Paradoxes, anyone?

Paradoxes, anyone?

Day 28, Monday, May 6, Camponaraya to Trabadelo (25.3 km, 15.7miles)

It is Tuesday, May 28, when I return to this post that was orphaned three weeks ago, left with just place names and distances recorded.

I’m betting you hadn’t noticed that it was missing from the line-up, leaving a void between walking days #27 and #29. I hinted at it a time or two, admitting that I had some catching up to do. But in my mind, early on, this was such a special day that I didn’t want to rush it. It was a special day in a string of special days, and, wanting to write about the others while they were fresh, I trusted that this one was special enough that the details would remain vivid, “safe” for sharing when I found the time.

And that was true, I think, for maybe three or four days. Then it was just hopeful thinking. Now I know: even though I’ve read through my notes, even though I’ve looked at my photos from that day, the “freshness” of it can’t be captured again. I guess I should be thankful that this was about the only day that “got lost in the shuffle.”

Even the title…. It made some sense back then, falling on the heels of a “riddle” I asked you to solve. “Riddle” … “paradox”… My notes reveal a bit of what I had in mind when I came up with the title:

  • It was kind of paradoxical that I was as “alone” as I have been in a long time… and yet finding myself to be uncharacteristically friendly and outgoing. Hmmm….
  • It was May, but I was still happy to put on my winter coat in the morning.
  • We were still in the Province of Leon, but the style of the houses and the kinds of food being offered were increasingly Gallegan
  • From one day to the next, the climate had changed; the Bierzo area through which I passed on this day has its own special micro-climate that is noticeably different from both what I’d experienced earlier and what awaited me at O Cebreiro.

So, there were many reasons to keep my eyes open on this day. And my ears. And my nose. My notes indicate that I did all the above, as I jotted these expressions:

  • The birds!
  • The vineyards!
  • Beautiful and very fragrant flowering bush!
  • Wonderful fragrance from something I’d like to call pink honeysuckle (and which, almost certainly, would not be that)

I noted that I felt extremely privileged to be walking where I was walking, that I was grateful that a few steps seemed to have taken me from an early-spring environment to a late-spring one, that I loved walking along a mountain stream as it frolicked and cascaded downward.

I commented that by the end of the day I was in short sleeves (and that phenomenon might not have repeated itself on the rest of the Camino; I can’t swear to it, but it is very, very possible). I wrote that it was such a nice day that even the bugs came out to play. Noted that I had eaten “the best bocadillo ever” that day, that there was a lot of “flying cotton” but that it wasn’t causing me any allergic reaction. At one point I jotted down: “Where is everyone?” It seems that except for a couple of groups of cyclists who went by, I hadn’t seen anyone for hours.

“Lots of singing,” I wrote. That makes sense, since I seemed to have the paths to myself. And I jotted down something that often occurred to me while I was singing but had always eluded me when I wrote about the singing, and that is this: that the way in which I was singing reminded me, even though I was alone, of “chain gang” or “cotton field” singing: it was repetitive, simple, with lyrics that could be altered slightly to fit the situation, and it kept up my spirits, made the time pass, and even gave me energy and a new attitude. My singing felt “communal” to me because I was bringing a lot of people and their situations into my thoughts as I sang.

I remember one very sweet stop on this day, in the tiny town of Valtuille de Arriba. I turned a corner and there it was: Cantina Estrella, a veritable “hippy hangout” in the middle of nowhere. There were flowers galore, plaques and inspirational sayings, Indian chant music, bright colors, God’s eyes, and friendliness oozing out of its pores. The female owner had been a pilgrim herself years back, and when she got to this town, she decided that’s where she needed to settle and set up a cantina for passing pilgrims. I enjoyed my snack there.

What more did the day hold? I joined Mary Claude and Patrice for lunch that day, I think, in a town square in Villafranca del Bierzo. I’d been daring this French couple to acknowledge my existence for the last couple of days; finally accomplished the task on this day and I found them to be much friendlier than I had first thought. We made it through the linguistic challenges pretty easily. And for the next few days, when our paths continued to cross, there were big smiles on all parties.

