have no one to love them back into themselves. We stop in a general store/cafe that has the wonderful smell of old wood. With it’s glass canisters and suspended farm implements, it looks as though it would be at home in any small town of Appalachia. We share coffee and conversation with Otto and Jose before resuming our climb.

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On the way out of town we pass a remnant of what I imagine was once a church. One impossibly slender fin with a perfect arched window stands sentinel in a walled yard. We first see it bathed in warm, early sunlight, then silhouetted against the same. It is a striking figure, and it begins to prepare our hearts for the weighty encounter just ahead of us.

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The Cruz de Ferro

Here each pilgrim leaves something that no longer serves her. A burden, a sadness, or perhaps a token of gratitude. It is a very personal thing. And yet, it is made even more beautiful for us because we arrive with a great many friends who have become dear to us on this journey. When we first see it out ahead of us, we fall silent. The deep significance of being here settles on us like a mantle. Holy Ground, Otto calls it.

Each of us stands in respectful silence as the others take their own walk to the cross. There is a holy hush over the mountain that all of us are reluctant to break. We carry this with us for a space, unwilling to intrude upon the sacred.

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Somewhere we know that without a lonely place our lives are in danger. Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, without distance closeness cannot cure. Somewhere we know that without a lonely place our actions quickly become empty gesturesโ€ฆ
~Henri Nouwen

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The afternoon is a succession of mountain towns under a cerulean sky where contrails form giant fans, followed by long, deep, cerveza lubricated conversations with our fellow pilgrims on the porch of Albergue Santa Marina in Molinaseca. Our home. For tonight.

The road has been long. And good.

My heart is full.

 

A Pilgrim Tale: day twenty-three

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The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.
~Dolly Parton

Thanks, Dolly.

Thanks a lot.

Tough day for me. Rain coming and going all day. Jacket and pack cover on…off…on…off…ad nauseum. And stuff hurts. The front of my calf. My knee. My shoulders. Tired. Plus I have a bad attitude. Mostly, I have a bad attitude

And yet…

The whole day is braided with luminous moments. The best one comes early in the day. We stop at Meson el Llar for a little second breakfast. There we run into our friend Josh who we met at the very start in St. Jean. He has become a pied piper of sorts, gathering a whole group of young people around him. Almost immediately, we are also joined by Otto and Jose, Jorge, Kelly, Kathy…SO. Many. Friends.

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The counter is lined with all sorts of delectable temptations: tall, luscious looking tortillas, French toast, meatballs, fancy teas, a whole jar of muesli… And the busy proprietress is laughing and bossing people around while golden oldies are cranking on the stereo. And then it happens. A spontaneous eruption. Like a single spirit moves us all at once.

It is one of the singularly most memorable moments in an ocean of memorable moments.

We finally tear ourselves away from this warm, friendly oasis and resume the walking. Despite my best efforts to be a total grump, God keeps pelting me with beauty until my resistance is finally spent.

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In Rabanal, we attend an evening candlelight service. Several pilgrims read passages in a variety of languages. Our friend Jorge reads here in Spanish. A mercy of peace at the end of what has been, in some ways, a turbulent day.

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The Most High has wounded me with His Spirit,
filled me with His love,
and His wounding has become my salvation…
All the earth is like a memorial to Thee,
a presencce of Thy works…
Glory to Thee, O God,
Thou Who are forever the delight of Paradise.
Alleluia!

~The Odes of Solomon

*Hat tip to Mike who captured our proprietress at Meson el Llar.

A Pilgrim Tale: day twenty-two

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The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain. And the hills. And irrigation channels and wildflowers growing in ditches. In small towns and big cities. On men riding bicycles. On allees of poplars. On pilgrims.

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It comes strong early, but by the time we reach Astorga in the afternoon, it is mostly mist. Astorga is a quaint, old city with winding, labyrinthine streets. The Bishop’s Palace, another Gaudi offering, is just around the corner from our albergue. It is the quintessential marriage of refinement and whimsy.

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And there is a civil building with figures on the clock who come out and hammer a bell to ring the hour. Mike and I walk back at 4:00 to see it.

Our albergue, San Javier, is in an historic building in the charming old quarter. A stellar location. The building has nice bones, with stone arches, heavy wooden beams, and a fireplace (especially welcome on this chilly day). But it is a bit of a run down affair. EVERYTHING creaks. The floors. The beds. It would actually be funny if it didn’t make it almost impossible to sleep. OK, it’s still kinda funny. But the beds are tight, there is no room for storage, and the laundry sink is out of doors with only cold water. Brrr.

We buy cheese and bread, olives and wine, and picnic in the common area near the fire. We stuff newspaper in our boots, hoping against hope that they will dry before morning, when we will walk back out into the rain. Again.

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Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.

~Paulo Coelho

A Pilgrim Tale: day twenty-one

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RAIN.

I hear it outside the open window as I brush my teeth and it makes my stomach feel tight. We really can’t complain because we have mostly had amazing weather. But it is still hard to make myself walk out in it. I’m not gonna lie.

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But there are beautiful snails scurrying across the path. And we can’t help but laugh when the dirt path becomes mud that sticks to our boots in huge clumps and makes us feel like we are wearing anti-gravity boots that weigh 100 pounds and we have to slog off the path and into the far away grass to try and get rid of it and find some way to move forward without being finally sucked into the mud so deep that you can no longer find any trace of us.

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Then, in the late afternoon, the rain finally stops for a space and the skies are ridiculously gorgeous and the fields of corn are saturated with color. And though gratitude is not the only possible response, it is the only proper response.

