Tag Archive - Camino de Santiago

A Pilgrim Tale: day fourteen

IMG_4137

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

IMG_4136

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.

IMG_4138

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.

hontanas1

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.

hontanas2

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.

hontanas3

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

IMG_4068

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 🙂

IMG_4082

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.

arrows

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.

IMG_4096

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. 🙂

IMG_4097

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.

IMG_4100

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

A Pilgrim Tale: day eleven

color

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.

IMG_4042

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

IMG_4043

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.)

IMG_4083

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.” 🙂

IMG_4049

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.

tosantos

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

IMG_4001

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.

IMG_3994

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.

IMG_3997

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.

IMG_3995

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.

IMG_4041

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

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

IMG_3941

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. 🙂

IMG_3950

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.

IMG_3999

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.

minstrel

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.

IMG_3967

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 six

IMG_3841

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.

IMG_3782

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. :))

6

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.

IMG_3873

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.

bride

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…

IMG_3838

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 four

IMG_3661

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.

IMG_3590

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.

IMG_3690

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. 😉

IMG_3689

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.

IMG_3657

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.

IMG_3695

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.

IMG_3696

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.

IMG_3665

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.

IMG_3691

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.

 

A Pilgrim Tale: day three

IMG_3575

A pilgrimage is a way of praying with your feet. You go on a pilgrimage because you know there is something missing inside your soul, and the only way you can find it is to go to sacred places, places where God made Himself known to others. In sacred places, something gets done to you that you’ve been unable to do for yourself.

~Ian Cron, Chasing Francis

Lights go on at 6:00 and we are sung to wakefulness by strolling minstrels. Our kind hosts graciously push us out the door before dawn. Despite considerable altitude change, today feels like a recovery day (compared to yesterday) consisting mostly of rolling farmland and woodland paths.

IMG_3584

Dew speckled geraniums grow wild along the fence-rows. And a profusion of blackberries, grapes and apples have us drooling all day. Medieval pilgrims would have helped themselves, but we only partake of the wild blackberries. The number of pilgrims has grown to such a formidable number that we would unnecessarily burden the poor local farmers.

IMG_3565

Instead, we stop at the first market and pick up sweet, juicy nectarines and add them to our sheep cheese for a nourishing, delicious picnic breakfast.

IMG_3567

We walk for a while this morning with our new friend, Rhys. She tells us about her dear daddy who she lost way too early to ALS. She also lets us in on the fact that doctors aren’t optimistic about her chances of living a long life. As a result, she is trying to squeeze as much out of her days as she can, while she can. She will be a bright ray of wild, warm light in these early days of our Camino, and saying goodbye to her down the road will be more difficult than we can possibly imagine on this sweet morning when the world is still fresh and new.

IMG_3579

Mike and Paul catch up to us around mid-day. This will become a familiar pattern. They start later, but move faster. So it is inevitable that, most days, they will overtake us at some point. And how do they spend their break? Playing hacky sack of course. “To loosen everything up,” they explain. 🙂 Oh, to be young again…

IMG_3582

Although many of our friends will continue on to Larrasoana tonight, so as to have more time in Pamplona tomorrow, we elect to stay in the medieval town of Zubiri as part of our commitment to starting slow. Our small, intimate Albergue, Zaldiko, is near the bridge. I am struck by a watercolor behind the innkeeper’s desk; a painting of her and her albergue by an artist who came here on the Camino, and later came back to stay. He left her the watercolor as a gift.

Shortly after we sit down to dinner on an outdoor patio, Perry and Samra come walking by. We convince them to join us for what is to be, though we do not know it yet, our final meal together. We talk about civil war, Sudan, Bosnia and Croatia, religion, smoking, topless bathing, family, facebook, and what it might look like to meet up in Bosnia sometime.

Tomorrow, Hemingway’s Pamplona. But a couple of delicious detours still lie between here and there…

IMG_3588

Gear Note:

After yesterday’s brutal downhills, a familar hot spot along my right big toe is acting up. On this day, I use moleskin as usual. It does not help, at all. Tomorrow, I will use a product called Compeed which is made and sold in Europe. It is marvelous!! Tomorrow, I will not feel the hot spot at all. I will wear this same tiny circle of Compeed for three days or so before it finally comes off and I have to replace it (for the last time). Beyond this, I have accumulated enough callous to not need anything.