And I’m thinking this is the day that I was finally able to reload my SIM card which had expired about four days earlier (meaning that when I didn’t have access to Wifi, I was out of luck in terms of sending or receiving messages or doing any of the other things that require connectivity). I feel like this is a story I have already told, but maybe just to family. I saw a sign in a window front stating that this particular store (appliances, pots and pans, electronics) sold SIM cards. I went in to inquire about purchasing one and told the owners that I would be back after I’d found a bathroom and had a bite to eat.

When I returned, the husband-wife team consulted a bit and then said that they would call their son and have him come in to take care of the recharging. Oh, how familiar that was! I had an instant “inroad” to conversation with these people since I, too, have to rely on my son to figure things out for me and get me out of tech-related jams. Fifteen or so minutes later, the son came in and the whole process was so easy! I was good to go in terms of data and connectivity for another 28 days.

So that was the day. You can tell: it’s not hot-off-the-press fresh to me anymore. Not by a long shot. I guess I could conclude by saying it was like so many days on the Camino, with the beauty of nature being a super companion as I made my way. I write this with my last day of Camino walking having been a week ago already. I’ve been doing plenty of walking as my trip finishes up with walks in/near Barcelona and Madrid. But… they are not the same. I am already seeing how “keeping the spirit of the Camino in my everyday living” is going to be a challenge….

Note: I’ve received requests to keep up the posts at least long enough to incorporate my days along the Mediterranean and my days here in Madrid. I’ll try to oblige. Count on there being a few more posts, though nothing elaborate.

Short & simple report on a long & challenging day

Short & simple report on a long & challenging day

Day 27, Sunday, May 5: El Acebo to Camponaraya (28 km, 17.4 miles)

Oh, are you ever in luck with this post! Count your blessings! Notes for Sunday? I took… absolutely none! Not a one other than to “open” a page in which to write them. Nada. Zilch.

That tells you something!

Before I get started on a day which, 24 hours later I can’t even recall (other than knowing that it was long, challenging, and tedious…. yet, I’ll do my best to remember it and redeem it somewhat…), I’ll give a few updates. In case you care.

Filling you in on others

Barb: She’s been back in the States since the evening of May 2, after spending a couple of nights in Madrid before her flight. Sleeping. Relaxing. Wandering the Retiro (giant in-city park in Madrid). Discovering that the Prado was closed, May 1 being a holiday in Spain.

She’s happily reunited with her dog and her cats, but it’d be a lie to say she wasn’t missing the Camino. So ironic that Barb “didn’t care” about getting to Santiago, knew she wouldn’t have time to walk that far, and wasn’t bothered by that. Yeah, right! Way to go, Barb!

Ginny: She continues to astound with her forward progress. Slow, but steady, with frequent stretching stops. Extra care going downhill. Massaging at night. Being the general Good Samaritan to all she encounters. Oh, she has a fan club, no doubt about it. But she’s enjoying the solo walking as well. Getting her nightly report is always a joy for me

Alan: Do you remember him? The one I didn’t remember after sleeping “next to” him? The Brit who charmed a patio full of pilgrims, myself included, with his guitar playing and his singing? I ran into another gal who had shared the room with him the same night I did. She informed me that he had collapsed on the trail maybe a day or two after I heard him play. Pneumonia, I think. She wondered if I knew anything. Nope. I’m hoping he is out there somewhere walking and entertaining. Would I recognize him? Not if he’s not wearing his green puffy….

I have to wonder about Victoria, Sylvia (aka “Red”), Maria, Carlos, Fabio and Regina, Kelly. It would be a joy to come upon any one of them and many others again. It’s hard to say. I stopped for those extra days at the monastery. But then, others stop, too, for a variety of reasons.

And new friends have stepped in to take their places. Friends? Acquaintances? Fellow pilgrims, for sure. There’s a special bond even when the interactions are brief. And then we let go.

Oops! These got left out!

