Thanks and “besitos”

My Camino would not have been the Camino it was were it not for the encouragement, support, and “presence” of so many people. YOU are one of them and whether you are mentioned specifically below or whether you can read yourself in between the lines, know that I am immensely grateful. And most especially to

  • Ken, who “consented” to it all in the first place, even while realizing that my long absence was going to place extra burdens and responsibilities directly on his shoulders. I owe you!
  • Kevin, who once he warmed to the idea of my trip, helped me select gear, tutored me in the use of technology, got me started with a WordPress blog, took an interest in my training hikes… and accepted more chores around the house while I was gone. I owe you!
  • Maura, who “prettied up” my blog, giving me long tutorials over the phone (in spite of the challenge of a 3-hour Oregon-to-Indiana time difference), who taught me how to use Instagram, and who told me from the get-go that my feet and knees and other body parts were up to the task ahead. I owe you!
  • Regina, who was the real workhorse behind the photos and videos you saw as my trip progressed. She was faithful to a flaw in adding the visuals to the blog and putting the blog post links on Facebook (which, contrary to what some of you may think, I still don’t really know how to use). Did you ever check out the blog’s interactive map? That was mostly her doing as well. I owe you!
  • Virginia, whose generous sharing during and after her Spring 2018 Camino was a most definite inspiration for my journey. I am in your debt!
  • All who shared their Camino experiences with me, in person, through email, by phone. Your encouragement and your advice was so helpful! I hope I don’t forget anyone in this list: Pat, Marybeth and Fred, Bonnie, Jim and Sue, Sheryl, Celia, Maureen, Fr. Joseph, Tammy, Kay, Antigone, David, Kelly. I may not have followed to the “T” all your sage council, but I took it all under consideration. I’m so happy to now be a part of the “Camino family”! Thanks for your willingness to pass along your insights. I’m in your debt.
  • All of you who did training hikes with me beginning back in July of 2018 (remember the ticks and the heat?!). I enjoyed those hikes so much that I’d even commented that “if something happened and I couldn’t go on my Camino, I still had so very much to be thankful for.” This list won’t be complete either, but you were ALL important to me and I look forward to more hiking together, for sure! Forgive omission as I mention Barb, Sue, Terry, Shari, Eleanor, Karen, Robin, Liz, Larry, Tom, Ann, Laurel, Lori, Darla, Mary Carol, Sandra, and MORE!!! Let’s hear it for the WINNERS! For WOW! For Walking Women!
  • Those who have made a real effort to support me daily in thought and in prayer. I know there were rosaries being said, candles being lit, “prayer walks,” too. In that way, we’ve been one in spirit, and that has meant a lot to me. I’m in your debt!
  • Barb and Ginny, the best of traveling companions! Even when we were many kilometers apart, we were one in spirit. Training and planning and dreaming together to the extent that we were able was wonderful. Our nightly WhatsApp recaps during those times when we weren’t together were so eagerly awaited and read. Our shared experiences will be a special bond for the three of us for the rest of our lives. You guys saved my butt from the very first day when I “lost track” of my fanny pack. You were there to patch up my eye on that first day on the Camino, there to help me figure out how to interpret maps and info in the guidebook, how to use some apps, and, eventually–though through unorthodox means, to put it mildly!–how to “do it on my own.” We certainly did end up, each of us, having our unique Camino experience… which was precisely what we wanted. We learned the truth in what they say about the Camino: pilgrims might not necessarily have the Camino they plan and hope for, but they will have the Camino they need.
  • The many, many pilgrims I met along the way. We were all so different, but united in a common endeavor. I will forget names and faces and backgrounds and the particular reasons you had for walking the Camino, but I will not forget the kindness, friendliness, helpfulness, and overall goodwill that was extended through words, deeds, smiles, and simple presence. I hope you found the same from me.
  • And YOU! YOU! Whether you visited daily or dipped in your toe once in a while to have a quick look-see…. You my readers and viewers of photos. To you I am so very grateful. You gave me discipline and motivation to do something that I definitely wanted to do for my own sake, true, but the thought that you just might be expecting a post from me… Well, that kept me at it. I appreciate your comments and encouragement, your kind words, your acceptance–I hope!–of the fact that I was not too likely to respond to your comments or answer your questions. For some of you I brought back memories of a Spain you had known in the past; for others I shared things that were totally new. It was my privilege to be able to … well, in the first place, to be able to live the experiences themselves, and, then, a privilege to be able to pass them along to an audience who felt free to pick and choose, to respond or not. Thank you for whatever degree of participation you chose. It meant a lot knowing you were “around”
  • All the non-pilgrims who came to my aid or served me in some way along my journey, those working in the albergues, the bars/cafes, the grocery stores, the tech stores, the train stations, those walking innocently enough down the road only to be accosted by a pilgrim in need of directions or in need of a bit of friendly conversation. I will return home with the warmest of thoughts for kindnesses extended.
  • All who have walked any part of my 7-decade journey with me, influencing, guiding, encouraging, listening, accepting, showing patience… Wow! I’m head over heels in debt!

Let the journey continue!

Meandering around Madrid, 47 years later…

Meandering around Madrid, 47 years later…

May 27-May 31: A pilgrim’s post-camino explorations in Madrid (again, because you prompted, begged, repeatedly requested, and… because I’ll soon forget if I don’t record a few more adventures before I am again stateside)

And by the time this day is over, I will be stateside. I write this post from a café at Barajas Airport where, Iberia Airlines suggested to me yesterday, I would be wise to show up four hours before my flight time. (And, in spite of my protestations to the contrary, I did one better: arriving 4 hours and five minutes before departure time. Then, of course, inexperienced traveler that I am, I waited in a check-in line for about 15 minutes, my pack dragging me down, before realizing that there was no reason to do so since I wasn’t checking any luggage. Maybe I should do more of this traveling stuff so I can continue to perfect the process! I have a long way to go. Annual pilgrimages for the next decade of my life perhaps????)

Anyway, I should have plenty of time to write and send this second-to-last dispatch from Spain. (Yes, there’ll be one more; it’s written and waiting for me to push the “publish” button. Look for it; it’s for and about YOU!)

I have to give Madrid credit for its system of transportation. Spain doesn’t exactly have a reputation for efficiency and hassle-free procedures, but I have to say that Madrid seems to excel at getting people moving from one spot to another via both its metro and its bus systems. They are fabulous! Even to and at the airport. One small example is my experience this very morning. Read on.

So I left my very suitable and extremely reasonable rented room (via Airbnb; more about that later) and walked a block to a bus stop. The bus for route #28 arrived within 5 minutes (just as the changing-by-the-minute screen told me it would) and dropped me off ten minutes later at a stop across the street from where I would be able to get on the Airport Express bus to Barajas Airport. Again, a sign told me how long I would have to wait before that bus would arrive (6 minutes). Once on it, a sign inside the bus gave continual updates on how long it would take us to reach each of the airport’s four terminals. Mine, terminal 4, would take 33 minutes. And then: the countdown was on. Must be a huge airport: between terminal 2 departures and terminal 4 (no stop at #3. Hmmm… Maybe there is no #3? Maybe an unlucky number?) the bus returned to the freeway and made a big loop taking at least 10 minutes. More ride for my 4.5 euros, right? And then, after going through security, I made the discovery that my departure would be from Terminal 4S. OK. Clearly marked with big Ss and arrows, travelers’ movements facilitated by escalators down, down, down. And then, choices: take the 11-minute metro ride or the 20-minute bus ride to Terminal 4S, with the wait times for each clearly displayed. This was actually kind of fun. A puzzle, but not one too taxing for the brain. Even I could figure it out. Oh, and then this: signs clearly displaying how long it would take the average person to arrive to the places he/she needed to be. Airports with which one isn’t familiar can be pretty intimidating, but this one… so far… has been actually kind of fun!

This morning’s experience just gives a sample of Madrid’s system of transportation. Though I did a lot of walking while I was here–would you expect less?–I also made great use of the metro and bus systems, using up each and every one of the 14 rides I’d loaded on a plastic card, plus one extra paid in cash. 5 days, 15 rides. Less than 20 euros. No baggage ever left behind. No “incidents.” No getting off one stop too early or too late. A pretty sweet deal!

Airbnb to the rescue!

I bought my round-trip tickets to Spain back in January. I had some general ideas about what weeks would be best for my plans, but to some extent the departure and return dates were influenced by price. Once I chose a departure date and started counting days, I could just as easily have come home on May 30th or 31st, but the June 1st flight was considerably cheaper, so June 1 it was. I knew, back in January, that, since I was returning to Spain after 47 years, it would be ideal to visit a few friends in both the Barcelona and Madrid areas if I managed to finish the Camino with time to spare.

Two months later I realized that leaving everything up to the last minute would be a mistake, as it would be a lot easier for me to make reservations for travel and lodging from my desktop computer. So… two months after making my to-and-from reservations, and spurred on by Ginny’s hope that we might finish the Camino together, I bit the bullet and decided that I would give the last 10 days to Barcelona/Sitges and Madrid, five days in each spot.

