Random acts of kindness / Paying it forward

Random acts of kindness / Paying it forward

Day 19, April 25: Moratinos to Calzadilla de los Hermanillos (23.8 km, 14.8 extremely windy miles!)

I was so excited to have the time and space to catch up on my posts last night and then… then that excitement spilled over into sleep time. Not good. At some point after the midnight hour had struck, I turned on my flashlight and broke a Benadryl in half. Sleep was still slow in coming. But I knew morning would not delay its arrival, and indeed, it did not. I became alert to its arrival when a familiar tone sounded. It took a while for me to figure out why it was familiar: it was my alarm clock. Shoot! The last thing I had done the evening before was make my way down from the bunk and locate my plugged in inverter so I could top off the charge on my phone. I was quite sure I had turned off the alarm as I had no intention of trying to make my way out of a deep sleep, find the bunk’s ladder, negotiate the descent from on high, make my way across the room, and find the stop button on the phone. I figured it best to just cancel the 6:28 call and let the other pilgrims serve as my alarm clock.

Yes, that’s what I decided, but apparently I never carried through with that plan. Buzz! Buzz! Buzz! So down I went, feeling rather sheepish. There were 8 or 9 of us to take turns for the bathroom, but eventually all but the two sisters from Finland were gone. We shared some talk about our children and grandchildren as one of the sisters spoke fairly good English. I learned that the other one was, like me, trying to complete the Camino before her 70th birthday. Another ’49er. We gestured back and forth to indicate how strong and “youthful” we were. A light-hearted start to the day.

By the time I headed to the albergue‘s dining hall/bar, the rain had commenced. Because I had sort of skipped dinner last night, I soon found myself staring at a very filling ham-and-cheese sandwich (the bread being a kind of puff-pastry dough). Tasty! Pilgrims who had begun their day’s trek one town earlier were arriving to warm up, get caffeinated, and escape the rain. One of them brought me the menu and asked me to point out on it just what it was I had ordered. “Didn’t order from the menu,” I replied. “I just saw this on the counter’s display case and asked for it. It’s good!”

I was quite interested in taking the “optional route” on the Roman Way today rather than the standard route along the highway. A rural highway, but still: roadway and cars mean less scenery. Taking the alternative route would mean a two-day commitment through a more remote (read: no bar/coffee shops [which also means no “services”]). “Remote” I like, but what if I were to have problems? Would there be anyone who would come upon me and “rescue me”? When I learned that the Irish couple I met yesterday definitely planned to do the road less traveled, that cinched the decision for me. I called ahead for a reservation to make sure that I’d get a bed at walk’s end. I was thus committed to splitting off the main route a bit more than half way through the day’s route. Consulting the guide book and keeping my eyes open for arrows would be a top priority.

I kept observing the folks arriving in their wet garments, and on the basis of that, I came up with a brilliant idea for not suffering frozen hands again today. Although this albergue had an interior clothesline and heated floors so that most of my wet things had dried, I didn’t want to chance the “waterproof” mittens again. I dug out my lightweight wool ones, then pulled out from my pack a set of bread wrappers (both ends opened) and a pair of elastic bands. I put on the first mitten, secured the bag over it and the lower part of my arm, and twisted the elastic loop in a figure-8 to secure the bag in place. Now… picture me trying to do the same with the second one after the first hand was all “done up.” You’re right: I couldn’t do it. My Portuguese table mate to the rescue. He caught on quickly to my dilemma and got the elastic in place for me. First act of kindness received for the day.

Then, I was off! And, good news: it was no longer raining. The low clouds glided along the horizon, black and gray and white and puffy, allowing the occasional glimpse of sunshine. It was going to be a better day than yesterday, no doubt about it. 37 degrees isn’t so bad when it is not snowing or sleeting or raining. I could handle this! Especially with the warm hands.

Those bundled hands would certainly stay warm, and I could wrap them around the top of my hiking poles, but there was no way I could use them for anything else. Couldn’t access my camera. Couldn’t reach for the bandana for my nose. Or money for… whatever.

Which is why I was met with the day’s second act of kindness when I stepped into a cafe in Sahagún some 10 kilometers later. The sweet lady behind the counter took one look at me, handed me a paper towel, and indicated my nose. “Here, you need this. The air is so frigid today. Come. Sit here,” indicating the bar stool. I must really be a sight, I thought. I worked with the bread wrappers, finally freeing my hands enough to provide some relief to those leaking nostrils. Next order of business: request an orange juice.

And then the third act of kindness for the day. It was my turn to take notice of something. The “thing” was a local lady a few stools down from me. Clearly not well. She had a coffee and a sweet roll, and I could tell that the waitress had also noticed that she was under great stress. “Has she paid yet?” I asked softly, indicating the weary customer as she rubbed her forehead. “If not,” I added, “let me pay for her breakfast as well.” It was appreciated, and so easy to do. Felt natural. I got bits and pieces of the lady’s tale of woe: the four UTIs, the fevers, the exhaustion. She needed some sympathy. We’ve all been there…

I had read that Sahagún was the “geographical center of the Camino”; I had also been told that somewhere at the mid-point of the Camino a pilgrim could get a fancy certificate indicating “half completion.” I set about trying to figure out if Sahagún was the city where such a certificate was issued and just where a pilgrim had to go.

Bingo! A church a few blocks off the Camino, recently (starting in 2004) reconstructed to be a pilgrim information center (as well as a venue for modern art) was the spot I needed to head for.

The Santuario de la Virgen Peregrina was a treasure indeed. I was lucky to find it, lucky it was open.  And it was here that I met up with the fourth random act of kindness for the day.  I’ll explain.  A group of Spanish pilgrims arrived just before me. (Truth was: not many pilgrims seemed to know about the stop and the “half-way certificate,” and so this magnificent place was almost empty.) One of the Spaniards seemed to be in charge of the group. He was dishing out the euros. “¿Quién más necesita entrada?” [“Whose else needs a ticket?”]. I joked with him and said, “Well, I do. But why would you pay for me?” But he did! Just a couple of euros, but… as with me paying for the sick lady’s breakfast, I’m betting that it “felt right” to him. A chance to pay it forward.

