Day 12: Agés to Burgos

I do not like big cities! I am not used to people! This morning I was awakened by two VERY LOUD Italian ladies getting ready in the bathroom at 5:30. My bed was right next to the bathroom, and the walls did not exactly prevent sound from passing through. I was really annoyed. Finally someone got up and shushed them quite sternly. I was wide awake anyway, and decided I might as well get up. On my way out the door I met my Ohio friends, Marty and Ed. We decided to walk together since it can be difficult to find one’s way in the predawn hours. We set out for Atapuerca, which is a little bit touristy, since the oldest human remains in Europe were found nearby. We were so thankful to find a little café in which to eat, and since it was off the beaten track, it was mostly empty! Once our stomachs were full, we set out again and climbed the last mountain peak before the Burgos valley. On our way up, some seminary students passed us in their robes. They were from a Catholic seminary in Wisconsin. They were travelling so quickly we didn’t actually get a chance to ask if they had to walk the Camino as part of their seminary requirements.
The path up to the peak and back down was extremely rocky today – not rocks brought in to help with mud, but actual rocky ground. It was hard on the feet and ankles!
Once we were over the peak, we could see the big city of Burgos stretching ahead of us a few kilometres away. But instead of just heading straight there, the Camino naturally takes some side detours. Once out of the last village before Burgos, we were walking beside a quite busy road. (You have to understand, contextually, pilgrims are used to walking through villages with no traffic, so we walk on the street on a regular basis.) The wind was quite strong and buffeting us, and every time a vehicle passed, my life flashed before my eyes and I imagined myself falling in front of the vehicle. After a few kilometres, the signs kept pointing along the highway but we took an option our guidebook talked about. There was also a handwritten sign taped to the sign saying, “Don’t take this way. Go the other way. It is much better. I went this way.” I was greatly amused by this. It’s difficult not to follow the signs and arrows we are so accustomed to, but we trusted our guidebook. And after a little while on this new path, our good old arrows showed up again.
We walked along the outskirts of the airport, and then followed a river trail all the way into the city. The trail was filled with walkers, runners, and cyclists. Although it was overwhelming to be around so many people again, many people were still very friendly and wished us Buen Camino.
Eventually we made it into the downtown, and our arrows directed us across the bridge and then disappeared. We could see some cathedral spires peaking up, though, and headed for those. I also asked several nice old people for directions. We came to the Plaza Mayor, and could hear… well, either people were setting off a canon or fireworks. No idea why, but it was kind of terrifying.
We actually were having some trouble finding our way to the albergue, but people kept coming to us to give directions. And then we started seeing friends. It is really something amazing to come into a new city you’ve never been in and be welcomed by friends at each turn. And it’s amazing to think of the number of people we now know and count as friends! If you see someone more than once, you are so happy to see them again. Sometimes it might have been several days since you last saw each other, and the reunion is all the sweeter. One never knows the last time one will see a friend here – our plans are so temporary, so transient. We make decisions about how far to go based on many changing factors. But the community is really something quite unique and quite special.
I splurged with Marty and Ed today and we are washing and drying our clothes by machine. They are almost done, and then I am off to explore the city! And look for wifi.
Oh, PS: you should be very proud of me. Today I actually did my hair, instead of letting it dry however it wants like something crazy. Burgos, I honour you!

