Day 22: San Martín to I have no idea where I am.

Two different things:
First, today I got to witness the sweetest thing. One of my friends and sometime walking companion, Susan, was meeting up with her husband today in Astorga. We said goodbye in León, as we did not think we would see each other again. Just before noon, who should I see ahead of me? Susan! We spent some time walking together, descending from a high hill overlooking the city, eating lunch at a bar in the village just outside Astorga, and then heading into the city. Susan’s husband called just as we reached the city proper. We heard the bells ring from the cathedral, and she told me she could hear them over the phone, too. We headed right for the cathedral, rather giddy and excited. The cathedral had seemed so close from the outskirts, but the way wove through city streets. Finally we turned a corner, and there was the cathedral in front of us. Susan ran into her husband’s arms. I hang back to give them some personal time (but photographed the moment of course! Susan will appreciate getting that later!) and then got to meet Mr Susan. It was really an emotional moment to be a part of. So sweet!

Second:
There are only so many times you can give a rundown of the day. I walk a lot, people! That’s what my days are like! Each day is the same and yet different. Here’s a comparison for how things have changed from day 1 to day 22 (yes – I entered my fourth week of walking today!):
Day 1: in the evening I carefully repack my backpack. Each item is rolled and stowed just so, in an order I think will help me find things the next day.
Day 22: I repack my backpack before going to bed. On my bed are my clean clothes, freshly washed and dried. I take the stack and shove it into my bag. A backpack is just not big enough to get anything out without taking everything out.

Day 1: I take my backpack off often, to unclip a pocket and consult my guide. I want to know where I am and where I’m headed.
Day 22: somewhere along the way, I decided to jettison extra weight by ripping out the completed pages in my guidebook. Then I realized that if I was ripping stuff out anyway, I might as well rip it out at the beginning of the day and store it in my pocket. I do not like having to take my backpack off and put it back on. It stays on unless I’m actually going to take a break. My map comes out of my pocket occasionally – usually just to see how many towns we’ll actually pass through. I don’t even know the name of the town I’m staying in tonight. I could go look it up inside, but then is have to get up and go inside. And since the name won’t mean anything to you… I’m two villages beyond Astorga, okay?!

Day 1: walking is exhausting. Going up the mountains day 1 especially! But the whole first week, maybe ten days. At the end of the day I am stiff and sore. Walking up or down stairs is a challenge.
Day 22: walking 25 km is tiring briefly, but I am not really stiff and sore. And I have energy to do things in the afternoons and evenings. Underneath my energy lies a deeper fatigue, but I think it would be taken care of with a day of rest. I feel like I could walk forever (unless it’s a really hot day! See day 18 blog post!)

Day 1: I wonder who I will be friends with. I hesitate before striking up a conversation with others around me.
Day 22: I regularly see old friends along the way, and also fondly remember friends who have gone on ahead of me on this journey. I appreciate some of their advice facebooked back to me! I also do not worry about who I will spend time with. No matter where I am, there will be other pilgrims to talk to. Language is rarely an issue – charades is pretty fun to play when you have no language in common! There is a camaraderie amongst all pilgrims, no matter where they have started and how far they plan to go.

Day 1: the details of the day are a concern. Where will I get food? Where will I sleep? Will I get lost? I don’t know what I’m doing!
Day 22: there is not really much planning ahead. I might have a goal to make it to a certain town, but if I feel like stopping beforehand, that would be okay. If I would like to go further, then I go on. I know that I will find food in towns. There’s always a bar open. Pilgrims bring lots of money. (There was that one exception, when all those villages had nothing. But I survived!)
I would also like to take this opportunity to mention that I go to a bar multiple, multiple times a day. It’s quite the change of lifestyle for me, haha! (Lest new rumours spring up, let me reassure those of you who are worried: despite going to a bar sometimes 3 or 4 times a day, I’m not drinking alcohol all that often! But I have been amused that even at dinners served at convents or church-run albergues, wine is an expectation. No southern Baptists here!)

