Tag Archive - Friends

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. 🙂 (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 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 pâtĂ© 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 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 one

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 fiancĂ© 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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

A Pilgrim Tale

As the train carries us from Bordeaux to Bayonne, I am surprised to find myself frightened. For years we have been planning for and dreaming of this moment, and now that it is upon us I feel sick to my stomach.

What if I can’t take sleeping in a room filled with stinky, snoring pilgrims?

What if it rains for days and I can’t get dry and I get pneumonia and die in some Spanish hospital and never see my babies again?

What if I was never really cut out to be a pilgrim after all and have to tuck my tail between my legs and slink off home in utter humiliation?

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Then, all of a sudden we are boarding a bus for the final miles into St. Jean Pied de Port and travelling across fresh green hillsides dotted with white plastered houses bearing striking roofs and shutters of red or green (required). Further on, the jagged, sapphire peaks of the Pyrenees stab a cerulean sky littered with wispy white clouds. And I realize that, even if all those things prove to be true, being in this place–just here, just now–is worth all the trouble.

The bus disgorges a whole gaggle of pilgrims–boots, backpacks  and all–at the bottom of the town, and so begin our first attempts at navigation, some more successful than others. Eventually we land before the door of our first Auberge, Beilari, directly across from the Pilgrim Office. We are welcomed by Maria who receives pilgrims on weekends while the owners are away. She shows us our bunks, the bathrooms, and where to put our boots. She gives us covers for our mattresses and pillows, and tells us that dinner is served at 7:30 and that the front door will be locked for the evening at 10:00.

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After depositing our packs on the floor at the end of our bunks (Never on the beds! Chinches, you understand. Bedbugs.), we head across the narrow street to queue up at the pilgrim office. Here we receive our pilgrim passport, the scallop shell that we will wear on our packs to mark us as pilgrims, a map, and a list of places to sleep.

We wander about town, travelling up to the ancient Citadel for breathtaking views out over the valley. When we return to the auberge, Maria allows us to help her put supper onto the table in the courtyard. Here we gather with strangers over a meal of soup, cheese, chorizo, bread and wine. Two hours later, we leave the table as friends, having shared the stories of love and longing, pain, devotion and curiosity that brought us here.

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Tomorrow we will be separated from several of our new friends (though we will find many of them again before journey’s end). And we will make room for new friends. This is part of the Way. Learning to live in community. And learning to let go.

O how many unknown things
You made known to me.
In how many places
You found room for me.
What was distant, Friend,
You brought near.
The stranger
You made my brother, my sister.

~Rabindranath Tagore

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*On September 14, 2015, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, Mike and I began walking the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage route across northern Spain. I had planned to blog along the way, but quickly learned there simply was not time enough in our days for blogging. So I journaled, sort of, and took lots of photos, with the hope of reconstructing the stories when we were home. My blog was down for a while in the fall for technical reasons, so I decided the cold, gray days of January might be a nice time to return to sunny Spain. I invite you to come along.

The entries will appear in the form of a travelogue, roughly one per day. I will be relying on journal notes and photos, and my memory. My fellow pilgrims are welcome to provide corrections–or additions–where appropriate.

Travel Note:

There are several roads to Santiago. The most popular is the one we walked, the Camino Frances, which typically begins in St. Jean Pied de Port (France) and ends, 800 kilometers later, in Santiago de Compostella (Spain). For the first few days pilgrims pass through Basque country, a region with a strong cultural identity, much coveted by both France and Spain. Most locals consider themselves Basque first, and French or Spanish second.

 

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