So, about 7 of us must have arrived about the same time. The woman behind the desk collected all our credenciales (pilgrims’ passports) and told us to go ahead and enjoy our tour. She would examine our passports and then issue our certificates, each with our name on it, to indicate having walked half the Camino.

The church was a combination of things: a modern art museum, a celebration of the Camino itself, and a tribute to the various art/cultural styles that were discovered when the almost-in-ruins church was renovated. I was fascinated with the displays, with the examples of “moorish-style” wall designs that had been uncovered and restored. Took lots of photos as I found it fascinating to see the kind of architecture I would expect in southern Spain, in Granada or Sevilla or Córdoba, here in the north. A reminder that once upon a time various cultures had coexisted in relative peace and harmony in this area.

And the day continued…

Let’s move on to highlights, as the 10:00 pm lights-out hour approaches all too quickly.

How about this for a gem: as I was leaving Sahagún, I was “behind,” most pilgrims having passed through earlier or having elected to stay in the town. Not many of us on the trail. Not many pilgrims, but suddenly, approaching me rapidly, not pilgrims, but sheep! Many sheep! Like… maybe a hundred? Sheep, sheepdogs, a shepherd, right on my trail. I had just enough time to climb up a little embankment and get my camera out. Got slowed down a little bit when one of my mittens blew away, but I rescued it without being run over and made it back in time to get a great video of the passing flock. I might have expected something similar in the country, but this was just on the outskirts of town. And in an area where we hadn’t seen any 4-legged animals in days and days, but only just acre after acre of wheat or of fields waiting to be planted. I felt so lucky, just as I had been so excited a few days earlier to see the boat going down the canal. Sometimes we are just lucky that way, being in the right place at the right time. (I guess we don’t really realize how many times we aren’t in the right place at the right time, but then, what you don’t know won’t hurt you.)

A few kilometers beyond Sahagún I had to watch very carefully for the start of the alternate route, the one that makes use of some of the remnants of the old Roman Road. I liked the sound of the “wilderness-like” nature of the path. I headed first through a small village where I bought yogurt, an apple, and a tomato for the 8+-kilometer walk into Calzadilla de los Hermanillos. Took a cool picture inside the store of a huge loaf of round bread. It was the top loaf in a large, wide paper bag that stood about 3-feet tall. Golly do they ever eat a lot of bread in this country!

Just past the grocery store I came upon a pilgrim going the same direction. I pointed out the store, thinking he might want to stock up, but that was not the case. This guy was French. Also crazy! Not to imply, of course, that the two things go hand in hand. No. No generalities here. Why crazy? He told me how he had his sleeping pad with him because he has been sleeping out every night. Every night since St. Jean! Without a tent! “N’avait vous froid?” I asked him. “Mais oui!” Hmmm. A 60-something man who does this? Must have something to prove. I could not identify with him. Another minute or so and we realized that he needed the pathway to the left, while I needed the one to the right. 8.4 miles of solitude.

Only not! Along came a Korean I had been seeing on and off but whom I hadn’t formally met. María, she told me, for Mary, mother of Jesus. She explained that she was Catholic, thus the name. María had a story to tell about her day. She had walked 6 miles along the other route, the one that goes along the highway, before realizing that she had missed the turn-off for the route she really wanted. She had someone call a taxi for her, and then she returned to the point where she had missed the turn-off.

María and I walked together at least half of the way to our destination. She said she had hardly talked to anyone since beginning her Camino a day or two before we began. So, about three weeks ago. She didn’t want to speak Korean or identify herself with the Koreans. She was here for her own purposes and didn’t want the distractions. Turns out that María had left a husband and three sons–high school, middle school, and one still in grade school–in order to celebrate her upcoming 50th birthday (May 19). A present to herself. We snapped a few pictures one of the other, enjoyed the scenery together. And then the solitude. She caught up with me a few minutes after I arrived at my albergue, and was very upset to learn that it was full. Maria was exhausted. “No problem,” my innkeeper told her. “The municipal is just down the street.” Hoping she would find a spot there, I proceeded to my room.

A nice one. For the first time on this trip, a bed with top and bottom sheets, a blanket and even a bedspread. A bed you could actually crawl into rather than sleeping on the top of it in my sleeping bag liner. A towel provided for each of us (4 beds in the room). Ample cabinets in which to spread out gear. A shower to die for.

After cleaning up, I went back out to pick up some food for the next day, knowing that I’d be continuing on the “wilderness road” for almost 15 miles before coming upon any place serving food or drink. As I walked past the municipal albergue two figures ran out and called to me. It was María whom I had just met and Kelly who I’ve been seeing in at least every other town I’ve been to for about two weeks.

As it turned out, they had the entire two-story albergue to themselves! This optional way was indeed the road less traveled. I spent a good hour visiting with them in their cozy if humble gathering space where their hospitalero kept feeding the wood-burning stove. Not “fancy” at all like where I was staying, but “cozy”; I found myself wishing I hadn’t made the reservation.

Back at my albergue, I had a great pilgrim’s meal of lentils, roasted lamb stew, and flan. Also gathered round: my two female roommates, a couple from … was it the Czech Republic?… and Mark, someone I had met earlier in the day who told me he was from California, but come to find out he was Hoosier born and bred (Kokomo).

Stomach full, bed waiting, I climbed in to begin the telling of this tale. When I saw that Alan had put down his Kindle and Pia her phone, I put this half-finished post aside… until now (Friday night). I think I’ve brought you much more up to date than you needed to be, but … I’ve preserved some memories for myself. Possibly at your expense. Enough is enough, though, so off this goes, from my fingers to your screen, with all best wishes. Remember: I’m thinking of you and “lifting you up”. And grateful that you are doing the same for me.

In which we tell about the moon, the alleluias, the cookoo bird, and the half-naked—but resurrected!—Jesus, who waves at one and all

In which we tell about the moon, the alleluias, the cookoo bird, and the half-naked—but resurrected!—Jesus, who waves at one and all

Day 15, April 21: Hontanas to Castrojeriz (11.5 km, 7.2 miles)

The final vestiges of daylight are lingering (but not for long; it is 9:27) on Wednesday as I attempt to go back in time and do the promised write-up for Easter Sunday. Because four of my five roommates have settled into their sleeping bags and the fifth is reading with a backlit Kindle, I have turned off the lights in this room and am lighting my keyboard with the headlamp I’ve put around my neck. (Have I told you that sometimes I sleep with it there? It’s the best way to not lose it at night, especially when I’m on a top bunk with no shelf attached to it. Wish I had as easy a solution for my glasses….) But let’s see if I can’t write this up and actually be caught up. Not that I’m obsessed with this project, but it will feel good to be up-to-date. And, this too: Amy has been asking me for weeks where I would celebrate Easter. She wanted the “Easter story” and I want the memories before they fade. And so I continue.)