While I’ve been writing this, I’ve been sitting with three Italian cyclists. We’ve been conversing in a hilarious mixture of Italian, Spanish, French, and English. Spanish and French are our overlapping languages, but we don’t speak them well enough to stick to just those. We’ve been quite successful in our mix of languages, though! What I like most about cyclists is they also say walkers have a much harder time. Yeah we do!

One final note: approximately 10 more days of walking till I arrive in Santiago. How has that happened?!

Day 21: León to San Martín

25 km today. Most of the last 15 in driving rain.

I made an incredibly wise purchase last night, though: a rain poncho for backpackers! It’s sort of a raincoat/poncho crossover. It zips up the front and goes all the way around with solid seams so things won’t go flying everywhere in wind. It has snaps to undo that provide extra material for a backpack. It’s GREAT! I still wish I didn’t have to use it, but better to have it and be dry than even more miserable in the rain.

We came into the albergue sort of half-drowned, dripping everywhere. After a hot shower, I took a glorious TWO-HOUR NAP. Yes, this is a good day. Despite all the rain.

Along the way today, we passed 500 kilometres. We have less than 300 to go! Wow, I sort of can’t believe that I have walked more than 500 kilometres! Today also completes three full weeks of walking. I feel a bit like I have been doing this forever. It is the only thing I have ever done… The world shrinks down around me to the walking I will do each day. On the other hand, the rest, eating, fellowship, and conversations with friends from literally every continent expand the world around me again.

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Yes -good internet connection. Here, enjoy this photo of me!

Day 20: Mansilla de las Mulas to León

Ah, León! Big city today. I made it in and found my albergue by 11:30, and once I was cleaned up and heading out, I came out of the albergue to see Ed and. Marty heading up the street! They had walked a lot farther yesterday, so they made it into town a lot earlier. But they were staying at the same place. I had sort of thought I’d be walking around León all on my own, so it was nice to find friends.
We went to a café for a lovely lunch – the kind where you actually have a waiter serve you at your seats. That’s lots of class for pilgrims! It was also fascinating to people watch, as we were sitting on the terrace. Many pilgrims were following the way right beside us, and we saw some more friends as they came into town. Of course, once we finished lunch and were going to head to the cathedral, everyone started closing up for siesta. Ugh. I know I just said yesterday that siesta is growing on me, but I wasn’t expecting it in a big city!
So we went to our albergue and took our siestas. Actual naps, people! That’s what pilgrims do! (Marty and Ed said they had an American in their room who is just starting her pilgrimage; she was sort of looking around like, what on earth is happening?!)
At 4:00, we went to tour the cathedral. It is a gorgeous piece of gothic architecture filled with light filtering through hundreds of panes of stained glass. Beautiful! Burgos’ cathedral felt excessive; this one was elegant in its simplicity.
After ice cream and shopping, we made our decisions for supper. And now have to wait until 8:30 for the place we want to go to open. That’s right – 8:30. It’s a different life here, people! So some more nice relaxing is in order. Ahh.
I have a pilgrim friend who is now a day ahead of me. We are Facebook friends and she gave me some walking and albergue advice today. It’s nice to have an idea of what lies ahead – that’s normally so rare! I barely even glance at the next day’s walk in the guidebook. It is really life lived one day at a time here!

The Pilgrim Song – Psalm 128

My sister sent me these verses today:

All you who fear God, how blessed you are!
How happily you walk on his smooth straight road!
You worked hard and deserve all you’ve got coming.
Enjoy the blessing! Revel in the goodness!

It actually was a smooth straight road today! I think I will spend some time revelling in the goodness!