Day 11: Tosantos to Agés

Guidebooks can really be misleading. My guidebook’s elevation diagram for today showed three distinct peaks we’d be climbing. Up, then right back down, then right back up, and down, and once more up and down.
Back to that in a second.
I woke up this morning a 6:45. It was very disorienting, a jolt awake, opening my eyes to an almost empty room. Only my Korean friends remained, and they were packing up. I don’t know HOW I slept through everyone around me packing and leaving, when the rest of the night I slept so poorly. Actually, maybe that’s why I didn’t wake up this time.
After a quick breakfast at the albergue, we were off. I walked more or less alone today. I kept turning around in the early morning to admire the sunrise and the days of sun shining through the clouds to illuminate the village behind us.
I stopped for a quick second breakfast of croissant and drink. (If an albergue serves breakfast it is essentially a slice of baguette-style bread and jam. Not exactly filling.) Directly out of the village we began our first climb. It was some serious climbing – and my criteria for serious climbs have changed since starting the Camino. I know I have said this before, but I’ll say it again: no matter the toughness of the slog up the mountainside, it’s worth it when you get to look out over a valley below you. It’s a little amusing when you stop at what you think must be the top and admire the views, and then turn a corner on the path and see the hill stretch out endlessly before you again.
Once up the first peak, we walked and walked and walked. Finally, we descended very sharply to a river. Some cyclists went flying by me at that point, but I was gratified to see that the way up was so steep they actually had to dismount to ascend. And then I had to ascend, too, and it wasn’t as amusing, but the steepness meant it was done pretty quickly. Then we walked for ages and ages again through woods. There was nothing to look at, no valleys to admire, no villages to break things up. Altogether it was 12 kilometres up on that ridge. Finally, the path descended right into the next village. I’m not sure why my guidebook had that third peak in there, because we definitely didn’t climb one. Even with directions , you never quite know where you’re going of how long things will take. My maps are also no drawn to scale , I’m beginning to think.
Anyway, after a quick lunch break I made my way slowly through another woods and then along another ridge. The valleys stretched out on either side of me , and the wind was quite strong. I was alone, and sat for a while just singing some of How Great Thou Art:
When through the woods
And forest glades I wander
And hear the birds
Sing sweetly in the trees
When I look down
From lofty mountain grandeur
And see the brook
And feel the gentle breeze
Then sings my soul
My Saviour, God, to thee
How great thou art!
How great thou art!
Then sings my soul
My Saviour, God, to thee
How great thou art!
How great thou art!

I shall rest my weary legs for a while (although when you consider that I hiked 23 km today, with some descent ascent, my legs are really doing well!) and then see what this town has to offer!

Day 10: Santo Domingo de la Calzada to Tosantos

Today I awoke when other pilgrims began packing their bags shortly after five. (sigh) I resolutely stayed in bed until just before six and so was off before the next-door café opened at 6:30. I had been planning to get breakfast there, but figured it was no big deal because I could pick up breakfast in the next village.
Today’s walk was passing through four small villages before reaching the town of Belorado. I made excellent time, and after three days of walking with friends most of the day I particularly enjoyed my solitude for prayer time and thinking. At each village my hopes rose that I would find food, but each seemed smaller than the last and not one had even a café or bar! There were people in these places, but no pilgrim services!
Just before 11:30 I was coming in to Belorado. (If you don’t stop at all, 23 km just zooms by!) I had also begun feeling a little sick, and I knew that was due to lack of food. I passed the first albergue going downhill, and as I did, two of “The Korean Boys”, as I think of them, called down to me. When I discovered that there was a restaurant there, I ran back up to get some lunch!
I had been intending to stay at an albergue at the other end of Belorado, but since it was only 12:30 by the time I was done eating, and the food and rest had fortified me, I decided to follow The Korean Boys 5 km further to the town of Tosantos. Here we are staying in an albergue run by the Associaton of St Francis of Assisi. It is pretty true pilgrim style. We have thin mats lying all in a row on the floor, no pillows. We will collectively make dinner at 7, and eat a communal meal at 8. After prayers, we are to go to bed being very respectful of each other’s solitude. You are not allowed to get up early here, (YES! some sleep-in time is coming!) but can get up after 6 and get breakfast before heading out. It’s quite the experience. Definitely a pilgrimage experience, not a vacation experience!
Walking-wise, besides the hunger this morning, I felt like I’ve sort of bit my stride today. My body was not very sore and the walk was fun. I even voluntarily walked the extra five kilometres, putting me at 28 for the day. But it didn’t feel like a long and taxing day! And since I found myself alone on the Camino after my lunch break, I sang loudly along my last five km. it was great!
Update before posting: no wifi last night, but a great, great experience. The kind of Camino experience you can’t really put into words: making communal supper and eating together. Prayers together. We read prayers that pilgrims before us had written, and it was such a holy moment. Amazing!
This albergue also afforded us an experience that few pilgrims get. There’s a hermitage and tiny church built into the rock face above the village. My guidebook recommends no taking the time to go off the trail to check it out because it is always locked. But pilgrims in our albergue get to go up and have a tour! Very cool!
Okay, stopped for second breakfast right now. Going to socialize instead of check Facebook 🙂