Hontanas didn’t necessarily roll up its sidewalks early on Saturday evening, but the folks in my albergue certainly did. By the time I returned home from dinner down the street and brought in my laundry, the room was dark. Ditto when my alarm went off in the morning. What? Is that all these people do? Sleep? I dressed silently, my clothes generally at the foot of the bed where, if I’m lucky, I don’t kick them off (as in “down”) during the night, and then slipped out to the kitchen/common area. It was about 6:30. A few pilgrims were in there already, doing their final pack loading by the light in the kitchen so as not to wake their bunkmates. Me? I arrived not with my pack but with my keyboard. I was going to work on the Saturday post until such time as I thought the lights would be on in my room (I can type by flashlight but have no desire to pack my bag with that kind of a focused beam). I was soon on a roll with the writing. Only to remember that at this albergue we left our shoes outside in a covered portion of the patio. I slipped out, stockinged feet, to bring them inside to warm up.

Now what one often hears about is Easter sunrise, I know. But the full moon (“officially” full? I couldn’t say, but big, bright) caught my attention as much as any sunrise might. It’s Easter! The light shines! Hope resumes. Life goes on. Brrr it’s cold out here! Back in I go with the reclaimed shoes. Back to the keyboard.

But then… we were supposed to be out of the rooms by 8:00, so I returned to the room to pack up. Then headed for the hostel’s reception room/breakfast corner. “Yes,” the innkeeper told me, “you can stay here as long as you like. It’s just the dormitories that need to be vacated.” A few pilgrims were in this lobby area trying to figure out how to move forward and wait out their injuries. Others, early risers who had spent the night in a town or two short of Hontanas, began to arrive. Coffee, pastries, tortillas de patatas were served up. I, of course, resumed my narration of the day before, sharing my table and a word here and there with… Grace. I believe it was Grace. (Did I tell you that I met up with–again–both Grace and Kelly in Hontanas, Kelly at a different hostel just down the street. Kind of fun, the Grace & Kelly coincidence…)

It was nice to be relaxed. Having walked an extra long day on Saturday, I had just a bit over 7 miles to cover to arrive in Castrojeriz and meet up wit Ginny. I had alerted her to the existence of a 1:00 mass in Castrojeriz and to the likelihood that I would go straight to the church rather then check in first at the albergue. I calculated the time and felt that if I left Hontanas shortly after 10:00, I would have more than enough time. (I don’t want to keep you on the edge of your seats; relax: I had calculated correctly and did have enough time.)

I set off, finally, trying to focus on Easter. It was a pleasant enough day by mid-morning. Not warm, but pleasant enough. Time to sing some Alleluias. I have a whole collection of songs on my iPod that contain the word, some specifically meant for Easter, some with a more coincidental, general use of the word. Did I want to dig out my headphones? I know where they are, but I haven’t used them yet and kind of like it that way. Do I manage to summon up many of the songs? Not really. Melodies, yes, but pretty weak on the words. Isn’t it the thought that counts?

Chiming right along with me? The darn cuckoo bird. “Cuckoo! Cuckoo! Cuckoo!” Over and over. Yes, I know that rising from the dead is pretty preposterous. Yes, of course, it defies reason. It defies nature. And logic. But isn’t that what makes it so wondrous, so astonishing, so worth celebrating? I continue with my alleluias, the cuckoo with its taunt. I didn’t let it shake my mood. I’m celebrating.

I hear a clanking sound. Look around for a lone sheep or cow, the bell around its neck giving a slight vibration. No, it’s the conch shell most pilgrims have fastened to their packs. Mine is clanging against the carabiner-style S hook which sometimes holds one or the other of my jackets. I move on. No animals to photograph this morning.

And then I’m in town–Castrojeriz– studying the map conveniently placed at the entrance to the village, trying to figure out where our hostel is and where the church of San Juan is. The latter, all the way at the other end of the village. Now at the entrance of the town, I continue up the hill towards the center and beyond. Another sound. Drums. Drums? Drums! A procession!

I ask you: what are the chances? I had missed the big processions in Burgos on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. I knew they were going to take place, that they would draw a crowd, just as I knew that the interior of the cathedral would be spectacular, but… I just couldn’t cover all the territory. And now? Now I am getting a chance to witness a procession I didn’t even know would be taking place, and I had arrived with just enough time to dig out my camera and catch a video. A short video. Because here’s the thing: Castrojeriz is a town of 500 souls, half of whom may well travel elsewhere for the holiday. This, however, is what Ilove. The small-town celebration of tradition and faith and culture and custom.

So what all is involved in this tiny procession? Well, a grand total of three floats, one of Jesus, one of Mary…. and…. the third one was pretty small, another Mary I think. There were not huge pasos, not many men required to carry them. There were the flag bearer, two big flags, I think. the priest, the altar girl, a choir consisting of four women who were singing their hearts out, and then the faithful. Or at least the abler-bodied among the faithful. 20, 25 people maybe. I went up to two women at the tail end. “Perdón, señoras, ¿va lejos la procesión?” I asked them. Does it go far? “Well, far enough,” they told me. I considered. I had just trudged up the hill, halfway through the village. I learned that this procession would go down the way I had come, back to the entrance into town, then make a loop that would bring it back to the church of San Juan where I was heading, arriving in time for the 1:00 pm mass.

No, I didn’t have it in me to retrace my steps. I would meet the procession at the church. And Ginny, too, to whom I texted, letting her know that I had arrived and was going to have a bite to eat on the wall in front of the church. If she wanted to see the procession, then hurry on over. She soon joined me and she nibbled at some of my cheese while I ate a good chunk of it as well as an orange and a tomato, leaning over so as not to stain my Easter finery (that is, the same clothes I have worn since April 2!). Meanwhile, one by one those not able to join the actual procession began arriving in the plaza in front of the church, awaiting the procession’s return. We–Ginny and I–attracted a fair bit of attention. First there was the man with a cape. A priest, Ginny thought. But no, it was a cofrade–let’s say something like a Knight of Columbus or a member of the Moose or the Legion–only in this case, someone, as he told us, responsible for setting up the Holy Week processions and making sure that they run smoothly. Proud of his position, for sure. Others came round to speak with us, as if we were curiosity pieces. As far as I could tell, we were the only pilgrims involved in this event, though I might be wrong.