Day 18 & 19: Terradillos de los Templarios – El Burgo Raneros – Mansilla de las Mulas

Yesterday was a long, long, long and hot 31 kilometres. I set out later than I had intended, and the day got hot quite early. We made it to Sahagún, which had several interesting churches and ruins to check out, including a church made of adobe bricks! But none of the cafés were open, so we actually ended up leaving town with no food. I stopped to eat an orange and drink some water, and then ran into some friends after another hour of so of walking. We finally made it into a town another hour and a half later, and collapsed into chairs at the first bar we found. After a 30 minute rest, Marty and I decided we did want to push on to the town our guidebook recommended , because a break always makes you feel like you’re all right. I would not have walked on without someone else going, honestly, because I was concerned that if I should be overcome by heat exhaustion, being alone would be dumb. So I’m glad I was kind of thinking about safety, but maybe really being concerned would have meant not walking any further!
There was just nothing on these open stretches of the path, although thankfully someone planted trees probably about 15 years ago, so they’re starting to provide some shade. We also had a lovely breeze, and that helped. About halfway, Marty and I really wanted to sit down. There was no where to do that but the path itself, which is the dustiest imaginable. By that time, our legs were covered in dust anyway, and wen arms and faces felt gritty from sunscreen, sweat, and blowing dust.
While we were taking our short break, a big group of cyclists passed us. I don’t think they were doing the Camino, because they were all dressed identically and had a support truck with them. They were very much amused by us just sitting there, and yelled various things our way.
When we arrived in town, I was just done. I have a whole new appreciation for the Israelites wandering in the desert and all the dumb stuff that they do. It’s so easy for us to read the whole story and think that they are so ungrateful, especially after having just seen God do amazing things in liberating them from slavery. But let me tell you, when you have to walk in ridiculous heat, it’s hard to be grateful. It’s hard to remember your blessings. And I even know I’ll be done after 40 days, forget the Israelites’ 40 years! There story really is my story: I forget, and complain, and maybe even wonder if God knows what he’s doing or really has a plan here.
Of course, a rest and then food and fellowship with some great people make for a change in attitude and some perspective again. Today’s walk was so similar, though – 14 kilometres before the first town, and I was sweating before I even got out of bed. But when I found myself slipping near complaining as my mindset, I decided to choose joy as my attitude. This is not easy stuff!
As I was walking along, as fast as I could because, let’s face it, I just wanted walking to be done for the day and there was “nothing to see”, I began to wonder why I was rushing. I was thinking again about destination mindset versus journey mindset. It was like the Holy Spirit whispered to me, “Can you learn to appreciate, even here, what I’m doing?” Slowing down the first time was easy, but I had to consciously remind myself to look around and pay attention and not speed up. But I noticed something: there was a plethora of wildflowers along either side of the path. I had not noticed them at all while I was rushing. For reasons too long to tell here and now (maybe another time), flowers have been a special sign to my heart of God’s love for me. I had been so preoccupied with “getting there” that I had just been blind to what was all around me.
So my last few kilometres into town were just a delight. I then found an albergue on the edge of town called The Garden of the Camino, which has a big lawn area with flowers all around and lots and lots of shade. After availing myself of the washing machine (yay! actual clean clothes today!) I sat out in the shade with some new friends. We kept pulling tables together as more pilgrims arrived and joined us – people from Denmark, Austria, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Romania, and even a girl from Brampton! Really a quintessential Camino afternoon. Some of these people were actually just taking a rest and are pushing on now, hoping to get to the next town and then beyond León tomorrow. I am off to explore the town now and see what’s here! I have to say, I was not a fan of the siesta time when I first arrived in Spain, but it’s growing on me. A relaxed several hours to just hang out with friends, enjoy a beer or wine, talk, and not have to do anything. Perfect!