To be fair, I should say that friends who use Compeed on a blister that has already formed do not find it helpful at all. But, for me, it seems to be one factor that insures I never have to deal with a blister in the first place. There are as many “tried and true” methods of foot care as there are pilgrims: duct tape, threading blisters, salves, creams, sandals with socks, sandals without socks, on and on. Use what works for you. But never stop being curious and teachable. 🙂

A Pilgrim Tale: day two

IMG_3524

They serve us BOWLS of coffee for breakfast, and I kinda want to kiss them. There is also orange juice, and toast with butter and marmalade. We pick up our preordered chorizo sandwiches and stuff them in our packs for lunch. We thank our innkeepers, fill our water bottles, and begin.

It is difficult to keep my eyes on the road because there are fathomless views in every direction. As we climb over and through the mountain passes, new vistas present themselves at every turn. Freely roaming flocks of sheep (and herds of horses) are everywhere. We sometimes hear their baaing and bells before we see them. We watch a shepherd moving his flock. He drives along the road (with his sheepdog leaning over his shoulder) whistling through the open window. And his sheep scurry along the grassy hillside right alongside him, as if he were walking with them.

IMG_3504

We leave the path to climb up to the Vierge d’Orisson (the Virgin of Orisson), the first of many shrines along the Way honoring the Mother of God. The setting is breathtaking. And it is good to reflect on her example of humble submission here at the beginning of our pilgrimage.

IMG_3508

The wind is ferocious. The shirt and socks I safety pinned on the outside of my pack because they were still wet have dried completely by mid-morning. We attribute the wind to the altitude, a theory supported somewhat by the many trees that have grown with a permanent lean in one direction. But this is unusual, even here. Later this afternoon, pilgrims will be removed from the mountain, and tomorrow the pass will be (unofficially) closed. The winds are clocked at 120 kmp (80 mph).

We have packed a lunch because we have been told there will be no food til we reach Roncevalles. Imagine our delight when we happen upon a food truck cozied into a little indention in one of the hills. We buy fruit and hot cocoa and homemade sheep cheese. Sheep cheese will become an obsession. (There might be some in my refrigerator, even as I write this.) Here we meet Steve, who some years ago quit his job, sold everything, and bought a sailboat. He has a water catchment system and mostly feeds himself on the fish he catches. He is on pilgrimage while his sailboat is undergoing repairs in Trinidad.

IMG_3538

We pass a stone hut built into the mountain. It was formerly used by shepherds, but is now sometimes used as emergency shelter by pilgrims caught out in bad weather. It will be used tonight. Not far past this, we cross the inauspicious cattle gate that marks the border between France and Spain. The path is littered here on both sides with clumps of heather and delicate crocus blossoms.

The descent into Roncesvalles is the steepest I have ever encountered. Anywhere. Ever. I am grateful for both my ankle brace and my poles. And for the trees that now protect us from the wind.

IMG_3560

The Albergue Colegiata at Rocesvalles is one of the most efficient we will encounter in our whole trip. We are pointed toward a large, orderly closet where we deposit our boots on shelves. We check in and are assigned numbered bunks, and directed to our respective floors. Large, spotlessly clean rooms are divided into tidy cubicles of four bunks, each with a locker at the end. You insert a coin to turn the key and lock the locker. Your coin is returned when you unlock the locker and take your things. Showers and toilets, also pristine, are arranged in a long room at the end of the hall.

We have the pilgrim supper at the nearby hotel which consists of soup, bread, wine, and a delicious local trout. Our dinner companions are Mike and Paul, two Mennonite boys from Winnipeg who have just finished college and are out adventuring and figuring out what comes next. Thresholds seem to be a common theme on the Camino. Later they, and we, are joined by Rhys, a vivacious young woman from Oregon they have come to know already, and who will later adopt Mike and me as her Camino uncle and aunt.

This evening we attend our first pilgrim mass. Though we understand little of the language, it is good to be in this sacred place with these people who are already knitting themselves into our hearts…

IMG_3557

Travel notes:

All photos in this and all other posts taken with my iphone 5c (sometimes edited/compiled with instaframe/instagram). When every inch and every ounce counts, a smartphone is a marvelous multi-tool. Camera, computer, repository for notes and contact info, ipod, etc… We did not activate our phone service, we kept them in airplane mode with wifi activated. Wifi, pronounced “Wee Fee” :), was inconsistent and sometimes, like at Orisson, completely unavailable. But we found it often enough to be able to stay connected to family.

Also, there are a great many travel guides for camino travelers. The one we used, and saw most often among English speakers, was John Brierly’s A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago.

 

A Pilgrim Tale: day one

IMG_3451

14 September, 2015:

We breakfast to the sound of rain. Weather forecasters predict it will be done by 7:00 They are wrong. We nourish our courage with warm cups of tea and coffee, then put on pack covers and rain gear. We exchange hugs, take photos of one another, and wish our new friends a good way. We fill our water bottles at the fountain by the church. And we walk.