And then the drums, the return of the procession. Either the pace had picked up a bit or I was seeing the procession from a different angle, but here’s what I noticed: as the carriers held on to the handles on the side of the platform on which Jesus stood, his raised right arms jiggled back and forth, as if he were a celebrity waving at the crowd. (Well, after all, wasn’t he?) I found it both comical and sweet. Jesus needed more than the loin cloth that was wrapped around him; it was nippy.

So nippy, in fact, that I also noticed that no one in the congregation was intent on being seen in his or her Easter finery. All were in winter coats, mostly dark in color. They were dressed for the weather. My kind of people! A few minutes into the mass which had started as soon as the three statues were situated at the front of the church, I whispered to Ginny (she was seated in front of me so that we both had an unobstructed view of the altar in spite of the many columns in the church), “Did you notice the altar girl?” “Yes,” she nodded with a grin. The poor little thing: there she was in her cassock with the fur-lined hood of her winter coat sticking up and out. Man, those old churches are cold. And what kind of a fortune would it take to heat them? One that these villages certainly don’t have.

The acoustic system, however, was very modern, and the priest was another one of those real “shepherds.” This was the second church of San Juan in which I had participated in a mass here in Spain, and the only churches where I could both hear and understand the priests, both of whom were full of smiles for their flock (in the case of the other San Juan church, the flock had consisted strictly of pilgrims), spoke powerful messages (I expected applause, bravos, or alleluias at the end of this homily, that’s how good it was IMHO, but there were none), and had a flair for oratory, parallel constructions, dramatic pauses, rhetorical questions, etc. I ate it up and remembered why I always like the Spanish language so much. Like many priests at an Easter service, he remarked on how nice it would be to have such a full house every Sunday and, with a twinkle in his eye, said he’d look forward to seeing them all the next week.

Ginny went over to light a candle at a side altar (have I mentioned that almost without exception the candles in the churches I’ve been to are all battery-operated? Put in half a euro and five or more candles are likely to light up… except when they don’t…). On her way, she was briefly intercepted by a 55 or 60-ish lady who had been sitting close to us. Ginny went on to the candles and the woman turned to me. “She was crying, your friend,” she told me. “You know,” she continued, I’ve been a pilgrim, too. Three times I’ve done the Camino. It brings out the emotions in people.” Yes, indeed!

So there, in a bit more than a nutshell, was my Easter. Loved being in the small-town atmosphere, having some interaction with the locals. It felt right. I was glad I hadn’t thought too long or too hard about where I would be, hadn’t looked for a showy, splashy atmosphere. This was perfect.

A few more things I remember about the day:

  • The cofrade was eager to share with us that Castrojeriz was, at 2 kilometers, the longest pueblo [“small town”] on the entire Camino
  • Ginny had an Easter gift for me. You remember the bar where we ate almost all our meals in Burgos? Right across from the albergue municipal? Ginny had noticed a single teal hiking pole, identical to mine, just sitting in a corner there, day after day. Until, it wasn’t, because Ginny picked it up to pass along to me. (You may recall that one of mine broke and we found an unclaimed red one that we appropriated.) Now, once again, I have matching poles. We left the red one in Castrojeriz for the next “lame” pilgrim. Once again, the Camino provided. Twice with poles.
  • We loved the Albergue Rosalía and spent a good bit of the afternoon hanging in the “honest kitchen” (use what you need, drop some coins in the box to help pay for staples), half listening to various conversations, half attempting to communicate with family, plan Ginny’s next move, do some blog updating. That evening there was a lovely communal dinner for those who wanted it (and wanted to pay the going price which, for most of our full, pilgrim-priced dinners, is 10 euros). I think that was the night with the two chicken legs, the vegetable “pasta paella,” a nice salad with home-made hummus to go with the fresh bread, and a go-down-smooth-and-easy “chocolate heaven” dessert. We were Americans, Australians, Germans, French, Austrians… learning a bit about one another’s spouses, children, reasons for doing the Camino. Nice.

I wasn’t eavesdropping, but whether one knew French or not, the tone was clear (ask Ginny, who knows no French): the icing on the cake this Easter Sunday evening was being present as a pilgrim from France was talking to his family at home, “tucking” in his 8 and 10-year-olds, saying goodnight to his wife. Such sweet tones. He explained, afterwards, that he is accompanying his father on this trip, that he didn’t want to leave his family but that his wife, who had recently lost both parents, told him that he should go, that he might not have many more opportunities to do something this special with his father. The first week, he said, he couldn’t bear to call home, he missed his family so much. It has become easier now. Early on, it broke his heart; now, now he can bear it.

The Camino at work.

Easter at work.

It was a good day.

Alleluia. Go fly a kite, cuckoo bird!

Carrying on to Carrión

Carrying on to Carrión

Day 17, April 23: Frómista to Carrión de los Condes (22.6 km, 14 miles)

I could hardly wait to get on the road today if only because I loved the idea that, as the post title suggests, I would be “carrying on to “Carri… on” (the Spanish pronunciation doesn’t exactly support the word play, but I get a kick out of it nevertheless…)

But the post didn’t happen, did it? Instead you got “a lick and a promise.” Now, as evening descends on Wednesday, I’m trying to deliver on the promise, and fortunately I have some notes from yesterday to help jog my memory. Necessary because, believe me, it is so easy to have the days blend into one another and to forget the details. (I have to say: I got a very positive response from the short “lick and a promise note,” no doubt heartfelt appreciation for the short post and a desire that I produce more of same: short, sweet, to the point. An update without the details…. But, recall, I’m doing this blog as much as anything to keep my memories live. Thank you for “dealing with it”!)