Day 17: Carrión de Los Condes to Terradillos de Los Templarios

Today is an important day: halfway day!
It’s hard to know exactly how many days it will take to walk the entire Camino Francés, but if I stick to the plan, today is it. It’s also hard to be exactly certain of the number of kilometres left since every town seems to declare its own numbers and those are often different from the guidebook… but today we also crossed the halfway point of distance somewhere along the walk!
In some ways, a walk can still be hard. Today is a good example. We walked 17 km out of Carrión before coming to ANYTHING – no bathrooms, no vending machines, no water founts… not even a caravan truck coming to park along the path. There was no shade. It is ridiculously hot today, with not a cloud in the sky.
On the other hand, walking is in some ways the easiest thing to do. I don’t really need to coax my body into it; my body just knows what to do and my mind is free to think about whatever it wants. Even in the heat, and with pauses in the towns we eventually came to, we made it here in quite good time.
The days have a rhythm to them that is so familiar now. Get up early, pack and double check that you’re not forgetting anything, eat some fruit, head out. Stop at a café for breakfast (usually! not today!) and then walk some more. Arrive somewhere, find albergue, go get food before siesta starts, and then shower and relax. Eventually dinner, repack, bed. It’s a simple life, and there’s not a lot of wondering about how you’ll spend time. The one big difference between now and earlier in the trip is that earlier there was an extra step before get food and shower. That was “lie on the bed and recover until you can actually get up again”, at which point siesta meant all stores were closed! It’s nice to walk 30 km and be fine at the end of it!
My Brazilian friend Denize and I got some drinks to toast “la mitad”, the middle point of our walk. It’s lovely to sit in the garden of this albergue and just relax together, thinking back over all we’ve accomplished so far!

Okay, so I need to write a little about yesterday. The albergue was run by the most charming Augustinian nuns. They had the biggest servant hearts! There was tea served as we came in. They warmly asked each pilgrim how they were doing, and were genuinely interested in the answer. The nun who checked me in said she’s always concerned about pilgrims who have started in St Jean since we have come so far! I watched nuns tend to blistered feet and carefully clean and bandage wounds. Later they sang their evening vespers and then led a musical “encounter”, where they played guitar and led singing in a variety of languages. After mass there was a pilgrim blessing. The nuns spoke before we were blessed by the priests, and said that we were all looking for something, and that was Jesus, who walked with us. I was so delighted to hear them proclaim the gospel message so clearly in Spanish and English. We each had the opportunity to come up to have a priest lay his hands on us and pray for us, and then the nuns gave us each a paper star to remember that the light of Jesus goes with us and guides us.
After mass and blessing, we had a communal meal. We had each brought something to share – bread, wine, veggies, fruit – and the nuns cooked a big main dish for us. They served us with smiles and grace. Finally, they sent us to bed with a lovely song of blessing for our journey. (I don’t think there were many dry eyes in the room during that last song!)
My friend commented this morning that the nuns sure seemed happy and seemed to enjoy their work. Yes – that’s the light of Jesus shining through them! I thought.

And then there was the nighttime drama. Except for the night of my hotel stay, I have use my earplugs each night and slept very well. I don’t think I would hear an alarm ringing through my earplugs until everyone else in the room was awake, so last night I decided to forgo the earplugs and set an alarm. I often go to sleep before others, but last night’s late dinner meant everyone was going to sleep at the same time. There was a lot of banging and door opening and closing as some people REALLY took their time. Eventually I fell asleep. I awoke around 3:00, realizing that people were talking really loudly in the hall right outside our room with the bedroom door standing wide open. This made me irrationally angry, and I wanted to stomp over and tell them off. However, since I am not the kind of person who tells people off regularly, I seethed inside and hoped someone else would instead. Eventually I fell back asleep, although was awakened again as people loudly packed up and left (shining flashlights all around) at 4:30.
This morning when I got up, Ed said to me, “Marty said the ambulance was here last night.” Before I even thought about it, I replied, “Oh, that makes sense….” I’m not sure what my brain paid attention to while I was trying to sleep last night, but then I wanted to get the whole story to piece things together!
Apparently, a young Dutchman had started to feel sick during the night. He got up and went to the bathroom, and started vomiting so much he couldn’t do anything else. He was then too weak to do anything, and was just lying on the bedroom floor calling for help until someone came. (Marty said she actually heard him calling for a bit, and was feeling extremely guilty that she had done nothing, thinking that he was trying to leave early before the main door was unlocked!) Eventually Jaymie heard him, called the nuns and an ambulance, and thankfully could translate for him since he spoke no Spanish.
At that point, Jaymie said she kind of figured she was up, might as well leave anyway… until two other kids starting getting sick. There didn’t seem to be anything in common, they hadn’t eaten the same food in the day before, and the paramedic had told Jaymie he suspected a stomach bug and not heat exhaustion… Jaymie woke up several of her friends and said, “Time to leave now before we catch the epidemic! But nobody walks alone! You won’t be able to help yourself if you come down with it!”
Everyone who came down while I was eating breakfast with Marty and Ed was looking bleary-eyed and frustrated, but we all felt very sorry for the sick kids lying miserably in the hallway!
Thankfully most of us escaped and don’t seem to have gotten whatever was going around…
Of course this provided most of the pilgrim gossip along the way until our lunch stop!