From that decision arose the need to find lodging without breaking the bank. While on the Camino, I expected to be paying somewhere between 5 and 12 euros for a bed each night. Could I come anywhere close to that for my non-Camino days? Dream on! Yet my madrileño friend Jesús warned me that May is an extremely busy month in Madrid and that I shouldn’t put off finding accommodations. More bullet-biting and decision-making. First there was Sitges (Teresa’s hometown, about half an hour south of Barcelona). A resort town. A beach town. A popular town. When I found a room for about $25/night, I didn’t hesitate long. Beautiful it was not, nor did it have a wonderful view. But it turned out to be a safe and convenient-enough spot. Someone fussier than myself would have wanted something cleaner, quieter, less obviously a case of a woman-renting-a-room-because-she-really-needed-the-income. But for me, it was good enough; were I returning to Sitges, I would at least consider staying there again.

I was a lot more concerned about the “room-with-shared-bath” that I rented for my five nights in Madrid. I clicked on “book it” around midnight back in mid-March, not waiting for a response from Jesús as to the suitability of the neighborhood. At 17 euros/night, this one seemed too good to be true. The reviews, however, had all been good. Glowing, in fact, so I booked it. Knowing that climbing four floors to the apartment would be in order (wouldn’t I have recently been “across” the Pyrenees?) Knowing that I’d be sharing the flat with one “José” (wouldn’t I have been sharing bedrooms with male pilgrims for weeks upon weeks?). Knowing that it would take up to 30 minutes to get to the “center of the action” (didn’t I have time as a very available commodity? And since when did I crave being “where the action” is?).

Just to let you know: I lucked out big time! The apartment in which I stayed was super-clean, my host extremely helpful–a pilgrim himself years back–giving me suggestions of near-by places to visit that he felt would match my interests. The air flowed nicely through the apartment, on whose handy balcony I could dry the clothes I washed and write a post or two while overlooking the city bustle below me. José was off to work by 7:20 every morning and gone all day. Handy space in his refrigerator for storing the bits of salad and fruit and yogurt that I bought. A convenient bus stop with useful destinations a block away, and three different metro lines available within 5-to-10 minutes of walking. Romanian, Chinese, and Indian restaurants visible from my balcony. Easy enough access to fruit stands and bakeries and banks. The noise of the city fading outside my open windows by 11:00 pm or by midnight at the latest. Perfect! As perfect as “big city” life can be!

Because that’s the thing: Madrid is a big city. A really big city! And as I keep repeating, I am not a big city girl! Yes, I missed the countryside! The yellow arrows! The way I’d been able to walk down the middle of so-called streets because the little pueblos barely had any traffic. I wasn’t really keen on going to museums, nor did I want to go shopping. So… you are wondering: what did I do? Where was I going when I used up those 14 metro/bus tickets?

Finding the “country” in the city

It’s obvious, isn’t it? I was going to parks! And once in the parks, I was walking! Would you expect anything less of me?

Oh, yes, but what about the people I was going to visit? Well, there was Jesús, for one. Surely I’ve mentioned him before. He was, back during my spent-in-Spain academic year 1968-1969, the boyfriend of my Venezuelan roommate Rosalba. Sweet Rosalba passed away in the early 90s. I had lost track of Jesús, who, I later learned, remarried a few years after Rosalba’s passing. His family has grown from the two daughters he had with Rosalba to include a second wife, a son, a daughter, some five grandchildren, and his beloved dog Lola. (All this I learned from Jesús himself once someone passed on his contact information to me.). Anyway…. Back in early April Jesús met Barb, Ginny, and me at the Atocha train station as we headed north to begin our Camino, and again, this past Monday, he met me at Atocha to bring me, in car, to my Airbnb. I think he wanted to check out its suitability–the 17 euros astounded him as well…–but in the end my landlord wasn’t available until later in the afternoon, so Jesús and I had lunch together, caught up a bit, and discussed when we might meet again and what we might do together. His week had, it has to be said, few openings as even retirement is busy when you are the father of a 19-year-old and a 15-year-old, not to mention being the owner of a big dog who needs a couple of daily walks. Jesús oriented me a bit to the nearby transportation available, we had the waitress snap a photo, and… I was on my own!

We got together two more times, once, at his suggestion, to attend an exhibition on the history of opera, its “passion, pain, and politics.” Jesús belongs to a choir and as we walked through the exposition he was singing some of the familiar opera scores right along with the singers on the screens in front of us. (Me? I was more fascinated with the technology of the exhibit than with the music itself…). And this, ladies and gentlemen, if you must know, was pretty much the extent of what I did to access “culture” in Madrid. Or should I say “Culture with a capital ‘C'”? Because, really, just walking the streets and parks of Madrid is a great way to absorb “culture,” and I did plenty of walking. It took about an hour for the “guided” tour of the opera exhibit. Just about right.

My final encounter with Jesús (since I turned down the opportunity to attend a bull fight as my last activity in the city….; a bullfight? How could I let my Camino trip end with that? Please! I’m way beyond any efforts to defend the “beauty and passion and art” of the corrida de toros. And no apologies)… so, my last encounter with Jesús was yesterday morning, a quick “meet and greet” at a large park between his house and mine, one where he often goes to walk with Lola, whom I had yet to meet. You’ll see from the photos that she has a “large presence” and her very existence attracts a lot of attention.

So there: Jesús. Bittersweet. What we have in common is the beautiful 19-year-old Venezuelan law student with whom I shared a room as well as travels all around Madrid, in several parts of Spain, and in Italy during Christmas of 1968, someone whose life was cut all too short from cancer and to whom I never had a chance to say good-bye. She never shared her illness and I only found out about it after her passing. It was good to see that Jesús had rebounded from his loss and that he has lead a life of personal fulfillment and cultural engagement.

So that park where Jesús and I met up? It was called the Quinta de la Fuente del Berro. I had found it, following my Airbnb host’s instructions, on my first full day in Madrid and no sooner did I enter it than a smile spread across my face. Ah! Trees! Tall ones! Vegetation! I’d be willing to bet that I was the only non-native in this large city park. It was, actually, the only time while in Madrid that I felt the need to take notes. I’m not even going to consult them now, but what moved me was watching people: feeding the ducklings, doing photo shoots, walking dogs, strolling, running, riding bikes, playing cards, pushing strollers, studying–alone and in groups–, walking around obviously memorizing notes for an upcoming exam or presentation, enjoying the cover of the trees, a man flying a remote-controlled airplane… but plenty of space for all these activities. Far from crowded. I could still hear the traffic from the nearby M-30, but I had indeed found a refuge from the “big city.”

And it was, actually, the second one I had found, for on my first evening in Madrid, again at my host’s suggestion, I had walked in a different direction and within 25 minutes from “home” I had entered another “Quinta,” that of “los molinos” (the mills). If I lived in Madrid, it would be, I suspect, a frequent refuge (though I don’t recall ever being there before during the two years I spent, oh so long ago, in Madrid). Shade, tall trees, a bit of unkempt “prairie.” Dog-walkers, people “with a purpose,” others just strolling. Another good find to give me my peaceful walking fix.

And there was yet another chance to “get away from it all”… or, if not “it all,” from a good bit of it. That was on Thursday when, per prior arrangement, I met up with Baudilio, an engaging and happy 79-year-old who I had met on the last leg of my Camino (you may or may not remember a video of him giving me a “good morning” greeting). Baudilio appears to be an active fellow and is proud of the five marathons he has run. The last one, however, was when he was 62, after which he switched to walking; he gets out hiking several times/week with an active club in Madrid. Baudilio “took up” the Camino around 2002 and, excepting the five or six years during which he cared for his wife whose treatments for cancer led to weakened bones, repeated breaks and falls, etc. She passed a couple of years ago and Baudilio again does two or sometimes three “segments” of one or more of the various Caminos every year.

In an attempt to come up with a plan that a fellow pilgrim might enjoy, Baudilio planned a couple of things. We first went to Madrid’s former Matadero (stock yards) where structures that once held animals prior to their slaughter now house exhibitions and events. Several of the former stock buildings have been converted into greenhouses dedicated to tropical and semi-tropical plants and trees. We toured those houses before setting out on what we might call a “riverwalk” but which is known as “Madrid Río.” Some years ago, apparently with many objections from a less-than-visionary public, a mayor of Madrid came up with the plan of diverting a major freeway–the M-30–hundreds of feet underground in order to convert its above-ground acreage into an extensive riverwalk. (Apparently the wifi on the plane–yes, I’m now airborne–is not going to let me do any research on just how extensive it is. Upon seeing it, however, I’ll tell you this much: I couldn’t help but think that biking along it, especially as it went away from the city, would be a lot of fun… at least in cloudy and cooler weather than Baudilio and I were experiencing….). We walked a bit on each side of the river, and I was impressed by the landscaping and the variety of opportunities along its length for all sorts of play and recreation. I have to add that, unfortunately, the river itself–the Manzanares–is about as pitiful a river as one would care to see. Apparently it doesn’t usually have much more water than what I saw, and what water is there is very muddy. The river needed all the help it could get with the landscaping along it, because otherwise…. there’s not much to recommend it. A pity. Strange, too, that such a major city grew along such a puny river. Maybe the Manzanares had more to offer back in the day. Or maybe that was just the best the meseta of Spain had to offer….

Baudilio’s early morning plan of the matadero and the riverwalk was to give the day a chance to warm up before we went to the Retiro Park where the plan was to rent a rowboat in the giant “pond” located therein.