So, then, back to Frómista, the town along the canal, the town with the locks, the albergue I barely managed to get back to, my left-over dinner in a bag, before the front doors were locked, the long blog post that kept me up past midnight. We continue, then, from that point:

It was a surprise when the lights came on in the morning to find that Nadine and Françoise, the two French ladies whom I had introduced, were in my room, Nadine directly under me (I had suspected when I saw the napping figure under me in the afternoon that it was Nadine, but I hadn’t had a chance to confirm that; it had been a busy afternoon). It was funny about the bunk beds in that room. Whenever Nadine had turned over in the night, my top bunk jiggled around. The first time it happened I must have been asleep and for a brief time I thought it was Ken turning over next to me…. but wait a minute, that can’t be! Then I figured it out. From then on, I tried to turn very carefully so as not to give Nadine the same eerie experience.

I was the first one up in our section of the sleeping quarters, but the very last walker out of the hostel in the morning, maybe around 8:20. (Another woman was leaving just a few minutes after me, but she was planning on calling a taxi to take her somewhere or other). My late delay was due to spending a bit of extra time treating my feet. Having bought some made-in-house “snake oil” and a scissors at the pharmacy, I was going to try a new technique with a couple of blisters. (Not bad, mind you, but hoping to avoid something worse.). The other reason for my delay: I had the yummy leftovers of risotto and tripe in the refrigerator. Plate-licking good!

I’d been told at dinner the night before that I had missed a treasure by failing to at least walk by the church of San Martín the day before. I quote from my guidebook: “consecrated in 1066 and reputedly one of the finest examples of pure Romanesque in Spain.” The book warns that it has lost some of its charm because now it has become a national monument, a “must-see” tourist site with “endless coach parties” arriving to visit. Believe me, there were no coach parties at 8:30 am. I had the (exterior of) the church to myself. I concur: it was beautifully proportioned. As I think I’ve mentioned, I prefer the Romanesque style to Gothic and Baroque. Keep it simple, no?

And finally, I’m on my way out of town, meeting up almost immediately with Arancha and Iván, a young Spanish pareja (“no, no,” they assured me, “not a matrimonio,” as if being married was a fate to avoid at all costs). They do a holiday every year on one or another stretch of the Camino. Eventually they will make it to Santiago.

The forecast called for rain. While not a terribly cold day, neither was it very warm. I was content with my wool shirt, my Polartec vest, and my winter jacket. I hung my rain jacket on the outside of my pack for easy access. The sky (all day) looked like rain would begin at any moment. The joke was actually on the people who left at 7:00 or even earlier, trying to get ahead of the rain. They got wet. I got the merest bit of spit mid-morning, but that was it. I wasn’t upset….

For once I had paid some attention to the maps in my guidebook (contrary to the day before when coming upon the Canal de Castilla took me totally by surprise; a pleasant surprise). I saw that the main route followed the highway all day, whereas there was an alternate route that went along a river. Duh! The alternate only added .9 km. Who wouldn’t choose it? Most people, apparently. Whether from not noticing that there were yellow arrows at the same junction pointing in two different directions, or whether due to a preference for moving along more quickly without fear of muddy pathways, or whether because of a preference for passing two additional towns if one continued along the path that paralleled the highway (thus, bathrooms and the possibility of food and drink), I know not. Whatever, I had the path, which met up with the river after a kilometer or two, practically to myself.

Was I making a mistake? Just on the outskirts of the village, I spotted a local. “You don’t want this way,” he tells me. “Everyone goes the other way. There aren’t any services along here.” “Yes, but no traffic either,” I responded. After the breakfast I had had, who needed “services”? The man was accompanied by two greyhounds. “Do you race them?” His face lit up as he nodded. I’m neither a fan of greyhounds nor of the notion of having them race each other, but I have to say: they were beautiful dogs. The one, 5 years old, slowing down a lot; the other, at age 2, in her prime.

Such interactions are a joy for me. Just a little snippet of conversation, a bit of curiosity on the native’s part about my castellano, and then onward. The town I had just left has a population of 150, but at least two of the gents there liked to walk. I soon met up with another fellow, 60ish. He was out for his daily constitutional. “10 kilometers, most days,” he told me. Sometimes alone, sometimes with friends. “Ventajas y descventajas,” he commented. Yes, I knew what he meant. Sometimes one likes the conversations one has with oneself, sometimes others can be good company, make the time go faster. “But it’s good to go each one at his own ritmo.”  Again, I concur.

As I was conversing with this gentleman, a few pilgrims came along. Irish. “No hablo inglés,” he tells me. “Just one thing,” and he goes on to tell me what that is: “I don’ know.” “I’ll teach you another,” I said. “Repeat after me: ‘I don’ speak English’.” He was at first puzzled, then caught on and repeated as requested. I was able to congratulate him and then… then it was time for him to turn to the right and head off on a ploughed path to complete his 10-k loop. More power to him. He and I both agreed that the world would be a better place–and a healthier one!–if everybody did what he did. (I had asked him if he ever had done the Camino. He laughed as if to say: “10 kilometers is a worthy goal; the entire Camino an estupidez!” To each his own.

Soon afterwards I arrived at the point where the path follows along the River Ucieza (say that with the proper Castilian pronunciation and you’ll have a real tongue-twister going!). It was lovely. The river sometimes had a decent flow to it, sometimes was more like a creek, even like a somewhat dry creek. And then again soon, more water. Surrounded on both sides by tall waving “grasses.” I found myself picturing Moses floating by among the bulrushes. Beyond the river, to my right, views of the meseta. Very peaceful. Enjoyable. Far to my left, for a while, I could discern the pilgrims following the highway, the bright colors from their rain ponchos and pack covers making them a highly visible, even cheerful sight. Still, I was glad to have found, again, the road less traveled for about 8 kilometers or so until the “river way” met up again with the main route. For company, I heard the cuckoo and the dove competing with each other and with the wind to see who was most important for the morning’s symphony. To my mind it was a toss-up between the cuckoo and the wind.

The two routes merged at Villalcázar de Sirga, a town dominated by the fortress-like 13th-century church of Santa María la Virgen Blanca which houses a revered statue of the same name. I picked up a brochure which brought back to me having read some medieval poetry by Alfonso el Sabio (Alphonse the Wise) back in graduate school days in which he praised the virgin for the miracles she wrought. It was a very pretty church and more than worth the 1 euro “pilgrim priced” entry fee.

