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.