Maybe you’ve heard of the Retiro? Indeed, it was the one place in Madrid to which I for sure wanted to return. When I lived in Madrid in ’68-’69, my boarding house was just a block or two from one of the entrances to the park. I was surely walking in the Retiro, if only to “cut through,” on a near-daily basis. Not that I’ve been to Central Park in New York, but I’d still stick out my neck and say “kind of like Central Park.” Very everything: vibrant, tree-filled, monument-filled, people-filled. Paths that criss-cross in every direction, gardens of all types, people galore: walking, strolling, running, biking–now, anyway, in 2019, though not when I first knew it–, kissing, sunbathing. Street musicians busking, beggars with their cardboard signs, foreigners from all over the world. It is a bustling place.

My visit to the Retiro with Baudilio was not my first on this trip. I had passed through it during my long walk Tuesday afternoon, and again on Wednesday. So, three out of five days. I can’t claim that I was “in the countryside” while there, but it was a way to “escape” the street scene, do some people watching, and remember days long gone.

Had I ever rowed in the Retiro’s “estanque” before? Probably. Not that I can remember for sure, but probably. What surprised this time was this: I said to Baudilio: “Let’s go halves on this” and he laughed. “Wait ’til you see how cheap it is!” Indeed: 45 minutes of rowing for two at a senior price of 1.8 euros at the time of day we were going! No, no need to share. What he did let me do, once we were away from the dock, was take over the oars. I think he was surprised that I was as skilled as I was. Lots of practice from the summer cabin of my childhood.

Thursday ended with a Spanish-hour lunch–and yes! I was very hungry by 3:15!)–that would make any cardiologist throw up his arms in despair–torrejones (picture deep-fried large slabs of something like bacon) and fried chicken wings! Had to have been one of the worst (health-wise) meals I had in Spain and… perhaps one of the tastiest, though both meats could have used a dipping sauce. No dinner needed that night….

It was fun to meet up with a fellow pilgrim, post-Camino. We had only walked together for an hour or so one week earlier and had dinner together with fellow pilgrims one night, but there was a connection that then served to make a half-day in Madrid more comfortable. I wish I had connected in the same way with a few female pilgrims from Madrid, but as I think I mentioned earlier, the women mostly traveled in groups and thus didn’t have the need to go outside of themselves to meet up with other pilgrims. (For that very reason, my friend Cristina from Barcelona turns friends away when they suggest doing a Camino together; she has always gone alone, and with mostly good results.)

The only other “escape” from the thick of it all within the city proper was on Tuesday afternoon when, towards the end of a long walk, I thought I’d just have a look-see at the royal botanical gardens next to the Prado. I hadn’t decided if I would pay to tour them or not, but just thought I’d at least walk by and decide on the spot. The decision was pretty much made for me when I got to the gate to read the entry prices and learned that on Tuesday afternoons at the time I had arrived, the entry was gratis (free). So why not?

My feet were dragging. I would end up logging just shy of 22 kilometers on foot that day. When I entered the gardens, I was in a bit of a stupor. Plus, I’m beyond hopeless with plant names. I wandered up and down and around, knowing that I had seen gardens infinitely more attractive than these in any number of places. Perhaps the best thing I found, quite hidden away, were the aseos (bathrooms). First things first!

And those “almost 22 kilometers”?

Well, I couldn’t return home without reconnecting myself with certain key spots in the city, could I? What would you all say? Tempting as it would have been on Tuesday morning to bring a book or even this keyboard to one of the quieter parks I had come upon, I gathered up my courage and what energy I could muster and set off for “where the action is” (aka “where the tourists are”).

No, let’s get it straight from the beginning: I did not enter the Prado or the Reina Sofía or the Palacio Real. I did not visit the Museum of Modern Art or the cathedral, not the Liceo or the Cuevas. Tempting as it was, I did not participate in either Tour #1 or Tour #2 offered by the hop-on/ hop-off City Tours operation. Maybe this all shocks or disappoints you. Maybe, in my shoes, you would have done the same. I just did not feel like being in “tourist mode.”

But even I won’t deny that Madrid is a beautiful city with so many of the structures that define old European cities. Seen against the backdrop of a cloudless blue sky–and that was the case on each of my five days there–, beautiful buildings and fountains bathed in the sun, so many buildings recently “touched up,” it was a sight to see. So much so that half the world, it seems, was out to see it. Ah, yes, the streets were crowded and animated, and, if Jesús is to be believed, there was probably nary a madrileño in their midst, the latter trying to avoid the tourists and their trappings. But impressive, nonetheless. Some of you will picture in your minds as I mention my route once I got off the bus in the Puerta de Alcalá: Alcalá street itself, down to the Puerta del Sol, then on to the Plaza Mayor and a stroll up and down some of the narrow, colorful streets leading out from it, an over-priced meal just off the Plaza Mayor, then on down to the Cathedral, the Palacio Real, and the gardens adjacent to it, then to the Plaza de España where I searched in vain for the statue of Cervantes in the midst of the renovations of said plaza (if he’s there, the work-in-progress walls keep him well-hidden; darn!). And then, gasp, onward: the full length of the Gran Via, then a left, back to Cibeles, down to the Prado and the Botanical Gardens–where, as mentioned, I did, finally, stop and “visit” something. Through a couple areas in Retiro Park, and back to the bus stop, and, finally. a well-deserved evening “at home.”

All my evenings, in fact–remember, in Spain, “evenings” begin sometime around 9:30 or so, just before the traditional 10:00 pm dinner time–all were spent “at home.” My goal, reached night after night–or afternoon after afternoon!–was to be safely in place at dusk. Hard to “get lost in the dark” if you’re already in place before the dark arrives. I had no illusions about catching a flamenco show, a theater performance, or a concert. The daylight hours were more than enough for what I wanted to do.

An excursion

Wednesday was my designated “really-leave-the-city-behind day,” a day chosen by Sara Saz as the most convenient one on which I might visit with her and her husband at their home in the town of El Escorial where they “retired”–and where they find themselves plenty busy!–a decade or so ago.

And they are? Sara was my colleague–“boss,” really–for five years back in the early 90s when she was Director of Language Instruction. Prior to IU, she’d been at Clemson University and after IU at the Colorado State University in Fort Collins. From England, Sara met Carlos during her student days in Madrid, and… well, when I saw them they had just returned from a cruise to celebrate 50 years of marriage and of mutual support and dedication.

Sara did the math and figured out that it had been 22 years since we’d seen each other, though there had been letters and emails and even a phone call exchanged in the interim. It was my luck that she and Carlos were home, as being there, it appears, is closer to being the exception than the rule. With children and grandchildren in Milan, Hong Kong, and Chicago, plus family in England, a “retreat” home on the Mediterranean, and get-always like their recent anniversary cruise, they remain active. Add to the travel the continued participation in scholarly research. My hats off! And with all that, Sara hasn’t forgotten how to cook, our meal on Wednesday being absolute proof of that! It was a delightful afternoon “up in the sierras,” reached easily enough by train.

So easy, in fact, that I gave some thought to hopping on a similar train on Friday, my last full day in Madrid. Maybe Cervantes’ birthplace in Alcalá de Henares? Maybe Aranjuez? Pretty flowers there…. In the end, though, I opted to stay put. Here’s how.

This is it!

So, how to spend that last day? In the end, it was the zoo/aquarium experience that won out. Frankly, folks, I was looking for the easiest way to use up a day short of just sitting around doing nothing. It was too early to go to the airport! I had turned down a bull fight. I didn’t have the energy for art galleries. I’d fall asleep if I set about reading a book. Yep, all signs that I was ready to return home. But still, my flight was not until Saturday. So… let’s go to the zoo! See as much or as little as one wants. Learn as much or as little as one wants. Many choices!

And that’s what I did after my quick encuentro and despedida (“meet and greet and take leave”) with Jesús and his huge, beloved, blue-eyed beauty, Lola. The morning held one bus ride, two different metros, and one 10-minute walk before I was in line for my ticket. (And thanks to the person who was distributing her spare 40%-off coupons! My day’s entertainment cost a bit under 15 euros; my water and lunch were in my daypack.)

It soon was apparent that it was a good thing I hadn’t chosen anything more demanding for the day. Imagine nodding off during the dolphin show! That was me! Yes, really tired! Waking up too frequently at night? Exhausted from a sore-throat-trying-its-hardest-to-turn-into-a-cold-for-more-than-a-week? Too much bread? Or wine? (Actually, I didn’t have any wine in Madrid…. and I doubt the few beers I’d had would count.). Or… the heat? Or just maybe: two months of travel? Ya think?

I took it slow and easy. Drank lots of water. Tried to cover the different areas. Saw how smart the animals were on this hot afternoon, making the most of any shade and any siesta time they could. So… in general… a sleepy, quiet bunch.

Not the well-rewarded dolphins, of course. They are always crowd pleasers. As beloved as the pandas and the koala bears are, they were not in entertaining mode. I give the following awards:

  • the least attractive and perhaps most interesting to watch in their various interactions with one another: the baboons, hands down
  • Adorable when in motion (which wasn’t often enough to suit me): those cute little Australian marsupials that aren’t kangaroos… (needing Google here, folks…)
  • Best cooperative posers: the North American brown bears
  • Funniest looking: the small white hens with the huge collar of feathers around their necks, looking for all the world like the animal version of a 17th-century nobleman
  • Loudest: very possible the peacocks (and they were everywhere)
  • Most colorful and varied: the fish in the aquarium. They also looked the most comfortable, keeping plenty cool in spite of the heat, and unaware of the loud din and racket being created by all the zoo visitors who were inside the close and echo-filled enclosure of the aquarium to get away from the sun
  • Most patient and admirable: the teachers there at the zoo with their pre-school, kindergarten, and first grade classes (“patient” because otherwise they might be arrested for wringing the necks of their charges; “admirable” because they probably have taken kids to the zoo previous years and yet they choose to do it again and again…)
  • Most tired: me? Some of the parents? Some of the little ones who hadn’t had a nap, weren’t allowed to play in the drinking fountains, or were frustrated because they looked right where dad said but they still couldn’t make out the shape or the movement of the little koala

I took few photos at the zoos. In the end, turns out I like trees more than animals…. But: I filled in that last day.