Here at my albergue, I met a Spanish guy from Madrid. He was impressed to hear I have walked from St Jean and said most Spanish people do not walk the Camino all at once, but take several years to walk it, a few weeks at a time. “So respect!” he said. Nice!
Okay, I’m off to find some food and friends. Enjoy your days, and Mama, I’ll be home in as many days as I’ve been away now!

Day 16: Frómista to Carrión Los Condes

Again, I have no time to write a post and it’s for great reasons. Today’s albergue is run by Augustinian nuns. I’m off to mass in a few minutes, then pilgrim blessing, and then communal dinner at nine (!). I just came from a wonderfully lovely sung vespers, and then shared singing time with the nuns. Imagine pilgrims from every continent gathering to sing in a variety of languages. Amazing! So much good stuff happening today, no time to write about it. Bells beckon! Gotta run!

Day 15: Castrojeriz to Frómista

Short update tonight:

If you walk the Camino, at least the last 100 km, you can receive a Compostela from the Catholic Church. It is an indulgence. That means that your punishment for your sins is shortened – ie. you spend less time in purgatory.

This Sunday, I have experienced a different kind of indulgence. I arrived in Frómista and checked into a hotel! It is a luxury not afforded to the regular “pilgrim way”, but oh-so-delightful! As of today I have spent more than two weeks walking, meaning more than two weeks sharing rooms with others and never having solitude except on walks. Having my own room and my own bathroom… bliss!

When I met up with friends in town this afternoon, I was a little worried about what they would say. However, every single response was an “Oh, good for you!” Besides this Sabbath pleasure, I also got to enjoy some prayer time in a church, a ClearView sermon (thank you podcasts!), and delightful time with friends – also indulging on some giant ice cream sundaes we found at one restaurant here!
Rest, renewal, community – a good sabbath day.
I am off to bed for now. No ear plugs; no eye mask; no alarm set. We’ll see what time I actually start walking tomorrow!

Oh, a PS: because I’m on hotel wifi instead of terrible albergue wifi, I was able to delete and reinstall Facebook so my app works again! AND I managed to install my phone’s software update! Wow! Not medieval pilgrim lifestyle today!

Day 14: Hornillos to Castrojeriz

Vignettes

It is early morning as I leave the albergue. In the predawn moments of the day, the birds chirp all around, the rooster crows, and wings flutter. I set out westward through the village. Not a single person is to be seen. I am the only one partaking in this moment as the world awakens. I turn at the end of town, after a small rise, to see the church and village backlit by the first rays of the rising sun. A new day has come.

When you begin walking before the sun has risen, you begin in relative darkness. Gradually the world around lightens, but it is a grey sort of light. There is a special moment that happens when the sun actually rises. Suddenly the world around is bathed in golden sunshine, and you realize that what you had before was not really light, but just a hint, a foretaste, a hope of what was to come.
This is how I imagine the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s here, Jesus says. But we live in the hours between the darkness and the true coming of the light. We see glimpses of God’s kingdom coming into reality around us, but we also long for the full extent of its arrival.

I trudge up a long hill. This hill is not particularly steep, but it is long and tiring. I can’t see anything beyond the climb ahead of me. Suddenly I burst onto the top and am on the meseta, the high flat land that dominates this region of Spain. While I was in the valley I could not see what lay ahead of me, but now my breath is taken away by row upon row of wind turbines, some close by and then stretching out seemingly to the horizon. I pause to admire the sight. The stillness is the next thing that takes my breath away. I am alone, and there is no sound except the rustling of wheat in the gentle breeze.
This is a moment that nourishes my soul. I sit down because I need time to take it in
Friends pass by and we communicate with a look. No words are needed, and no words are spoken into this hushed and holy moment.
After some minutes pass, I rise and walk again. A few hundred metres on, I find my friends perched on their own rocks, taking it all in. Again, no words are needed as we share a look. We cannot speak into this holy moment. I know by the looks on their faces that they have discovered the same thing I have.
We are in awe of our Creator God.