IMG_3423

The rain comes and goes all morning. It is so cool that we sometimes see our breath. But inside our jackets, we begin to sweat from the exertion.

All around us is astonishing beauty. Lush green pastures, bordered by great stands of trees, where sheep and cattle graze. The clanging of their bells forms a musical counterpoint to the whisper of falling mist and the deep silence that lies over these fields like a blanket.

IMG_3433

Mist crawls in and out of the valleys. Clouds reach down long, filmy fingers, drinking in more water to sustain the rain. Queen Anne’s Lace, purple heather, and fields of fern bend in the wind. And rain drenched honeysuckle and other fence flowers startle us with their delicious fragrance.

IMG_3445

The climbing is hard. This first day is a baptism of fire. Because I am still recovering from a stress fracture, and Mike is only two days out from a marathon, we have decided to divide it into two parts. I cringe a little every time I tell someone this. I feel like a coward. But perhaps this is good for me. Perhaps humility is to be one of the gifts of the Camino. Truth is, once we arrive at Refuge Orisson wet and cold and send our friends back out into the rain for 10 more miles, it suddenly feels like a pretty good idea.

IMG_3467

A fire roars in the fireplace. Rain jackets are draped over every available surface. Pilgrims come and go from long communal tables where they slurp steaming bowls of soup and munch long, crusty baguette sandwiches. Most of them still have a rigorous climb ahead of them today. We take two empty spots across from Jorge, a firefighter from Miami who was born in Columbia; his feisty, slender fiancé Kelly who is stuffing half her sandwich in her pocket for later (we are told she eats twice as much as Jorge :)); and Kelly’s mom Kathy, who was the catalyst behind this trip. She is a quietly devout woman.

After the lunch rush has subsided, the innkeeper shows us to the timbered attic room we will share with Norm and Cathy, a couple from Seattle whom were our roommates last night as well, and two gentlemen from Sweden. She gives each of us a token we can use for our five minute shower (It’s on a timer, you understand. DO NOT dilly dally!), and tells us what time to expect supper.

I trot off down the hall with my token and indulge in a gloriously warm five minute shower. I pull on dry clothes. I realize I have never properly appreciated the sensation of being dry. I hand wash my shirt, socks, and unmentionables and hang them on the (covered, thank goodness) outdoor drying rack (drying, in this case, being mostly a figure of speech).

IMG_3470

The rain has stopped, so I put on my coat and dry wool socks and find a perch on the deck where the sun and wind will hopefully dry my hair. I watch Griffin vultures effortlessly ride wind currents over the valley. I take out my journal and try to capture thoughts and impressions before they run away from me.

Last night at dinner, we were asked to share our reasons for walking the Camino. I realize those reasons are becoming less clear. I am trying to walk with open hands and trust the process.

At dinner we meet two couples who will become very dear to us. Samra and Perry. David and Jan.

IMG_3475

Samra grew up in Bosnia and endured the brutal civil war there. She is a strong woman with a keen and unpredictable sense of humor. I imagine how that must have served her well during those difficult days. Perry is easy going and affable with a sharp intellect. Samra and Perry met when he came to Bosnia with an aid organization. They were coworkers. Since marrying, they have lived in Sri Lanka, Lebanon, Costa Rica and probably a host of other places I am forgetting. They are presently working with World Vision in South Sudan.

David and Jan are a beautiful couple from Vancouver, B.C. They enjoy hiking and adventure and have travelled widely. We talk about all this, and about our kids, about David’s job as a marine biologist, and about the knitting business Jan helped to build and is in the process of selling. (spoiler alert: you will see a lot of these two in pages to come…)

We help collect dishes, and carry them to the kitchen. The innkeeper refills our wine jug. Again. And we talk until long after most of our fellow pilgrims have turned in.

Later, we bed down in our chilly room, pulling the wool blankets we’ve been given up over our sleeping bags, and sleep the deep sleep of the weary and well fed. My heart is full.

IMG_3457

Travel Note:

Animals on the loose are very much a part of these first few days. They are not wild animals, though. Many wear bells (or a ring in the nose, as the case may be), and all of them know their shepherd.

Gear note:

Mike and I carried lightweight, but warm sleeping bags. However, some of our friends used only sleeping bag liners or warm weather bags. As many of the Auberges in colder locations (like Orisson) will provide you with blankets, this is usually sufficient.

 

Page 3 of4«1234»