With money to spare. No room in my backpack to bring anything more home with me, so at least a dinner out was in order. I was hoping to find my landlord and his 7-year-old son at “home.” There was a sign across the street for pizza (a popular American company, but it also escapes my mind at the moment). If I’ve had pizza in the last two months, I’m not remembering it….. it might be fun to treat the guys. Well, it was clear that big José and little José had been at the house, but they had gone out again. So off I went to the Indian restaurant across the street, where I chose an outdoor table and was the first one to show up for the evening, it being only about 8:00 pm.

Never comfortable eating out alone, I got “busy” on my phone sending a few messages. Someone sat down at the table next to me and, because it was awkward not saying anything, I made small talk about being glad the building across the street was soon going to be blocking the direct rays of the sun. That innocuous beginning somehow gave the gent the idea that he could use me as a sort of bartender with whom to share his sorrows…. I’m thinking that maybe the beer he was drinking was not his first…. It was really rather awkward. It is one thing to be friendly to a stranger sitting next to you on the Camino; it is, apparently, altogether another to be so on the sidewalks of Madrid. I was glad when Fernando–yes, we got on a first name basis after he moved over to my table when his first beer was gone and his pot of tea arrived…–decided to go inside the restaurant for another beer and no, I made it clear, I was not interested. Count me as one who is happy that no more eat-alone-in-the-big–city meals await me. Not for a good while.

Because…. I’m on my way home to my “little city” where my folk await me! And where they’ll welcome me, even if it means they have to stay up past midnight to pick me up. They needn’t fear I’ll keep them up all night with chat, idle or otherwise. I need my sleep as I’ve got one amazing trip from which to “recuperate” … and bottle-washing skills to reincorporate into my schedule. With joy, right? Always with joy and thanksgiving, right?

Good-bye Atlantic Ocean, hello Mar Mediterráneo!

Good-bye Atlantic Ocean, hello Mar Mediterráneo!

Wednesday, May 22-Sunday, May 26: Post-camino days in Barcelona, Sitges, and Montserrat (because you asked,, insisted, cajoled, and demanded…)

It was so easy to get up every morning and head out in the direction indicated by the yellow arrows! So easy! But now, now I was “on my own” again, and my passage through the “world” was only going to become a reality if I paid attention, took a really close look at my surroundings, and asked the right questions of the right people. Amazing how alert and how astute one can be if one’s life depends on it!

So all worked out well. I had chosen to spend the night before my flight to Barcelona in a pensión located right above a bus stop for the Santiago airport. I was on that bus by 7:30 am and through security and check-in well in advance of my flight.

The online reviews of Vueling Airline painted a bit of a dismal, take-your-chances picture indeed, but all I needed was for my luck to continue for one more day to get me on and then off that plane. Who needs water on a flight of less than two hours? Who needs leg room for the short hop across Spain?

Turns out I had plenty of leg-room. For some reason (having to do, surely, with the fact that not one of us had checked in with the airlines the day before our flight), six of us had tickets that listed us as part of Grupo 99 instead of as belonging to Grupos 1, 2 or 3. That meant, as we found out, that we were to wait until all flyers in each of the other lines were sent onboard, then one by one, in order of check-in, we were assigned seats. Oops! Had we assumed too much? Apparently we were fine; as last-to-be-seated on this very full plane, we were given seats in the emergency exit rows, seats with extra-long leg room! Of course, by this time there was no overhead space for our baggage, and none allowed under the seats of the emergency row, but again, no problem: the crew sent our bags down to the hold, at no charge. Worked for me not to have to heft the heavy backpack above my head. Sometimes it pays not to know what you are doing!

The next step, post-flight, was to find the bus line that would make the 45-minute trip from the Barcelona airport to the beach town of Sitges. With my notes in hand and my questions at the ready, I was soon in the right place outside the terminal, with only a short wait before the appropriate bus arrived.

Why Sitges? If I can’t remember whether I explained this earlier or not, you probably wouldn’t remember reading about the reasons behind Sitges even if I had told you. So: Sitges is the town in which philologist and IU Professor Josep Roca-Pons–from whom I took several classes in Catalan “back in the day–along with his wife Teresa, had chosen to live out their retirement years. I don’t know if I’ve ever had a professor whose spouse was as popular with students as Josep’s. We all loved Teresa. It might have been, at first, the wonderful meals she prepared at her house, but it time she became the attraction, and the loyalty of Josep’s students to Teresa through the years remained a constant.

Josep, 20 years older than Teresa, passed on many years ago. I had last seen Teresa, already widowed, when she made her last visit to the United States in 2002. So… only 17 years! It was time, more than time, to see her again. What’s a little hop, skip, and flight over the country in exchange for some fuertes abrazos [hearty hugs] and a chance to enjoy both the peaceful but vibrantly artistic life of Sitges and that of Sitges’ big sister Barcelona? I had Ken to spur me on with this one: “You’ve got to see Teresa!” Yes, had to.

And so it was that by 2:00 pm that afternoon, I was locked in Teresa’s embrace and, after a quick tour of her home, we set off on some steep, brick-and-stone, uneven streets to a restaurant on the beach promenade where Teresa had reserved an outdoor table for us.

I mention the streets because, like so many “older folks” in Spain, Teresa is not one to let bad knees (or back or hip or whatever) keep her from getting out and about! I never cease to be amazed at the number of seniors promenading and doing their daily chores, canes and other devices in full service, and at and how well they all manage to stay upright–and they do manage it!–on such unforgiving streets and sidewalks. Years of practice and years of tradition, because, “this is what you do” in Spain.

Sitges is bright and colorful and lively. It is chic and trendy, no question, attracting alternate lifestyles seemingly without batting an eye or raising an eyebrow. It boasts beaches and ports, and an amazing amount of art. Artists Santiago Rusiñol and Ramon Casas were “favorite sons,” and the former’s home served as a center for many artistic gatherings in Rusiñol’s lifetime. The artist himself collected a huge amount of art–paintings, wrought iron, ceramics–beautiful Catalan-made tiles–which he displayed during his lifetime and which remain on display in his house-turned museum.

So Teresa gave me a post-lunch tour of the artistic area along with literature about how I might return later to tour several of the museums. I was delighted with the three I saw before leaving Sitges. (Are you more cultured than I? [It wouldn’t take much!…]. Perhaps you have heard of the American industrialist and art collector Charles Deering who at some point in his traveling and collecting days had a “palace” built in Sitges which he filled with many of the works of art he collected from around The world. Most of those works eventually made it back to the US, but some remain, as well as his unique and fanciful “palace” which I toured and whose ceramic tiles and top floor patios I loved.)

I had decided to spend five nights in Sitges so as not to be bothered with moving myself and my backpack hither and yon. In all, Teresa and I had three lunches together, the third one in the company of Phil Rasico and his wife Nancy. Phil and Nancy and I were friend in our grad school days at IU and their sons’ births coincided pretty closely with those of Kevin and Maura. Phil was another of Josep’s students and might be considered the son Teresa never had; and Phil became, says I, Josep’s most accomplished “disciple.” So…. fun to spend an afternoon with Teresa and Nancy and Phil, on his “saint’s day,” no less.

It was also my pattern to stop in to say “good night” to Teresa on the days we didn’t spend together. To see her, for one thing, and to assure her that all was well with me. (She had neither computer nor WhatsApp, and I didn’t have enough minutes remaining on my SIM card to do a check-in by telephone. Besides, it’s harder to exchange hugs by phone.

Each evening, then, after leaving Teresa’s, I had about an 18-minute walk up to the AIRbnb room I was renting. It was… satisfactory, but a bit awkward. I was never there long, generally leaving pretty early in the morning and returning at sunset. Worked out fine. (Most challenging: watching where I placed my feet as I came and went to the location, as someone in the neighborhood did not bring along any poop scoopers or plastic bags when taking Fido out for his daily walks…. I did not want to enter one of the classy museums smelling of …)

(This is handy: after a few days of Teresa fretting about not being able to get in touch with me easily, we discovered that Daniela, the Bolivian woman who assists Teresa around the house on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays was proficient with WhatsApp. Now we have an easy way to communicate, at least on certain days and at certain hours.)

Excursions, part 1: Barcelona

But this pilgrim wasn’t ready to settle into a rhythm consisting exclusively of “lunches” and “hugs” and “catching up,” welcome as those were.

And so it was that on the day after my arrival in Sitges, I headed back into Barcelona on an early-morning train to arrive in plenty of time to connect with a metro that would take me to Gaudi’s famed, long-in-the-making (-and-still-incomplete) Iglesia de la Sagrada Familia [Holy Family Church] whose construction began back in the 1880s. I had seen the exterior of this work in progress over 50 years ago and at the time was quite taken by its appearance. And how not to be? It was unlike anything I had ever seen with its “dripping ice cream cone like” towers topped with varieties of fruits…. Now, 50 years later, it remains one of Barcelona’s top tourist attractions, if not its top. I had purchased tickets online for a 10:00 am entrance into the cathedral… And all I can say is: “Wow!”