Day 9: Nájera to Santo Domingo de la Calzada

I can’t believe I have walked for 9 days already. Early this morning I passed the 200 kilometre mark, which means a quarter of the Camino is behind me!
I woke up early this morning, even without an alarm. I made a quick stop at a pastelería for a pastry, and then was off. Nájera is the first town where I felt like the way was not really clearly marked. I had had trouble already last night, so I had looked in my guide book in advance. I found my way to a 13th century church, and thankfully the arrows picked up from there. Partly up the hill on the way out of town, my Ohio friends caught up with me. We had a lovely conversation all the way to Azofra, where we made a coffee stop (okay, I hate coffee so I was drinking pop). We continued on together and descended into some mud. And what mud it was! Our guidebooks had actually warned that La Rioja’s red mud might be pretty when dry but dangerous and sticky when wet. No joke! The mud stuck to our boots and weighed them down. For a while we walked in the ditch, just for some relief.
By 10:30 we came up a very long hill into Cirueña. It was a little like something out of Twilight Zone or a Stephen King novel. There was no one in the town! As compared to the so charming and quaint Spanish towns we were used to passing, this one was subdivision housing at its worst – identical, ugly houses. Only about 10% of them looked to be inhabited. We passed one house where a boy was standing at the second floor balcony door, leaning against the glass looking down on us. It didn’t help the creepy feeling. But the next occupied house had all the kids on the balcony waving at us. That made up for it! Are pilgrims the only entertainment they get, though?!
We didn’t stop for a break because there was literally no option beyond a picnic table next to some houses that looked like a prison block. We pushed on and went through some more endless fields of grain. Only one field was growing something else, and we puzzled over what it might be until we came across a plant someone else pulled up. (I’m guessing it was another pilgrim wondering what the crop was.) it was some kind of root vegetable, but I don’t even know what. A rutabaga, maybe?
We arrived at Santo Domingo de la Calzada before noon. That’s where we are stopped for the rest of the day. Our walk was a nice 21 kilometres today, and we get a whole afternoon for cleaning and relaxing!

Santo Domingo bears mentioning. He was a great patron to the Camino in the 11th or 12th century and did a lot of work to make sure pilgrims had bridges to use in order to cross rivers and good roads to walk on. The town bears his name in his honour.
This town also plays host to a famous Camino myth. The story goes that a young man and his parents were making pilgrimage to Santiago and passed through here. The young man caught the eye of a local young maiden, but when he did not return her advances, she hid some silver in his pack and accused him of stealing. The young man was sentenced and hung for his sins. (Different versions have his parents either continuing on obliviously to Santiago at this point or discovering things right away but too late.) When his parents discovered, at whatever point that was, they also discovered that by some miracle Santo Domingo had kept their son alive despite the hanging. They went immediately to the local magistrate, who was just sitting down to supper. When he heard their story, he merely laughed and told them, “Your son is no more alive than this chicken on my plate!” At those words, the roast chicken he was about to eat stood up and walked off. Aghast, the magistrate went out to the tree with the parents and saved the son. (No word on what punishment the deceitful young maiden suffered.)
In honour of this myth, the albergue that I am staying in today, one of the original pilgrim hospitals (in an updated building THANK GOODNESS!) still keeps chickens in the garden. I can hear them as I write!
Even better than that, I took a tour around the cathedral and there are a cock and hen kept IN the cathedral! It’s a coop built into the stone wall at the second level. You can see damage on the front of the stone where pilgrims hit it with their sticks to try to get feathers to prove they’d been there and for good luck!
Santo Domingo wanted to be buried here in the town, and his crypt is in the cathedral. In fact, the street the Camino is on actually jogs around the cathedral because the chapel his crypt is in was added after his death!
It was really nice to have time to really appreciate some of the local history. I paid a euro for an audio guide at the cathedral, but it was worth it. We just don’t build churches like they used to!