And, in the plaza right in front of the church, one of the finest desserts I’ve ever had: kind of a cross between sugar-cream pie and very nice custard, topped with glazed apples. It went so much better with the coffee I had ordered than the “potato omelette” I had planned to order. No apologies for my sweet tooth on this day. I ate my pie at a table with two new-to-me Irishmen. One I had seen in the church lighting candles and offering some prayers. The other one, the one who lingered at the table, was more of a sceptic. H wasn’t quite sure about “all this Camino business,” and felt sure that this one go-’round on it was all he fancied. “Too much myth, too many tears and emotions. None o’ that for me. I don’t really see what all the fuss is about.” To each his own. I had only sat down at the table with him because I mistook him for my English photographer friend whom I had also seen in the church and with whom I had a lot more in common. Oh well….

I arrived at journey’s end about 3:00, and once Sister had efficiently explained the rules–no wasted time for her!–and had found me a bed, I located Ginny down in the dining room and was delighted to indulge in the soup she had prepared.

That soup: let me just say that the Camino continued to provide. Earlier that morning one of the sisters in charge, having learned that Ginny had cleaned up the entire kitchen–dishes, counters, stove top–and had wiped down all the tables, gave a nod to Ginny about using up any food she found around. Don’t suggest it twice, sister! Soon Ginny was at work, boiling beans and letting them rest, cutting up left-over meats and vegetables, tomatoes… She headed to a panadería for fresh-baked bread to accompany her “stone soup,” then went about the business of sharing it. A bowl for Irish Teresa whose husband Vincent had taken ill and who, like Ginny, had been allowed to remain a second night at the hostel, a bowl for me, one for Nadine who had arrived a bit after me. Ginny’s work was therapeutic for her and certainly tasty and nutritious and very welcome.

The rest of the day went by in a blur: some massage time on Ginny’s cranky knee administered by the none-too-professional-but-very-willing cousin, lots of consulting back and forth about Ginny’s next move which will be to the large–130,000–city of León.  That’s a four-stage jump down the Camino; she’ll spend three nights at an Airbnb until I catch up with her on Saturday evening at an albergue.

Speaking of catching up, that’s you, all caught up on Tuesday’s adventures up to the point where I chimed in with that “lick and a promise” post. And now, I’ve delivered; you got the whole meal only hinted at by last night’s lick.

Whether you wanted it or not….

PS. Many thanks to Regina who has better internet with which to upload some photos. Would love to be sharing a great many more, but that’s one challenge that I’m not meeting very well. So be it.

A tale of two days (well, one day, in two parts)

A tale of two days (well, one day, in two parts)

Day 18, Wednesday, April 24: Carrión de los Condes to Moratinos (30 km, 18.6 miles)

[Editor’s note: Shortly after posting this entry I heard from Barb. I think you’ll enjoy the comments she makes about her day; I’ve added them as a postscript, so you’ll find them below. My editorial comment: “You gotta love the Camino!”]

Quick follow up from the mini-post I published before bedtime last night. I believe I began that quick post at 9:21 pm and finished it at 9:30, at which time I entered the kitchen to see what I could scrounge up quickly from the little shopping trip Ginny had done the day before. What I noticed upon entering the kitchen was that lights were to be off in the kitchen at 21:30 (9:30 pm) sharp. Oops! But surely they (the nuns) wouldn’t let me starve! I didn’t even take the time to sit. I peeled two hard boiled eggs, located a bit of salt on the counter, and woofed down the eggs and some little chunks of bread also left out on the counter. Whew! Made it! It wouldn’t be hunger keeping me awake then.

Actually, nothing was going to keep me awake. The night called for a Benadryl to assure that I wasn’t disturbed by anything or anyone. (I thought Benadryl would be my nightly friend, but actually I had only taken it maybe three times prior.) The tuck-us-in sister caught me still brushing my teeth about 10:10, but she was sweet enough as she wished me a “Buenas noches. ¡Que duermas bien!” No detention, then, or kitchen clean-up duties. I got away scott-free in spite of bending the rules, and I slept like a baby under the warmth of a heavy wool blanket, snuggled like a little sardine between two gentlemen who were kind enough not to snore or mistake me for someone with whom to get cozy. (What? That old lady?) One of them had left the hostel by the time I got back from a quick morning trip to the bathroom. I guess he was anxious to hit the road, though, really, there was no way that anyone was going to get ahead of today’s weather!

(Sidenote: the Espíritu Santo albergue where we were staying had a huge influx of Asian pilgrims. Chinese, I think. None of whom seemed to know any English. They were quite a sight to see this morning, having a seriousness and an intensity about them as they rushed around which made intense little me look like I didn’t have an anxious bone in me. They were rolling large suitcases to a general gathering room and I couldn’t help but wonder what their story was. I was not destined to know it, however. I did see a lot of them on the trail today. [I’m assuming, anyway; the way we were all so bundled up with ponchos and the like, it was hard to even find the face inside the gear…] Chinese faces can look at miserable as anyone else’s. A miserable face needs no translation! Which brings me to the first of my “installments” for today.)

Not even with rose-colored glasses…

Today’s weather presented, for me, the first really major challenge of “my Camino.” Oh, sure, there have been long hills, long days, long-lasting cold, my big splat on the highway 9 miles into the Camino. There have been frustrations with technology, with inadequate vocabulary, but for every frustration, something good to offset it. There have been worries about Ginny and other friends we have met along the way, doubts about the best way to proceed, decisions that have been hard to make. Prior to today, however, there has not been a truly difficult weather situation to have to deal with.

“Snow”? We dared to laugh the night before. “It’s not going to snow! Come on! How is it going to snow when the low is going to be about 36. And it’s going to get up to about 50. The day will require “dressing for,” but it shouldn’t be a problem.

I set out rather optimistically, ready for the challenge. In a drizzle, but I can handle a drizzle, right? No other pilgrims in the immediate vicinity to follow, but I headed on with confidence. I would see the next arrow when I came upon it. Or not. Carrión was not a large town, but… I did a bit of wandering before I saw a stream of pilgrims off to the left. Ok, on track. An adventure. Until it wasn’t!