Well, ok, I’ll say a bit more than that, knowing, however, that in this case words aren’t going to begin to do justice to this amazing piece of creativity. Nor would my photos begin to capture the exotic, inviting, light-filled space. If you’ve not seen the inside for yourself or haven’t seen photos of it, give Google images a shot. Just see if the church’s worship space doesn’t fill you with a sense of wonder and whimsy.

My entry ticket included a gizmo that I could hang around my neck with a very well-done English narrative. Perfect for use with the headphones I had been advised to bring along for the visit. Hundreds of visitors milled in and around the church listening attentively, each in his/her own language, to explanations about the timelines of the cathedral, Gaudi’s intentions, other architects’ and artisans’ contributions. A quick summary: one walks into a church filled with columns simulating huge trees, while light of all colors floods in at various angles from very non-traditional stained-glass windows. CThere are no pews, and perhaps there will never be any. I’m not sure I can envision what a worship service inside the church will eventually resemble, but perhaps I won’t have to envision. Perhaps I can see for myself via the internet at some future time. Current target for completion of the entire project is, I believe, the year 2026. Maybe….

I knew I would be put to shame if I returned from Barcelona not having seen the Sagrada Familia. And I would have deserved any shame heaped upon me! Definitely a worthwhile visit.

You remember hearing about my friend Cristina, the Barcelona woman whom I met on my second day of the Santiago-Finisterre-Muxía leg of my Camino? She and I left Santiago for Barcelona the same day, Cristina by train while I jump-started my trip with a short flight. As per previous arrangement, Cristina was waiting for me in the shade as I exited Sagrada Familia. She had graciously offered to lead me a walking tour of some of the most striking areas of Barcelona. For me, wonderful to not have to walk around with a map in my hand, trying to negotiate unknown streets and neighborhoods and systems of transportation. Plus, I had not done very much Barcelona “homework.” For us both, it was fun to reconnect and sort of cement our recent Camino friendship.

Oh, are you going to ask me where she led me for the next few hours and what I learned about the history of a city with a very different cultural background than Madrid’s? Or will you just take my word for it that she took me “here and there,” to the “most important places”? To Roman walls on top of which medieval walls has been constructed. To this façade and that one. Gaudí-designed houses, neighborhoods founded by the guild members of the 14th and 15th centuries, noble palaces, the cathedral. See us poking our heads in this corner and that, strolling through this plaza and that other one, rounding this corner and that. Eventually making it to the 14th-century Basílica de Santa María Del Mar which I really wanted to tour after reading–listening to, actually–the fascinating novel of Ildefonso Falcones, La catedral Del Mar/Cathedral of the Sea. Sorry, I cannot possibly begin to name all the places, only tell you that I did “get a feel” for the city…. and only that. Part of that “feel” was the feeling that Barcelona is really busy with tourists, really crowded. Vibrant, yes! Overwhelming? For this gal, definitely. So glad Cristina was my guide. Funny, after walking successfully on all those stone-filled paths on the Camino with few problems, I found myself bumping into Cristina and countless others, and coming near to tripping more times than I care to count.

Cristina’s sister joined us for lunch at an outdoor cafe where we sure filled up on four different tapas fit for sharing. And finally, late in the afternoon, with Cristina’s son expecting his mom to oversee the care of his daughters while he attended a program, she left me on my own to check out Las Ramblas as long as I cared to. Which… was not long! Too crowded! And, according to the natives, not what they once were but instead, way “too touristy.” Shortly, I was on my way back to Sitges and my “good-night” stop at Teresa’s.

For one thing, I needed to be rested for the excursion I was planning for the next day. It was going to be, for me, a major undertaking.

Excursions, part 2: Montserrat

I’m talking about a visit to the Monastery of Montserrat where the statue of the “black Virgen”–the greatly revered patron saint of Catalunya, familiarly known as “La moreneta”–is housed.

I admit: I had been there before. I know because I found several photographs in my collection from 1968 or 1969. I remember nothing about that visit. Absolutely nothing. It was only upon finding the photographs that I had to agree to myself that “yes, I had been there.”

So why go again, if it had made so little impression on me? [Note: I have to say this: There are many, many experiences from those 50+-years-ago days that I do not remember, yet I wrote glowing letters home about them; the proof is in the words. It seems my full-to-the-brim-with-who-knows-what brain can absorb only so much before it moves into forgetful mode.] I’m not sure why I was so drawn to get there again. Because of the way the monastery (and the basilica in which the 12th-century statue of La Moreneta is housed) are way up in the mountains, and yet still cradled and protected by craggy, even higher mountains that reach up and surround it on all sides? Does that make sense? You go way up to get to the monastery, but there are still more mountains surrounding it. And tremendous views of all of Catalunya.

On a clear day.

Yes, there’s the rub. On a clear day. When you can see forever. When you can be impressed by the beauty, by the way the mountains hug the buildings. When you can use your imagination and picture this spot in olden days, centuries before the present constructions, when a previous monastery held sway there. Centuries of monastic presence. A holy spot.

And a beautiful one, on a clear day.

So when I knew that rain was in the forecast? When I’d been courting a sore throat for days? When it was going to be cool? When I wan’t going to see the views? When rain was predicted to last the whole day? Why go?

I’m not sure what compelled me exactly. It was this day, this Friday, or not at all. The crowds would be bad enough on a rainy Friday, but impossible–for me!–on a Saturday. My pilgrimage to Spain seemed to call for one more monastery, one more sacred journey, to balance it off.

Or call me “thick-headed.” You just might be onto something….

So I caught an early train to Barcelona. I walked to a second train station where I hopped on a train less than a minute before the doors shut and it left the station (next train being an hour later. See, I tell you: everything seemed in favor of me going…. except the weather). This train ride would take 1.5 hours, growing increasingly beautiful as the city fell behind and the train headed towards the mountains.

My words cannot begin to do any kind of justice to the stunning scenes I beheld upon my arrival at the station and then during my climb, so I hope Regina will post a good sampling of the photos and videos I took in an attempt to capture at least a bit of the awe and majesty.

That long sentence includes a word I need to reference: my “climb.” Yes, my climb. Please tell me there is not a chance in the world that I will ever forget my “climb.” So… most people–and I have never been a “most people” kind of person…–purchase a “package deal” for Montserrat. Along with the train that takes them to the town of Monistrol de Montserrat, visitors can buy a “complete ticket” which gives them access to a cable-car ascent to the monastery complex or a ride on the cremallera (“zipper-like mountain railway”), as well as entrances to a museum, lunch in the cafeteria, and who knows what more. Once at the monastery/basilica level, there are two additional funiculares which take daring visitors even higher to visit other shrines tucked away in the mountains. Visits to the basilica itself, where visitors wait in line to pass by the statue of the Black Virgen, are free. The brochure say nothing about the possibility of hiking from the train station in Monistrol to the monastery complex nestled up in the mountains.

Up in the niebla (fog) on this particular day.

But I had read online about the possibility if doing just that and the possibility had captured my imagination. Big time! Just a few days off the Camino and I was really in need of another Camino-like experience. So thanks to an extremely helpful internet site with multiple photos to illustrate how to find the base of the trail, I moved from train station to bridge over the river to the town proper, through the plaza, up the stairway on the left to the upper road to…. finally… the trailhead. With each step taking in glimpses of striking mountains coming into view only briefly before the fog ate them up again.

What was I getting into? Was there any likelihood I could get lost in that fog when I eventually reached fog level? There was always, I reminded myself, the possibility of turning around and retracing my steps. And while when driving in a car at a certain velocity, visibility can seem nil, not so with walking, right? When have I ever, during daylight hours, been walking, I asked myself, when I couldn’t see in front of me. Keeping in mind that I could always turn around, I forged on. And up. And up some more. I witnessed how eventually the jeep-accessible, gravel and stone-dotted road became more of a path, then the path a decent stairway, then the stairway more of a positioning of rocks requiring some mountain-goat instincts. And all the while, the fog rolling in and out, momentarily revealing a peak here or a peak there. Beautiful! Magical! Like nothing I had ever experienced.

And up and up. Let’s consult Fitbit. Before the day was over, I had walked 23.6 kilometers (almost 15 miles) and climed the equivalent of 331 floors. In the rain! And I loved it! The majesty, the mystery, the sacred atmosphere that prevailed.

The climb up took a couple of hours. Hard to be exact with that figure as 1) I stopped often both to marvel and to try to capture the awesomeness on my camera’s phone, and 2) about three-fourths of the way up I had a choice of continuing on to the monastery complex or diverting to go to the Santa Cova (Holy Cave) de Montserrat along a path carved more than 300 years ago along the ridge of the mountain. A sign informs visitors that it’s a 20-minute walk to the chapel (built into the side of the mountain where, supposedly, in the year 880, the statue of La Moreneta was found in a cave, under mysterious circumstances. The word “legend” should be emphasized as it is most likely that the statue is actually from the 12th century….). Along the pathway to the chapel, spread at intervals, are 15 statues or models depicting the five joyful, sorrowful, and glorious mysteries recalled when one prays the rosary. These depictions are of more recent origin, completed between the late 1800s and the first couple of decades of the 20th century. I knew there was a “Santa Cueva” that one could walk to, but I had read nothing further about it. This entire side trip was a surprise to me. (When I later stopped in the visitor center near the monastery and explained that I had already walked to the Santa Cova (Catalan version of the word), the girl at the counter was surprised. “But you couldn’t see anything, could you?” I later realized that the path I have just described is popular not because it leads to the chapel at the “cove” but because there are excellent views from the path of a huge part of the region below. Not the day I went!) I finally arrived at the chapel itself, which, though it has had many reincarnations due to fires and mudslides and water damage, retains a stunning simplicity that I’ll call Romanesque. It was a quiet prayer spot, highlighted by good lighting on the simple crucifix and on a replica of the Black Virgin, the original now kept in the basilica. Towards the back of the small chapel, an array of votive lamps. But no spare candles! All the candles there were lit, but there were no extras, nor any sign of a place where extras could be stored. I found that puzzling… and frustrating because it seemed a lovely spot in which to light the final pilgrimage candles of my Camino. Darn!