Day 8: Logroño to Nájera

Ah, today. A 30.1 kilometre walk, with some decent hills of course.
I set out from the albergue around 6 this morning. I just couldn’t sleep any more and figured I might as well get an early start on a long day. Especially since yesterday was so much harder once the sun was really up and shining hard.
The streets were still filled with Spanish teens. Not sure why their parents let them party so long, but I guess it’s a weekend. Following Camino markers in a city is much more stressful than villages or countryside. I’m very grateful to the kind vendor who pointed me in the right direction.
A long path led out to a lake. Then a long hill climbed up out of the city area. I was quite tired, and my hip had started to hurt. Another kind Spanish man, this one out for a walk of his own, told me I was almost over the top. The way down was alongside fences where people have taken sticks and made crosses. There are literally hundreds of crosses along this area.
I caught up with friends from Ohio just before the steps up into Navarette. (They were the ones who shared their food with me the second day in Zubiri.) We were all feeling a little tired and hungry and a lot exhausted. Thankfully, we found a café open and sat down with someone Ed knew. Along came Taeyoung, my often walking partner. Then along came Mariana, a friend from Mexico (I had been in the same auberge as her on my first night in St Jean before starting). Our circle kept getting larger and larger. It is amazing that you can make friends in the way one does on the Camino. It’s also odd that you might not see someone for several days, and then meet up again. When you talk, you might find out you stayed in the same towns, just in different albergues.
After our break, Mariana, Taeyoung and I set off together. My hip was quite sore, and stretch breaks weren’t helping. Finally, Mariana and Taeyoung decided to set off ahead while I took a short detour to the town of Ventosa, where I intended to stay for the night. That would put me at ~21 km for the day, which I felt was enough. I needed a break.
I arrived in Ventosa completely exhausted and sore. I found a bad with some good food and wifi, and checked Facebook and my blog while I ate. The encouragement I found in both places was so needed! Particularly, Kelly told me that your body keeps energy in reserves, so you can literally go farther than your body is telling you it can. (Thanks, Dr Pasma!) I felt so much better after this rest. I didn’t want to just give up, which is what staying was beginning to feel like. It was also 12:30, and I knew the albergue wouldn’t accept people yet. And I didn’t really want to fall behind friends and have to start over again making all new ones. I decided to push on.
Just over two hours later I had made it to Nájera, 10.4 kilometres further. This has been my longest day of walking so far, distance-wise, but definitely not the hardest. It wasn’t so sunny and hot as yesterday, and that helped. Emotions are funny things on the Camino. They change rapidly and without warning. I was having a discussion with someone shortly before leaving that I need to make sure I am not making decisions because of my emotions. Still something to be learned more.
It’s Sunday, and I miss my church. Yes, I have a lot of time to worship as I walk (even singing out loud, Kair), but I miss communal worship. Mass is not the same, as it is a lot of hard work to understand, and unfamiliar. It’s great to be able to go, but it’s just not the same.
Update: in between typing this and finding wifi, I ran into a Canadian woman living in Belgium. She did her second day of walking, and covered in two days what I had in one. She was so absolutely impressed. It was nice to be the person doing what someone else thought was incredible!

Day 7: Los Arcos to Logroño (One week of walking completed!)