So… here’s how I spent a good bit of the morning: in dreaming up names for this blog post. Of course, it was too wet to be tempted to get out the phone to jot down the names that occurred to me, but here’s a small sampling:

  • Exactly why did I want to do this?
  • What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger….
  • Taxi, anyone? (And actually, as I later learned, the bus that passed through Carrión did a bustling business this morning bringing people forward, some of whom started out walking and turned back to find the bus station)
  • Why me?
  • I thought these clothes were waterproof

And more of the same ilk, as well as the one I settled on: the one about the rose-colored glasses.  Because, frankly, not even a die-hard optimist with the rosiest of colored glasses could find the merits of this day.

Although some tried! Some! I passed a few folks–or they me–who with a shrug of the shoulders still managed (early on) a smile which told of a certain determination to make the best of the situation.

But the situation got markedly worse. I struck up a conversation with Toni from South Africa. She is walking the Camino with her sister Colleen (whom we left in the dust as we walked and talked). She told me of her husband’s diagnosis of liver cancer, of his death a year ago at age 52, of how she had planned to do a two-week trip on the Camino in 2017 before his diagnosis but how now… well, now the whole thing. A chance to get away from the empty space next to her in bed, the vacant chair at the dinner table. We distracted each other for a while, making the time go a bit faster. By now, though, the snow had begun, not the beautiful snow that fell so softly and gently back in Roncevalles on our second day out. That snow was magical! Memorable for all the right reasons. This snow was nothing if not a complete misery, blowing sideways, cutting our faces, building up on our jackets/ponchos, soaking our mittens. Fingers got stiffer and stiffer as we walked. Toni removed her gloves, tucked her poles beside her pack, freeing up her hands to place them under her poncho in hopes of warming them a bit.

I haven’t mentioned: the first 17 kilometers of our trek today had no towns whatsoever. There was no place to stop to warm up. At some point we spied a van parked along the trail (a gravel two-track, actually). “I wonder if they have coffee,” Toni remarked. They did. I forged onward. She hoped to grab some coffee and watch for her sister to come along.  I found myself alone again.

It would have been a bit rewarding at least to take a few photos. You know, to share with you all. To elicit some compassion. To prove that, yes, the snow was accumulating on sleeves if not (much) on the fields lining the route. But who’s kidding who? Who has any feeling left in his/her fingers to be able to open a fanny pack, take out the camera, unlock it, snap a photo? Not yours truly. You’ll just have to take my word for it.

But then… the realization that one–that’s me!–was not going to be able to make it easily–if at all!–to that town still 5 or 6 kilometers down the road for the bathroom. But one must, right? With frozen fingers, how was I going to be able to peel down the rain pants, the regular pants, the long underwear, then the undies, to do what needed to be done, all out in the open? Maybe I should just “let it happen”; maybe the warmth of the descending urine might even feel good…. But, really, I knew better.

Then up ahead I saw a “pilgrim rest area” consisting of a few benches lining a wall about 12′ high, with a bit of a roof over the benches below. The wall. Something to stand behind to take care of business. Still, there was that matter of getting the pants down…. and then back up. A Chinese couple huddled miserably on one of the benches under the narrow roof. I join them. Attempt to get my pack off. Necessary first step to get to the other layers. Attempt some more. Keep at it, attempting to release the sternum and waist buckles. I can’t feel my fingers. The “waterproof gloves” have proved to be far from waterproof. And then, here’s my angelito, an Asian one. The Chinese man, his arms and torso covered in two layers of plastic, stands up and comes over to me. He begins to wriggle his arms out from under the plastic and he unsnaps my pack! I bow and thank him. We are each others’ keepers. I was so grateful.

Yes, I managed the rest behind the wall. With difficulty, but the pants somehow got pulled down and then pulled back up again. (Just so you know: I did not leave any tell-tale paper behind, though I assure you there was plenty of it left from previous desperate people.) I spent a good ten minutes more under the little roof/overhang, trying to bring some circulation back into my fingers. Mostly unsuccessfully. I wrung all sorts of water out of my “waterproof” mittens–which had served me so well every day up until now–and put them away. I had a pair of thin wool mittens in reserve inside my pack. Got them out. Headed off again.

Mostly the line of pilgrims was single file. We would pass or be passed. It seemed almost an insult to call out “Buen camino,” like saying to a dying person “Have a good life,” or, as in the epistle–was it in one of the letters of James, Santiago himself?–that warns us not to tell someone “stay warm,” etc., and do nothing to alleviate the person’s problem. So there were few “Buen caminos” along the way. A few “Buena suertes” (good luck). Mostly we didn’t look at one another, but rather just trudged on, hoping that the town we were approaching would have a bar or two, coffee, a chair to settle into while we warmed up. Maybe this is where we’d settle for the night, even if we arrived before noon….

No, not even I came find those rose-colored glasses. Sorry!

And then! Oh, and then!

I arrived at Calzadilla de la Cueza (population: 60), 17.3 kilometers into the day. 11:15. I passed up the first bar. Was stubborn enough to think that maybe I’d just keep going. Get this day over with. In 8.5 kilometers I could put this misery behind me and get to the business of thawing.

But then I saw arrows leading to the second bar. Maybe I’d have a stop after all.

And that made all the difference. The stop. The cappuccino (“grande, por favor. Y, ¿tendrá sopa? [Might you have any soup?], the garbanzo/chick pea soup. An empty table next to, of all things, a radiator! A warm radiator! Two pair of gloves quickly set on top of it. This bar was a good idea!

I was soon joined by Geraldine and Desmond (“Des, for short,” he told me). A couple from Ireland. They were rosy-cheeked, shivering. By now my coffee was a fait accompli, but drinking it had warmed my hands a bit, and the soup was doing the same for my innards. Life was looking better. God love the Irish! (God love all humanity!) We were soon laughing. A lot. Their soup arrived, but try as he did, Des couldn’t get the spoon to his mouth for all the trembling of his cold hands. Still, he appreciated my tongue-in-cheek offer to spoon feed him. They say “misery loves company.” I’m not sure I know what that actually means, but we shared our thoughts about the day and laughed as we did so.

A trip to a real-deal bathroom and I was on my way, one pair of sodden mittens back in the back and one pair of warmed woolen ones helping to preserve the heat that the fingers had acquired during my stopover. I was so much happier.