I need to speed up the telling of my story or not one of you will hang on with me! (Anyone there now?). I retraced my steps on the “rosary path,” returned to the junction where I had abandoned my hike up to the monastery, and turned left to complete what I had set out to do. The rest of the way had adequate, easy stairs and wasn’t problematic at all save for the increasing intensity of the rain.

So… I’m there, along with hundreds and hundreds of tourists who have come up via personal car, tour bus, cable car, and cremallera. Others who, like me, had only this day to give to Montserrat, rain or no rain. I joined many in the cafeteria where along with the coffee I bought, I enjoyed the bocadillo I had brought. I joined them in line to wait my turn to see La Moreneta, and … I joined them in the basilica where I lifted up many in prayer, especially those of you who had sent me to Spain with special prayer requests. I did not join them in the museum, chosing instead to find a few more paths going even further up the mountain.

And, having found a large grotto filled with lit candles and candles for purchase, I bought two. One I left in the grotto and the other…. darn it, but I wanted to leave one in the Santa Cueva chapel (plus I was also curious if perhaps the fog had shifted a bit and I might get a few more views from that “rosary path.” Thus I made the near hour-long round trip to the chapel again. I lit my candle and, taking advantage of the fact that I was alone there, did some singing. Even with my poor voice, the sound echoed rather sweetly off the big stone walls in the plain chapel. Special moment. For my efforts, I also got a different view of the fog.

I admit to having learned one important thing on my climb up to Montserrat: the return trip by foot, in the rain, would be not only time-consuming and beyond foolish; it would be treacherous. Thus I purchased a ticket to descend via the Cremallera. The 1.5 hour-ride back to Barcelona, a walk to the station from which I could catch the train to Sitges, a good-night visit with Teresa, the trek up the hill to my rented room…. all part of the evening. A long day, but I was pleased as punch with my mythical, magical day! Couldn’t have asked for more. And to those who tell me: “But the view! You missed the best part of Montserrat!” I merely reply: “You weren’t there or you might be singing a different song.”

Santiago x 2

Santiago x 2

“But what about Santiago itself?” You have asked this question, and rightly so. After all, wasn’t I walking towards the city of St. James for six weeks? And then, then I barely mention it even in passing? What kind of sense does that make? Let’s see if I can remedy that with a bit of a recap.

First things first

If you’ve been reading along, then you already know this: I am not a “big city” girl. Born and bred in Chicago, true, but finding my greatest moments of joy not in the cultural highlights of city life but rather wherever the beauty of the landscape calls. I don’t think I could ever get my fill of “countryside,” wherever it is to be found.

And this: for me, it was never really about “getting to Santiago.” I enjoyed, throughout the trip, noting the kilometers walked per day, but I never really paid much attention to the “kilometers remaining” until I reached my destination. It was always “the journey” that interested me, the getting up every morning and heading out to see what was around the next corner or over the next hill. Usually no sooner did I hit the outskirts of a town–and sometimes it took only a minute or two to walk from my overnight albergue to those outskirts–than a smile would light my face. (Though, truly, I was fascinated by any entry into tiny pueblos whose traversing took only a few minutes; the little towns brought variety to the day, along with stork nests in the church belfries, café con leche in the tiny bars, and a chance to have a small chat with the locals who watched us come and go and who wondered at the way of things, at how their towns had “come alive” again with the renewed interest in the ancient Camino.)

It was never really, for me, about Santiago. Not a great devotion to St. James. More a curiosity about him. He lent a structure to the journey, undoubtedly, and a chance to marvel at the medieval infrastructure that had supported the journeys of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims in long-gone centuries. And the current infrastructure that continues to support, if in a more 21st-century manner. Without St. James, there would not have been a Camino to Santiago.

And I did, eventually, make it to Santiago. By bus. Twice. Here is that story.

Santiago #1: Saturday, May 11 through morning of Wednesday, May 15

So, on Friday pm, May 10, still 101 kilometers from Santiago, I found myself in Morgade, some 11 or 12 kilometers beyond Sarria. Morgade could not properly be called a pueblo or an aldea; it was just the location of an albergue where I had decided to spend the night, away from the crowd that would be overnighting in Sarria. It was only upon arriving in Morgade that I was brought up to speed about Ginny: she had had emergency surgery for an obstructed bowel earlier that morning in Santiago. I needed to get to the university hospital to “see for myself.” The next day was Saturday with limited bus service to Lugo, the town from which I’d be able to get another bus into Santiago. To walk the 10 or so kilometers back to Sarria or that many forward to Portomarín to catch the Lugo-bound bus would require heading out by 6:00 am, well before sunrise.

No, no. No vas a hacer esto. Mira. Te lleva alguien de aquí. Baja a la recepción para las 8:30.” The señora of the albergue would have none of it. “You’re not going to walk,” she tells me. “Someone from here will take you to a spot on the highway where the bus will stop if you flag it down. You just be in the lobby with your things at 8:30.”

And so, on Saturday morning, there I was. And there was the owner’s daughter with a car. Minutes later she dropped me off a few kilometers away and told me where to stand to watch for the bus which would be on its way from Sarria to Portomarín. I arrived early, a good ten minutes before the bus was expected. And waited. And waited. After those ten minutes, perhaps a few more, had passed, the same car that had dropped me off arrived in a huff. “¿No pasó el autobús?” It was the same young woman. What a question! Would I be standing there if it had passed? Of course not; I would have flagged it down, as instructed. “No es ése el lugar.” [“Get in, quick. I dropped you off at the wrong place!”]. Oh! We are off to a good start, aren’t we? But in I hopped, and, fortunately, we did not cross paths with the bus as she brought me to a place several kilometers beyond the first drop off. The bus arrived and pulled off to the side, as if expecting me, and I was soon on my way, luck continuing to be my faithful traveling companion.

To Lugo. An hour wait. On board another bus bound for Santiago. I have no memory of how long the journey took–a couple of hours, I suppose–but I do remember that the bus passed through numerous towns through which pilgrims were also passing. Lots of pilgrims. Tired but animated. It was a hot day, perhaps the first in which the temperatures were flirting with 80 degrees, definitely the warmest we had seen during our trek. I watched the pilgrims through the bus window. Would I be back among them? Did I even want to be one of their growing number?

As soon as the bus arrived in Santiago, my need to make peace with Google maps became apparent. I often protest that I don’t know how to use the app. If I have anyone else to depend on, depend I do. But in this case, I didn’t have that crutch and so… I did figure things out, in my own good time. I made it to the albergue where Ginny, not being a fortune teller, had made a reservation for herself, as this was the day she was destined to arrive, by foot, in Santiago had not her intestines intervened with ideas of their own.

A private room in the albergue, Ginny? Such a luxury? Oh, but except for the fact that it was surgery that landed you at the hospital, your shared room there was a far better place to spend the night than in the prison-like cell of the Seminario Menor. But who’s paying attention? There are more important things to do. I dumped my backpack, packed a daypack, and, Google maps at the ready, headed in the direction of bus line #1 to the hospital.

Where Ginny, smiles and grimaces, tales and tubes, hugs and hellos, awaits. Catch-up time. The full story emerges. Conclusions: 1) you do NOT want to have an obstructed bowel; 2) you DO want to always be your best self, assuring you that you will have friends when push comes to shove (or when excruciating pain comes a calling). Four young people at her albergue Thursday night/Friday morning, along with a very cooperative host, had seen to it that the ambulance was called, that Ginny’s belongings were packed up, and that she was in the capable hands of the university hospital. (Those four young people, along with at least 8 other pilgrims, made it to the hospital in the course of the next few days, with gifts and hugs and good wishes, confirming for Ginny that indeed this North-Shore-of-Lake-Superior gal had friends in many corners of the world.)

So… over the next few days, there were trips to the hospital, meals (and darn good ones! Cheap, too!) in the hospital cafeteria, strategizing with Ginny (an area in which I do not excel to put it mildly, but… did my best), serving as translator, interpreter, Girl Friday.