Oh, my. What a day. 28.6 kilometres!
I was up this morning before 6:30 and had breakfast at my lovely albergue. Then I said goodbye to Tammy and Lindsey. Lindsey had decided to take a rest day; her knee was really bothering her and she was quite discouraged. Tammy told me to go on ahead, as she was quite sore and would be walking very slowly.
I set out from Los Arcos, and just as I crossed through the arch at the edge of town, I had a woman call out to me. “Hey! You must be Canadian!”
“Is it my MEC gear?”
“You bet!”
Jodene is from Fort McMurray, and she had walked four days so far (to my six), even though we both began in the same place. She walked 40 kilometres yesterday, covering the same distance I had taken two days to cover! She has quite a time limit to work within. I wasn’t sure how long we would stick together if that was her pace, but I did all right in the morning.
We had quite the hills to cover, as always, it seems. Nothing like the mountains, but they are always a challenge. I knew today’s walk would be long, and it was nice to have a walking partner. We stopped for a mid-morning break, and later for lunch. By that time, we’d covered 18 kilometres. After lunch, there was pretty much nothing until Logroño, the city we’re staying in.
I hadn’t filled my camel pack all the way, and I ran out of water shortly out of Viana. It was quite a walk to the next crossroads, where thankfully we found another fountain. Then onwards again. And onwards. And onwards. We passed a man selling things out of his car, and asked how far it was to Logroño. Four kilometres, he said. Okay, I thought. I can make it that far. We went the long way around a Laguna, and hooked back in the direction we had come from. Finally, we came upon a sign that announced our entry into La Rioja. We began the Camino in the province of Navarre, and now we have walked through that whole province! There were some industrial buildings, but we couldn’t see the city proper yet. We began yet another ascent up a long, long hill. Halfway up we took a quick rest in a tunnel under a highway. Finally we crested the top – and could see the city a few kilometres off yet….
We began a descent. A descent this far into a walk is always risky. One misstep, one fall, and you could be done for. So of course our descent was quite slow. Finally we entered the city proper, but had quite a ways to go before we entered the historic city, where the Camino finally encounters albergues. We had decided to spend the night at an albergue on the far side of town. The first albergues always fill up first, as weary travellers want to stop at the first available space. But leaving from the far end of town is an advantage in the morning.
It was a long ways across town as weary pilgrims, but finally we found our resting place. We are staying in an albergue run by the Iglesia de Santiago – the church of St James. It is small and without amenities. But it has a mass, and then blessing for pilgrims, then communal dinner. It does not cost money, but you can give a donation if you’d like. We were very clearly told that this is NOT a requirement, but only if desired.
I lay down for a bit, stretched, and finally took a shower. I was sitting on the floor writing this blog entry when one of the volunteers came to the door. Does anyone speak English, he asked. There were three people in the room at the time, and I was the only one not sleeping. Yes, I said. Are you Catholic? Protestant. Would you say the prayer for intercession for the pilgrims in English for our service? I would love to!
So, that’s what I’m doing tonight! Very exciting!
Tomorrow is a very long walk again. 30.1 – my longest walk so far. My knees have been a bit sore even when walking, as have my hips. Please pray for my joints to be strong and pain free! I do continue to love my solitude and thinking/praying time, and even in hard days, there are many moments that make the hard work worthwhile.
I have been walking for a full week now, and while I question sometimes what made me come, it is always easy to see and experience my Good Shepherd along the way.

Day 6: Estella to Los Arcos

Each day when I open my blogging app on my phone, I check yesterday’s blog title before composing today’s. I am never 100% sure what day of walking it is. The only reason I know the date is that my watch tells me. Each day actually feels like two days: a day of walking and a day of resting.
This is maybe good in some ways, as it feels like we’ve been here for a really good amount of time. But in other ways, maybe it’s not so helpful. It feels like we should be closer to Santiago! As of Los Arcos, today’s town, we have walked 135 kilometres and have 635 to go.
Today I slept in (see? I AM vacationing it up!) until 6:30 and woke up because I was done sleeping, not because people were noisy. We didn’t leave the albergue until 7:15, and then went to a local panadería (bakery with café) for breakfast. We delayed our departure on purpose, though, since our first stop today was the WINE FOUNTAIN for pilgrims at the Bodegas of Irache. There are fountains everywhere for pilgrims, so you can get fresh water. (I shouldn’t say everywhere – sometimes there are loved stretches without.) but this wine company put a fountain in place with both water and wine! It even had a vending machine where you could buy a glass. (I wonder how many people use that, because all I could think was that I wouldn’t want the weight in my bag!) The sign said, Pilgrims, if you want to arrive in Santiago with strength and vitality, drink some of our wine! After a short pause and the joy of a wine break! I did feel strong and happy!
It was rainy this morning again, but not really too bad. We did quite a bit of climbing until lunch in Villamayor de Monjardin. While Tammy and Lindsey went to a bar for lunch, I decided to eat the hard boiled eggs and fruit is brought. It frankly seemed like too much work to climb the twenty steps to the plaza with the bar, so I sat on a bench in the street next to the church.
All of a sudden, a van drove by, honking loudly. Some women gathered at their doors, and I couldn’t catch enough of what they were saying. I thought maybe they were annoyed at the loud honking. But soon the van came back, honking again, and stopped next to the women. It had a bakery logo on it, and the man pulled open the door and gave the women the bread they asked for. He stopped and chatted a bit, and then pulled away again. The women stood and chatted, and then eventually went back to their homes. It was such a neat little experience, and one that I know would not have been seen travelling Spain in another way. My walking companions and I have often reflected that we get to see tiny villages that you wouldn’t see from highways, and we experience the scenery and landscape in such a different way, too.
After the girls came back, we popped into the church because churches will often have a stamp for your credecencial, your pilgrim’s passport. (It’s what allows you to stay at an albergue, and it is stamped at each albergue.) This church was also mentioned in our guidebooks because it had a very old silver cross in it. The church had a sign that it was open during the day, so we went in. You had to pay a Euro if you wanted the lights on, so I was going to pull out my phone to use the flashlight, but then an old man who had followed us gestured for us to wait and went and turned the lights on for us. He brought us over to the cross (which was well protected behind some bars) and told us it as a thousand years old (if I understood his Spanish correctly!). He stamped our credencials and invited us to light a votive candle. I asked him (in Spanish) if the church still had services on Sundays, because I saw what looked like a little electric organ (definitely added to this 12th century church!). He said, no, not services, mass. Oh, of course, I said. I’m Protestant, not Catholic. Oh, he said. That’s not important. Faith is important, but the difference between Catholic and Protestant is not. He was very sweet and helped me put my backpack back on and wished us God’s blessings as we left.
The rest of our walk was “easy” – mostly flat or ever so slightly downhill with just a quick up and down before the town we’re staying in. But, oddly for our typical walks so far, it was 11 kilometres with any villages to break it up. And the guidebook was right: you could not see the town until you were literally upon it, and the last part of the walk seemed interminable. After six days of walking, it seems like it should be easy and my body should have adjusted better. But six hours of walking is still taxing upon the hips and knees and sometimes spirit. A rest break, a shower, a snack all help one to feel ready to face the town and prepare for the next day. Stretching is also a necessity nowadays!
Tomorrow’s walk is a relatively longer one at 28.6 kilometres. So we rest and renew now in anticipation!