And so, I thought, I’ll sing. 12:00 pm. No Angelus for me, but I attempted some of the tried and true “faith songs” that have kept me going in the past. I found myself singing “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice…” Hmmm. Then this: “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances…” Didn’t cut it. There are circumstances and there are circumstances. Yes, I was grateful to be warmer, but I needed something different, more appropriate. I fell into another song. This one I’ve taught to others, even to Ginny a few weeks ago, as we sang it as a “round.” I like the lyrics and, besides, it has a tune and a range that my pitiful voice can handle quite adequately, thank you very much. Goes like this:

Love, love, love, love

Christians this is your [something or other, something that I could easily come up with at the time, but which eludes me now because one of my French-speaking neighbors is crooning (?) something that sounds like death has come ‘a calling! Oh, he shut up. Is he dead? So I’ve got it! “Christians, this is your CALL”]

Love your neighbor as yourself

for God loves us all

And that worked for me for a couple of minutes. Singing aloud. Over and over. Must be about 12:10, 12:15 by now. My pace was steady, strong. Singing about love. Why not? It’ll help pass the time. I thought about the Chinaman who had unsnapped the fastener on my pack so I could remove it. Love. The “call” is certainly not exclusive to Christians; it’s a call we’re all supposed to hear.

And then. Then I started playing with the lyrics. I had a lot of people I wanted to pray for. Fellow pilgrims with (and without) their packs. Family. Many who had asked for prayers. I was reminded of the proposed theme of my Camino: “walking the Camino; touching the world.” I changed a word here, a word there, and then I had it. Same tune as the “love song” above, but deeply moving for me; satisfying and appropriate. I couldn’t think of a single person for whom this prayer song could not be a perfect fit. If you happen to know the melody for the first version I gave up above, then, if you’re inclined, try this one out:

Grace, grace, give them grace

Grace to bear the burdens they carry

Give them hope and give them peace

For you love them all

12:20? Sounds about right. And then I sang and sang and sang and sang some more. Two hours and then some. Loudly. There was no one to hear me. Sometimes the wind was so fierce that I couldn’t hear myself, but I knew that sound was coming out. I’d call to mind one person and keep on singing. Call to mind another. Over and over again. Half an hour of using the pronoun “them”; half an hour of replacing “them” with “us.” It was so healing. It felt so right. If felt right even knowing that some of the people I was praying for might balk at the “God” part, be uncomfortable with it. “But,” I told myself, “it works for anyone, really, who senses a force for good in the world. Who could, really, take offense by it? Who can object to “grace” (think: strength for the journey we are on)? I sang louder. I sang passed the town I had planned to stay in. I sang through the driving wind and the on-again, off-again driving rain.

I sang my way to Moratinos (population: 50) and walked into one of the two albergues here. Nine beds. There was one for me.

It was time-consuming hanging up all my wet gear and my clothes. For 8 euros I could have had them washed and dried for me. Nah! Just to get wet and dirty tomorrow? I did pay an extra 1.5 euros for a blanket. I think I deserve one! There’s dinner served in the bar area and I might shell out the money for that, if it’s not raining. (It would involve a brief jog from one building to another, and I have a sandwich and two hard-boiled eggs that I didn’t eat for lunch since I found that soup…)

I’m showered and clean. I’ve completed one blog post. I have an evening on which to work on the two promised posts that I haven’t delivered yet. I’m indoors on a top bunk where from windows at the head of my bed and to the side of it I can look out over the for-the-most-part greening fields where the sun has actually held sway for at least a minute during the course of this writing. (And I assure you that the dark, moisture-filled clouds that rush by are quite attractive from my inside perch.)

Color me happy. I found those rose-colored glasses after all. And I brought all of you along for the last 15 or so kilometers of my day. You were great company. Hope you feel the effects of the grace, the hope, and the peace I asked for, for you/for us!

PS: These two notes just in from Barb who is about 9 days ahead of me:

Oh Happy days. I will lay it out as it occurred, not necessarily in order of most miserable. U can decide. Light rain, mud, sucking mud, wind (possible gale force?) sleet, icy snowy slush and snow. High lights of day. Young Spanish man ahead of me in shorts, rain poncho and wooden walking stick singing at the top of his lungs, trees with diameters of 4 ft. or more, wild flowers, vistas, cow bells, 2 cafes with delicious food (one vegetarian), 3 young Spanish men playing and singing in cafe, lovely women from the Netherlands and indulging and treating my self to a hotel (think double bed to self, own bath and hopefully a warm shower before bed). While my hands and feet may be wet and cold my heart is warm. Few pictures of the day due to weather conditions. Haven’t looked at forecast. Do I dare? Arrived around 3 and took 2 hour nap.


And, in reply to my response to her, her second note:

I have decent WiFi so will read ur blog. My indulgence was more out of convience than anything else. It was the first spot. I tried to find the Albergue but after slipping through 1″ slush and watching a man shovel snow I gave up and turned around. I did look at forecast and 90% chance of snow. Room has radiator so clothes r dry but shoes not. But from forecast probably won’t make a lot of difference. Having dinner now and may have a second glass of wine. Buen Camino.

A lick and a promise

A lick and a promise

Dragging my feet!

If that is what you think, you are so, so, so very wrong. I’ve been picking them up with energy and enthusiasm. I swear! No dragging (yet)! But what I’m not doing is finding the time to catch up on blog posts. I’ve made brief starts on both Easter Sunday and today, and I have some good notes. What I don’t have is… time!

It’s 9:21. Haven’t had dinner yet. Haven’t showered (who cares!). Haven’t even taken off the clothes I muddied today on my walk. Haven’t … well, you get the picture. But not the full picture, because you probably don’t know that the nuns will be coming by our rooms to turn out the lights by 10:00 and the posted signs say that we must be in and stay in our rooms after that. (Or else, right?)

So…. no burning of the midnight oil tonight like last night. Have to get a good sleep so that we can face the expected snow from 8:00 until 12:00, then the expected rain. Uh, should I still be saying “alleluias” or agree with the cuckoo bird who has been following me for days with his message regarding my folly?

Don’t worry, I’ll show him yet! I’m showing him all along.

Long day tomorrow, and a shower will be in order as well as some clothes washing when I arrive at my destination. But still I have hopes of catching up. Just wait and see.

Night night. Sleep tight. Don’t let the …. oh, I’d better not even mention them lest I accidentally summon them.