And there were some boo-boos. Like, for example:

  • Hopping on bus #1 when it was heading away from the hospital instead of towards it (result: see more of the city and then pay for the return trip in the correct direction)
  • Checking my backpack in a store that provided such a service so that I could do a bit of sightseeing and navigating without toting 15 pounds on my back…. but not realizing that the receipt I got did not include the address of the service (result: extra traipsing around the narrow streets of Santiago searching for a store that looked familiar, and finally stopping to ask for help which was promptly provided)
  • Getting the very last rectangular of the credencial I’d been carrying since St. Jean Pied-de-Port stamped in the sacristy of the church of San Francisco and, in the process of also getting a cardstock certificate in that same sacristy, losing track of my coveted credencial (result: repeated returns to San Francisco in search of it, returns which did not yield positive results; I will return home without that fun record of stamps/seals from the various albergues where I stayed and churches and/or museums which I visited… But, as you know, I took lots of photos and I hold lots of memories in my heart)
  • Bringing cousin Pat and Ginny’s daughter Colleen to the hospital cafeteria to show them how complete the menú was, only to discover that the best offerings are no longer available after 4:00 pm (result: their introduction to bocadillos and considerable hunger to add to their jet lag by the time we had a proper meal about 9:00 pm on the day of their arrival)
  • Leaving my daypack in the one-and-only taxi I took during my trip to Spain. In said daypack: my keyboard, the keys to my Airbnb location, my rain jacket…. (Result: just call me Lady Luck: the taxi driver was contacted and my daypack returned to the hotel where Pat and Colleen were staying)

“But I was wanting to know about Santiago itself! What you did. How you liked it. Was it amazing to finally be there as arriving pilgrims flocked to the square in front of the cathedral or headed for the pilgrims’ office to collect their compostelas? Come on, that’s what I want you to tell!”

So, frankly… it was disappointing to arrive by bus. I have to be honest. It did not feel celebratory. Much as I cherish solitude when I’m walking, arriving in a city of this size, alone, under some unfortunate circumstances, was far from ideal. I wouldn’t have not done what I did for all the world, but… as I went through some of the motions, it wasn’t with the highest spirits. You surely understand.

But yes, I eventually did

  • Get my photo taken in front of the cathedral, and I wore a smile
  • Descend to the crypt of the cathedral and pay my respects at the tomb of St. James
  • Ascend to the statue where pilgrims embrace Santiago from behind, and yes, it was an emotional experience
  • Attend the noontime pilgrims’ Mass at the church of San Francisco (most of the cathedral is “closed” for some restoration work in anticipation of the “Holy Year–any year when the feast of St. James falls on a Sunday, that being the case in 2021–so the coveted experience of seeing the huge butafumeiro swing across the apse was not an option…). That particular Sunday was a special liturgy for children of the parish. Their enthusiasm, that of the pilgrims, the folk-like nature of the mass with guitars, clapping, jubilee on everyone’s part, the simplified–but not simplistic–homily given by the friendly celebrant, made for a very moving experience
  • Take a lovely walk around Parque Alameda, doing several loops, enjoying the huge eucalyptus tree along with all the other trees and vegetation
  • Make a bit of peace with the narrow, winding, hilly, somewhat confusing streets which, in the right frame of mind, I might have found delightful
  • Eat one meal “out and about” but in a pretty quiet place (being “alone” in a crowd gives some people a good opportunity to “people-watch,” but in general is not a particularly comfortable experience for me). A couple of obvious pilgrims entered the quiet restaurant a bit after me and I struck up a conversation with them, learned they were from Ireland, heard a bit about their Camino, and thus the meal ended on a more pleasant note
  • Successfully move from Ginny’s reserved albergue to Ginny’s pre-reserved Airbnb and then to a pensión I found on my own (almost next door to the Airbnb) which situated me in a perfect spot to begin the Finisterre-Muxía portion of my walk if indeed I decided to take that on, and which was also close to the hotel where Pat and Colleen were staying
  • Manage to reserve a pensión for the night before my May 22 flight to Barcelona, a place located right at a good spot for hopping on a bus bound for the airport
  • Pick up a new credencial and maps, info, and an app to guide my way on the Finisterre-Muxía leg of the trip which had begun to look like the very best option for me
  • Play a very small role in guiding Pat and Colleen and introducing them to a Santiago I barely knew. Luck was with us when we found a great tapas place between their hotel and my pensión on the eve of my departure from Santiago
  • Get a haircut (did I ever!)
  • And, on Wednesday morning, after four days in Santiago, continue west, now in pursuit of the “end of the world”

Santiago #2: Tuesday, May 21, 4:30 pm onwards–Wednesday morning, May 22

And so it came to pass that, some seven days after exiting the city on foot, I again arrived in Santiago. Again by bus. And there the similarities with my first arrival end. We’re talking about a whole new ball game. Same city, but no comparison whatsoever.

  • For starters, the bus dropped me off “in the heart of things” rather than at the distant bus station. I made my way to my pensión with little effort, dumped my baggage, and began to send WhatsApp messages. There was no urgency to make it to the hospital this time, but….

But Ginny, Pat, and Colleen, were still in town, scheduled to depart for Madrid later that evening by plane. We would reconnect after all!

My friends Christine and Reinier had just returned by bus from Finisterre. We’d been missing one another by a couple of days here or there for weeks. Let’s see if WhatsApp can bring us together.

My new Finisterre-Muxía friend Cristina had taken an earlier bus that day from Muxía to Santiago. What were the chances we might meet up again?

How is all this going to work?

Perfectly! This, this was the jubilant entry into Santiago that I had missed first time around. People with whom to connect, in joy!

My texts revealed that Ginny was in line at the Pilgrims’ Office, hoping to be awarded her compostela. Christine and Reiner were near the cathedral. Cristina suggested we meet for beer and tapas and/or dinner at 8:00 pm at a bar near my pensión.

In less than an hour Christine and Reiner and I are joined at a cafe by a triumphant Ginny (yes! She got her compostela!), Pat, and Colleen. More sharing. More translating. English and Spanish and French… with a smattering of German on Reiner’s part). Toasts all round.

Ginny insisted we make one more attempt to locate my lost credencial (said attempt was made, but with no luck). Final hugs. What a trip we had taken “together”! Unforgettable!

8:00 pm: New friend Cristina from Barcelona gets a chance to meet “old friends” (Christine and Reiner) from the Rabanal del Camino monastery days) as we exchange memories and share insights over beer and tortilla española and…. a table full of other things which escape me. The crowd is large. And noisy. And, for just this once, that feels ok.

The next morning: Cristina will head for Barcelona by train; I’ll go there by plane; Reiner will drop down to Portugal, and Christine, who went to/from Finisterre with Reiner by bus will leave in the morning on foot to go back to Finisterre the “slow way,” probably adding on Muxía in the process. Like the rest of us, not really ready for her Camino to end…

And there you have it, the missing Santiago link, the kingpin of the Camino, the city on account of which everything else fell into place. The city without which there would not have been a Camino. Vibrant. Celebratory. But I had seen enough.

Off to Cataluña. And then Madrid. Odd not to have the hiking poles with me. Good-bye Camino! I will miss you!

My cup overflows

My cup overflows

 Day 38, Monday, May 20: Lires to Muxía (25 km, 15.5 miles)

Yes, full to overflowing! Memories, thoughts, experiences, heart, backpack! All of it: full to the brim, and then some.

You might be asking: Is she ready to be done with this vagabond life? Have her feet had enough? Is her body protesting? Enough already with disposable paper sheets, with carrying it all on her back, with keeping track of where she’s placed everything, with needing to vacate premises by 8:00 am, with the same clothes day after day? Had enough of being at the mercy of the elements? Etc.

First, let me make this absolutely clear. I do miss family. I miss friends. I love my chosen hometown. I will transition back into the groove. (Hopefully it will be a “new and improved version” of me that does that transitioning. Hopefully the Camino will stay with me and I will find that, indeed, “the real Camino” begins when one returns, transformed to one’s former life.)

That said: there was both joy and nostalgia in my “final stage” yesterday. For starters, I’ll focus on the nostalgia. Strange, but I hadn’t even finished this final stage when I found myself already missing the Camino. Yes, a part of me could definitely go on. Most definitely! Another week of walking? Another month? As long as the weather stayed on the cool side, the bugs kept their distance, and the rain teased and flirted no more than it has recently, most definitely I could continue.

The hostels? They’ve been fine. Some nicer than others (and here on this “add-on” Camino, superb!), but all totally acceptable. No bed bugs. Almost always blankets available. Almost never lukewarm water instead of hot. Respectful pilgrims with whom to share accommodations. Generally faces you recognize. Smiles and goodwill in abundance. The sharing of experiences and the realization that there is so much more that unites us than what might separate us.

Perhaps it is that goodwill that I will miss the most. The instant friendships. The stories.

Oh, but I must be honest: I will miss the beauty! The awareness of beauty. The time to stop, look, drink it all in. The freedom from “to do” lists that pull me away from contemplation in the name of efficiency and organization. I will miss the freedom of living in the moment. Or at least the ease of doing because obligations and responsibilities and “shoulds” aren’t pulling me in many directions.

On the Camino there is this: put your world in your backpack, strap it on, and walk. Follow the yellow arrows. Let your thoughts come. Make your way. Be alert to the messages that are all around you. Appreciate the miracles that are all around you.

More luxury than any 5-star hotel can provide!