Special post! A Pilgrim’s Psalm

Psalm 121, The Message
Adapted by my sister, Karianne

~A PILGRIM SONG~

You look up to the mountains;
does your strength come from the mountains?
No! Your strength comes from God,
who made heaven, and earth, and all mountains.
He WON’T let you stumble!!!
your Guardian God won’t fall asleep.
Not on your life!
Israel’s Guardian will never doze or sleep.
God’s your Guardian,
right at your side to protect you –
Shielding you from SUNSTROKE!
sheltering you from moonstroke.
God guards you from every evil,
he guards your very LIFE!
He guards you when you leave and when you return,
he guards you now,
he guards you ALWAYS!

Day 5: Puenta la Reina to Estella

We passed the 100 kilometre mark today!!! It’s also really neat to see how many familiar faces and friends there are, too.
Continuing in the theme of Psalm 23, yesterday was definitely he restores my soul. All afternoon and evening, it was wonderful to laze in and by the pool, meet other pilgrims, relax, eat a communal dinner.
The other great thing about a small amount of people in the albergue was that we were all quiet and respectful in the evening hours as people started to go to bed. I think that, in a big albergue, it’s easier to say, others are talking, I will too. But last night I slept so soundly, and no one loudly began packing early this morning, so I got to “sleep in” until 6!
Today, I really noticed a difference in the walk. As I’ve said, we’ve passed the 100 kilometre mark. It’s still tiring to walk for six hours, but I can tell that my leg muscles are getting stronger. I also have not experienced any of the blisters many of my fellow pilgrims are suffering. (Again, please keep praying!) My feet are sore and my body is tired, but it is not the deep fatigue of the first few days.
Today I had two nice walking partners – one I have walked with before, and one a new girl I met. It was a day of good companionship. I didn’t have much alone time, but appreciated the walking partners. We are a good match for each other, because we all walk at about the same medium slow pace, which is important! It’s easy to be discouraged by people speeding by you as is the easiest thing they’ve ever done, and forget about the many, many people behind you.
Today I stopped and got a pop at a vending machine before 8 am. There’s a common pilgrim “joke”: What do you eat when walking the Camino? Whatever you want! Then I also had a most delicious pastry fresh out of the oven at a little tienda. Ah… small things give great pleasure on the Camino!
We’re staying tonight at an albergue that supports people with developmental disabilities. It had been really sweet to meet some of the workers here! We’re showered and rested, our clothes are being washed by washing machine (such luxury), and we’re off to find some food. Ah! Life is good!

Day 4: Pamplona to Puente la Reina

(My apologies to those of you who are following the blog. You are going to get an email telling you to read this entry. I noticed that my day 4 entry is missing, and I’m pretty sure I deleted it accidentally. So I need to recreate it and repost before I forget what happened!)