My post for Saturday, May 4, included a series of “thoughts” which I had jotted down during the course of the day. I realized after “publishing” the post that I had left some out. You’re invited to skip over this section if “random thoughts that might come off as ‘preachy'” are not your cup of tea. Consider these additions to the May 4th post:

  • Coming down from Cruz de Ferro: I’m laughing at the smell of the pines on this side of the mountain. Understand a bit where the psalmist was coming from when he asked the mountains–or whatever…–to clap for joy or for all living things to shout out in gladness. I descended with my “thanks song” in one of its various versions. [further reflection, after the fact: and “David’s” woe-is-me songs? Maybe those were born out of rainy days, or cold ones, or days when his wife gave him the cold shoulder. Sh*t happens even for the masters of praise…]
  • Thought: on the Camino there is a huge amount of freedom to be as kind and compassionate and friendly and helpful as you feel called to be, because there is no sense of fear or danger. It is a very loving community. Would that the world could be one huge Camino!
  • 2:30. Still climbing. The mountaintops are carpeted in luscious purple splendor! Just wow!
  • Never experienced anything quite like this. Set yourself down, alone, in the most beautiful setting/place you’ve ever seen, then imagine being able to stroll through it hour after hour! Incredible. Spring colors washing over you! Literally breathtaking and awesome. Many OMG moments. I found myself laughing as I came around bends in the road. FIND BEAUTY!!!! DRINK IT IN!!!!

Had your fill? I thought so. The rest of my notes are really just song lyrics, all variations based on the same melody, but tailored to the moment. I’ve sure gotten “the mileage,” literally and figuratively, from that melody!

Now, back to May 5th, the day I don’t remember…

I glance at the guidebook. At my photos. Oh, yes: the cool second story balconies on the old houses. Oh, right: the hermitage which was actually open and where they had real candles in tall glass–red glass, no less–containers. For 2 euros I lit one that may be burning still, more than 30 hours later, for family and friends. Oh, could I forget the stones? Never! Stones, stones, stones, thick, uneven, sloping rock slabs on just about every descent. And we descended a lot. No wonder I didn’t take notes; I was extremely busy concentrating and taking care with where I planted each foot. Again and again and again.

Old trees. Old bridges. Old castles. Well, one castle, but the size of many put together. This was in Ponferrada, a town of almost 70,000. Businesses closed on Sunday so I couldn’t find a place to recharge my SIM card. Busy with the usual let’s-go-to-town-with-all-the-family crowd. Ponferrada where I found an ATM to get some much-needed money. Ponferrada where I made it to a bathroom in a sweet shop just in time. And I do mean just. Ponferrada where any sane person would linger and enjoy the squares, the people, the bustle, where any sane person would tour the 12th-century castle of the Knights Templar and soak up some fascinating history, but where I felt hemmed in and just wanted to get to a pueblo.

And so I did. Eventually. After what seemed like a long haul. I stopped only briefly to photograph… a pig! (First I’d seen, though “pork” of some kind is a popular menu item.) Stopped to photograph this flower or that (one was beautiful white, but some red near the center of the flower and yellow in dead center). In one small town, I went down a narrow alleyway. “Just how narrow was it,” you ask. Maybe you’ll see a photo at the bottom of this post showing how it was as wide as my hiking poles are long.

At one point I caught sight of Ponferrada off in the distance and I sighed. I thought my “stay in the country” was over. But no. The Camino kept us surprisingly hidden in the countryside (going down steep rocky hills…) for quite a while, and we entered the city “by the back door,” making the arrival much more tolerable.

But it was hot. My pack seemed heavier by the minute. I finally dragged myself into Camponaraya by late afternoon. I had made a reservation–rare thing for me to do–by asking a stranger in Ponferrada if he would ring up an albergue “down the road” for me. Turns out, it wasn’t necessary. I had blessedly uncrowded accommodations for the night in a room where none of us–we were 6–had to sleep in a top bunk and where all of us had English as a first language. (The other five were Canadians, one from Ontario and four from British Columbia.). A treat: for 3 euros one of the employees washed my clothes in a machine. I was in charge of the hanging up (done at 6:00 pm; by 8:30 they were [almost] dry. Hurray for the ladders going up to bunks not needed by pilgrims that night; the ladders of two bunks were used for the last drying efforts).

I sat in the patio garden of the albergue/bar doing some writing, then joined my monastery friends Reiner and Christine who had come over to my hostel for supper. We seem to do so well with a mixture of my French and bits of English they can come up with. Dinner for me: Galician soup and roast lamb which was, literally, finger-licking good.

Bedtime followed soon thereafter. Hurray: I had found a new battery for my headlamp earlier in the day–on a Sunday, no less!–so a bit more writing before settling comfortably into slumber.

So, agreed? “Short and simple,” at least by my standards. The photos will tell or hint at “the rest of the story.” If they aren’t below yet, come back later, ok?

And again, thanks for coming along with me!