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Once we secure lodging in Villavante, we head out to the local pub for dinner. There, I feel like we step through some kind of wonderful time machine. At four different tables sit men of various ages engaged in spirited games of dominoes and cards. There is yelling and laughter and smack talk. You would think we were at a major sporting event. It’s amazing.

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Gear note: We read mixed reviews before coming regarding ponchos versus rain jacket and pack cover. Jan and David did the former, Mike and I the latter. While each has advantages and disadvantages, I had first hand experience on this day with one of the disadvantages of the jacket/pack cover option. As it rained ALL day, water trickled down my back between my jacket and pack and invaded my pack from inside, puddling at the bottom, meaning my towel and a portion of my sleeping bag were damp. From here on out, I put both in a large plastic zip bag and had no more trouble.

*Due to the rain, my phone stayed in a plastic bag in my pocket for most of the day. Top two photos courtesy of David.

A Pilgrim Tale: day twenty

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The world is silvered with frost, and the most common roadside weeds have become works of wonder.

I am wearing all my clothes.

Literally.

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After the frost burns off, we pass our friend Daniel, a former Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer, as he is resting his feet. He has had some difficulty with his shoes. He has even done the unthinkable and bought new ones along the way, keeping the old ones so he could switch them out while breaking the new ones in. He has just had bad news from home. A family member has died. But he will rally, and we will see him in the cathedral in just less than two weeks.

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We arrive in Leon on market day. The city is thronged with people. In the square in front of the cathedral, there is a farmer’s market where we buy nectarines. In another square, tents are filled with pottery. Still another street holds jewelry and cloth and other flea market type items. At one point, we have to step aside to allow an armored knight on horseback and his retinue to pass. I’m never sure what that’s about, but it’s pretty cool.

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Leon possesses a number of architectural masterpieces. Gaudi has a building here, Casa de Botines. Not all Dr. Seuss and sandcastles like in Barcelona, but still magic.

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Though a great many of our friends are stopping in Leon to have more time there, we decide to press on to La Virgin del Camino. There we stay in the very clean and efficient municipal albergue, Don Antonio y Dona Cinia, though it takes us a minute to find it. We are happy to discover an Irish pub that sells an assortment of beers, the like of which we have not yet seen in Spain. Though the basic blonde, fizzy cerveza is refreshing enough after a long day of hiking, it is nice to find something a little sturdier.

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Special Thanks to David for reminding me that this was the day I ate the largest hamburger in the world. And for capturing it on film. ๐Ÿ™‚ (Hey, a girl gets hungry.)

Tomorrow, we will wake to rain. But tonight, my mind is filled with images of thistles against a blue sky and bright blossoms in sunshine.

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The difference between pilgrim and tourist is the intention of attention, the quality of the curiosity.
~Phil Cousineau

A Pilgrim Tale: day nineteen

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Bar Elvis is something of a legend on the camino. A quirky little bar with graffitied walls, inside and out, and a bustling proprietor who carves strips of salty, cured ham from the loin on the counter and piles them onto long baguettes, or stirs them into delicious, freshly-made tortillas. Johnny Cash is on the stereo and the music flows out the door onto the porch where we sit and eat in the sun.

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We have lost track of the lads for a couple of days as they have been walking an alternate route, but our paths converge here and it is good to see them again. We also make a new acquaintance. Guido is a tattoo artist from Sicily. He is young, but already he carries the scars of war. He spent time in Afghanistan with the army and it has affected him deeply. He pulls out a square of paper and rolls a mound of dried leaves into a “medicinal” smoke for the road.

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Most of our walk this day is on a gravel path that runs alongside the highway. Not especially charming, but easy and flat and comfortable underfoot. We pass a construction zone where road work is happening at a dizzying pace. Dozers and dumptrucks with familiar names like John Deere and Caterpillar whir in a cloud of dust, and I try to think of one time I have passed a construction zone at home when even half the workers were employed at once.

We find lodging at the municipal albergue in Mansilla de las Mulas where several buildings cluster around a central courtyard draped in geraniums and ivy. Guido is here. He announces that he will be making pasta for dinner and we must join him. And because we are not idiots, we say yes. ๐Ÿ™‚

Jan, David, Mike and I walk to the mercado to pick up wine, and provisions for a giant salad. On the way, we stop into a bar for a beverage and are happy to see Peter and Nicole from Germany. We have visited with them a couple of times along the way, but it is good to have leisure to visit long and easy. Peter’s first wife died of cancer a few years ago. Now he and Nicole are building a good and beautiful life together. They have traveled widely. And wildly at times. They are full of story.

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Back at the albergue the kitchen is humming. People are chopping and sauteing, reaching over one another for pots and spoons, salt and the sink. We find a corner and begin tearing lettuce into a stock pot, the only container left. Guido sweats onions and garlic in a pan, the beginnings of pesto. Meanwhile, the hospitalero offers us a gas operated pot on legs that we can use in the garden for making the pasta, as the stove is all full.

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Guido’s guests begin gathering. He has apparently been accumulating them all day. By the time we gather around the long table laid with olives and cheese, pasta, salad, bread and wine, we are a mini United Nations with folks from Russia, Denmark, Italy, Canada, the U.S., Australia, Argentina, Japan, and Poland. There is frequent toasting, and much talk and laughter. And Guido, who carries so much hurt in his body, has given all of us an exuberant and unforgettable night.

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Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
~Rumi

*Thank you, David, for the photo of Guido at work. ๐Ÿ™‚

A Pilgrim Tale: day eighteen

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No, the Hobbits don’t live here!

So says the sign in Moratinos. ๐Ÿ™‚ 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.) ๐Ÿ™‚

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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. ๐Ÿ™‚ 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. ๐Ÿ™‚ 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. ๐Ÿ™‚ 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. ๐Ÿ™‚

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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. ๐Ÿ™‚

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

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