Oh, sweet pilgrim heaven! What a lovely afternoon and evening! But the day didn’t start out like that…
I left Pamplona this morning in the rain. I stepped out of the albergue at the same time as a brother and a sister from Vancouver and California, respectively, and walked with them for several hours. They were starting out from Pamplona, so they asked all sorts of questions. It was funny feeling like the expert, but I really did have lots of advice to share!
We had quite a few kilometres to walk to get out of Pamplona, and then up a long hill into Cizur Menor. It was pouring by this time. We could see how much higher the water level was than normal in creeks that we passed. A rain jacket does it’s best, but in this kind of pouring rain, I was wet through in not too long.
Outside of Cizur Menor we were out into fields and climbing up and up hills again. We couldn’t really see down into the valleys too well because of the clouds and mist. We crested a quite big hill and the rain paused and mist cleared just long enough to take a selfie with the valleys in the background. At the next village, I left Mike and Lezlie behind as they went to find breakfast. It was 8:30; we had been walking for almost two and a half hours, and I’ll bet thy were starving.
From there, I headed up gravel and mud paths. Always, always uphill. I though the gravel was terrible, because it’s quite slick in the rain, but the mud was definitely worse. It sticks to one’s feet and is quickly spread over one’s pants. Many people zipped by me on the path. I’m not sure how they can be so sure footed in the rain!
Eventually I found myself climbing uphill thinking that I had not seen any way markers for a bit. I was also alone, with no one in sight behind or ahead of me. I considered that maybe I had somehow missed a turnoff, but I figured that I was committed to the path I was on and I would figure out somehow where it ended up!
The rain had slowed enough for me to take my hood off, and when I did I heard a sound like the ocean. Only it was continuous, not ever-changing like waves. Suddenly the mist swirled around and I could see giant wind turbines right above me. The mist kept swirling, obscuring and revealing, and I stood in awe just listening and watching. It was a true God moment. I also knew that I was, in fact, on the right path.
I made my way up, much cheered and encouraged, but pausing often to watch and listen. Just as I was about to crest the mountain, a man came past me at great speed. He turned around to sing the Rocky theme song for me as I came up and over the peak.
There we stood and admired the pilgrim monument for a while. Mist continued to swirl around just enough for some peaks at the valley. Cars don’t even come up this high – the highway has a tunnel cut through the mountainside!
Once heading down, the rain mostly stopped but the incredibly steep descent was still on wet and slippery rocks. It took just as long to get down as come up, I think! But the weather was improving and my mood along with it. The view also made everything worth it!
I trudged along through the mud through several villages. Coming over the peak I had definitely come into a new region of Spain. We were out of the mountains and into valleys being farmed. There were fields of wheat and even the occasional vineyard. I ate my lunch on a park bench overlooking the valley, watching cars as they passed far below on the highway.
Eventually I arrived in Puente la Reina. I had earlier concluded that I needed to ignore elevation diagrams in my guidebook and never expect that I was done climbing until I stepped foot in my albergue. (And even then, you probably need to climb some stairs. Or your bunk bed.) I passed by several albergues to get to the one I had decided to stay at on the far end of Puente la Reina. The sign pointed me up a hill. A long, steep hill. In fact, several hundred metres up I still couldn’t glimpse the albergue and wondered if I was really in the right place. Upon arrival, though, I discovered a sweet pilgrim oasis. This place knows what pilgrims need and what pilgrims want! I took a long hot shower in a giant shower stall with a tap I could just turn on and leave on instead of continuing to press a button. I also knew there were no other women there yet, so I took an extra long shower! Then I took advantage of the washing machine to clean my muddy clothes, which dried quickly in the sunshine. Wifi access, a restaurant and bar, and a pool rounded out the wonderful things this albergue had to offer. I swam and the just sat in the sunshine with my tired feet rating in the cool water. An evening meal together in wonderful company finished off the great day. A haven of rest for a weary pilgrim. I am grateful for small blessings, and reflective of how much I take for granted at home. I complain that my shower doesn’t have great water pressure. I don’t think of all the people who would love to have a place to call home, and I complain that my bed is not comfortable enough. It reminds me of the verse, foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to rest his head.
God, help me not to take things for granted! Let me notice and appreciate the many good things with which you bless me!