A sudden noise behind me alerts me to the fact that someone is behind me. As he approaches, I turn and look. It is my friend Matthew! I haven’t seen him in four days. Our conversation picks up more or less where it left off last time. After a few minutes, he pulls ahead again. No goodbyes are spoken as he leaves. Maybe we will see each other again. Maybe we will not.

It is as I walk that I realize today is my 14th day of walking. I feel strong. My muscles have gotten used to this. A good sleep and good meals make for a good next day. On the other hand, my body has bruises, sores, and rashes that won’t go away. An ankle will hurt one day, and a knee be tender the next. The pain seems to move around from place to place each day.
I am used to the rhythm of the Camino. Each day seeming like two: a day of walking and a day of rest, cleaning, and socializing. I have not thought of school at all out here. I don’t worry about work, about life. My tasks are easy: walk and then rest. There is a simplicity to this that is beautiful.

Day 13: Burgos to Hornillos

I have to admit, over the course of the day yesterday, I acclimatized to crowds again and didn’t mind them so much. Spent an afternoon exploring the ENORMOUS cathedral, and then a lovely dinner with friends. It was funny to see the difference between the number of people out during siesta before we went to the cathedral and then after our supper in the post-siesta time. I just can’t get used to everything closing in the afternoon here!
I slept poorly last night. I am sure that at least some of the blame lies on the top bunk. These bunks were higher than normal, and I kept having a nightmare about falling out of bed. Why are there no railings on bunk beds here??? So I was up early, and ready to go. Marty and Ed were too, and I was happy to go with them because I don’t love looking for way signs in a busy city in predawn hours. We stopped right at the edge of town at a restaurant just a little off the way. I think most people probably didn’t notice it and had to continue on the way quite hungrily. I had zuma de naranja – fresh-squeezed orange juice. The barkeep literally made it in front of our eyes. Delicious!
The way had us zigzagging around railroad tracks and highways and a weird subdivision until we had done basically a giant circle, but we were on the opposite side of the train tracks.
At second breakfast we ran into quite a group of friends again. These are always such cheerful times. Mariana regaled us all with stories of her childhood in Mexico. Even the pilgrims who were not at our table eventually stopped their own conversations to listen to her!
After our stop, I struck out on my own. Walking alone is always nice thinking time, although walking with others always helps time pass quickly. We passed out of the hills and were eventually on the meseta – the Spanish plains. This is a plateau running through central Spain and is quite poor soil quality. Stretching out as far as we could see were fields of grain, oats, and barley. We came down off the plateau into a ottos valley down a sharp, steep descent. We could see the town, which looked deceptively close. When you actually looked at the people ahead on the road, you could see how far away Hornillos was yet. Upon arrival there, I knew I wanted to stay. My knee was a little tender, and the next place to stop is still 10 km away. (My guidebook has a day’s walk end here anyway. Some guidebooks stop at the next place, a 32 km walk for the day! They essentially shorten my next four days into three days. Since I am not pressed for time, I see no reason to continue when pressing on might mean an injury.)
Marty, Ed, and I looked for an albergue in the town. We looked in one but the kitchen was tiny and we had decided to cook dinner together. We went across the street where we found an albergue that has only been open three days! It is a new building, so of course everything is nice and lovely and clean and delightful! We went to the bedroom to find our Irish roommates from last night, and, along with an American woman who came along soon after, expanded our dinner to include them. Fun times!
As we were walking the ten metres from supermercado to albergue, we came across a group of rather forlorn pilgrims. They had been hoping to make it to Hontanas (10 km away) but were suffering injuries. We told them to come check out our place. We should get discounts for our advertising!
Until supper is ready, I intend to intersperse stretching, reading, resting, and reflecting. Ah – a good day’s work on the Camino!