A follow-up: sunset in Lires

You may (or may not) have seen photos, but I wanted to let you know that I did, in the end, walk down to the sunset in Lires the other night. And though there were ample clouds along the horizon, I am very glad I bothered adding 4 extra kilometers to my evening. Drop-dead gorgeous it was not, but striking, nonetheless. There is only one building at that end of the bay; it is a bar that sits up on a promontory with indoor and outdoor seating and a perfect view of the western sky. Most of the people there did not seem to be pilgrims but rather people who had arrived by car. I did spot a Korean woman I had seen before (a “roommate” back in Finisterre) and I boldly joined her at her table to toast the sun as it sunk into the clouds. Theresa’s English was quite limited, but I learned that six years ago, at age 60, she had flown to California where she spent 25 days hiking and camping on the John Muir trail. Three years later, she repeated the feat. I continue to be amazed by women who, no longer “sweet young things,” leave their husbands behind and go off on adventures. (Note to Ken: there really are a lot of us out here, women whose husbands don’t/can’t walk long distances or are just as happy to stay home. No doubt there are many men with the same story. I talked to a German this morning, age 73, who is on his 6th Camino. His wife says, “Go! Go! Go do your Camino and give me some space!”).

A pleasant evening. Theresa didn’t wait until the actual sunset as she was getting cold and was disappointed not to see the pinks and reds and golds of a “great sunset.” I lingered and walked a bit on the rocks in the opposite direction of town. Then I turned around and arrived back at the albergue by 10:28 with a bit of daylight to spare!

Wise decision to go, right? When will I ever be back? Resolve: try not to pass up opportunities for beauty…. but seek balance as well. One can’t do everything….

Some clarifications

Ok, I got found out! And not by just one of my readers. Yes, the fact of the matter is that I don’t always take the time to find the perfect word when I’m writing these posts. I left the Roget’s at home. (Alright, I could go to the internet, but who has time….). And so I stand guilty, as charged: I did not, in fact, “guzzle” my beer the other day. Some of you know me well. But, I assure you, neither did I “sip” it. Shall we go with saying that I “enjoyed” it, or is there an intermediate word? Like I “drank” it. How boring!

The first person who caught me on the “guzzling” business also made a comment that he wasn’t sure he could bear to spend much time in a place where it rained so much of the time. Rain? Perhaps I talked about the “threats” of rain or the forecasts, but if I have left an inaccurate perception of the weather to which I’ve been subject, let me clear it up once and for all:

During all of my walking, from the Pyrenees to the Atlantic Ocean, I had one day of really bad weather. Rain played a part in that day. As did snow. Howling wind. “Nasty” and “memorable” don’t begin to cover it, but they’ll do for this recap. However, that was the day when I (re)discovered the power of song, my song, to lift me above the particular circumstances and thus the rain is memorable not just because of how miserable I was for a while, but for how the day was redeemed by song. Indeed, that discovery accompanied me for the remainder of my walking days.

Otherwise? Sprinkles here, a bit more than sprinkles there. Rain jacket occasionally on for 15 minutes or so. (Meanwhile, I’ve heard from the home front that Bloomington had rain at some point on each of the past 10 week-ends!)

It’s true, when I made the decision to come to the coast on the Santiago-Finisterre-Muxía route, the long-term forecast led me to expect the worst. Call it luck, good fortune, whatever, the rain (then, as well as a few other times on the Camino), when it came, did so after I had arrived at the night’s albergue. There was also a fairly long rain on one of the days when I happened to be stopped in Burgos.

Best decision I made in terms of what I packed? It’s true, it was my winter coat, along with my fleece-like cap, as well as a couple of pairs of mittens. The coat I was prepared to part with, just leave behind, at any point along the way when it became cumbersome. Let me just say: I wore it yesterday morning when I headed out of Lires and again last night when we had dinner at an outside table here in Muxía. Keep this in mind, though: the people who know me well understand that I wear hat and gloves and winter coats long after other folks have put them aside. (My two short-sleeved shirts? They were worn for perhaps a total of 5 hours! They’ll be handy, though, in Barcelona and Madrid during my upcoming 5-day stops in each of those cities.)

The temperatures have been near perfect for extended hiking days. Early on: mostly lower 40s at the start of the day, with the occasional challenging 30-something beginnings. Recently: upper 40s to lower or mid-50s for starters. Perfect!

So… that’s all I’m going to say about the weather. My experiences are simply that: my experiences. Spain, like most places, can vary significantly from one year to the next.

The following is not really a clarification, more of a follow-up. I have written about Jinhee, the young (30-ish) Korean girl. She and Cristina and I became a bit of a threesome on this last leg of the Camino, not so much during our walking time as while we were in towns or having meals. There were tears in all our eyes (and spilling from hers) when we parted in Finisterre. I received the sweetest email from her yesterday and it is a reminder that we really can make a difference in other people’s lives by even the smaller gestures. Jinhee wrote:

You guys are so amazing. I think you guys are very cool. So i told to my friends about i meeting you and walking together. I and my friends if we should be like you guys when i older. You gave me brave and inspiring to me and to my friends too. 

Actually when I walked in Camino I was a little bit tired of my life however I should walked it maybe i meet you guys. Now, i am really good and I love myself. Thank you. ^^

Really sweet, no? If I’m not mistaken, I think she is saying there at the end that she is thinking, now, that there was a reason for her doing the Camino, that it might have been because she needed to meet us at a particular time in her life, that it was somehow part of some design, some bigger plan.

I have had similar thoughts about my Camino. By now you have realized what a joy it has been for me to be able to communicate with people from different countries, via English, of course, but especially with Spanish. Spanish has allowed me to talk not only with people from Spanish-speaking countries, but with pilgrims from Brazil and Portugal, from Italy. Then there was my French, which, weak as it is, opened more doors. It has occurred to me that perhaps all my years of language study were meant to eventually bring me to this experience of the Camino. Perhaps that is exaggerating, but language has been a huge part of this trip for me.

Perhaps the same could be said for my love of the outdoors beginning, really, when I was very young and would so enjoy my trips to “the farm” in Minnesota, to the “cabin” in Newaygo, Michigan…, continuing with all the camping and biking that Ken and I have done through the years. The foundation they gave me surely enhanced my appreciation of this trek.

Ditto the hiking I did in Indiana in preparation for coming to Spain. And also the blogging that I began last fall to get into a certain mindset. Well, no, not really to “get into” a mindset but to “get the mind’s field” ready, to have it plowed so it would be open to the many seeds that would fall into it as I advanced.

All preparation. All ways of readying myself. Over decades, really. Seven of them!

Details of the day’s trek

How can you not be tired of details by now? I’m mostly going to share “thoughts” here. Not your cup of tea? Skip down to the final section… or call it quits now. You’ve been more than patient!

For the lurkers and hangers-on among you…. I will tell you about a morning hush that was so profound it was sacred. Yes, a hushed reverence. I gave Cristina a head start of 10 or 15 minutes; we both enjoy walking alone. And so it was that I walked for three hours without catching up with a soul or without anyone catching up with me. (Quite a few pilgrims heading in the opposite direction, towards Finisterre, crossed my path. That is the more typical route, many preferring to end at the so-called “end of the world” and, in addition, Finisterre being a more bustling town where it is easier to pull off a celebratory meal, etc. Those of us who opt to go in this direction, to Muxía at the end, are the ones who like a more subtle, subdued atmosphere. At the very end of the peninsula on which Muxía is located is the Sanctuary of the Virgin of the “Barca.” It sits dramatically at the very end of the land, just in front of many humongous rocks which are being pounced on by the Atlantic Ocean.  (Catholicism adapted some of the sacredness of the pagan traditions and ceremonies that date back to as early as the year 3000 BC. For one thing, as the tradition goes, Santiago (the apostle we know as James) was in the area in a “stone boat” and the Virgin appeared to him…. Now, inside the present church–built at the beginning of the 18th century–there are many models of ships hanging from the ceiling or other spots; they represent “thanks” from fishermen or sailors and/or their families for the Virgin’s intercession when they felt they were in trouble while out on the ocean. There is quite a cult to this church and this Virgin. I enjoyed both an afternoon and an evening excursion to the church and the nearby rocks. For me, it was a good place to end my Camino.)

But, permit me to return to the morning: So, yes, hushed. Smoke rising up from the occasional chimney and floating off into the still morning, the “wings” of the wind turbines mostly still, even the birds quiet. An occasional rooster’s wake-up call pierced the morning, off in the distance from time to time the sound of a car, and, oddly enough, from somewhere, a gong. Slow, meditative. Once. Twice. A third time. Mostly, just the crunch of my footsteps.

More magical moments surrounded by tall pines, short oak-like trees, and an abundance of rather spindly eucalyptus, all encased in beds of lush fern, ivy climbing the trees. Mostly gravel underfoot, but a few patches of stone to remind me of past challenges.

I’d learned, a day or two earlier, that what kind of looked to me like wild asparagus was, actually…. well, Cristina didn’t know the word either, but she described it. Turns out I’m not sure of the proper word myself, but it’s what gives us the licorice flavor that goes into the anis licour. Fennel? Fennulgreek? Something like that perhaps? Anyway, when one rubs hands or fingers vigorously on the “tops,” there’s the most delicious of smells. I did just that several times during my walk. I smile just at the memory of that smell!

I’m aware that I’m walking north. I suppose that was the case the day before as well, but I was distracted then and didn’t take it in. The sun has been on my left-hand side for almost all of the Camino. Now, there it is, when it deigns to show itself, on my right. I note to myself: Katy, you’re becoming a bit observant. That’s new for you!

And yet in terms of the scenery, nothing really too “new,” actually; just more of the same beauty I’ve been enjoying for days. (Unless we count this: a couple of columbine flowers. Foxglove, yes, I’d been seeing, but the columbine, just in this one spot? A first! Had to get a photo, of course.)

So it is that I find myself stopping much more than usual to capture the thoughts that run through my head. 

There is, as always, the gratitude. Today I focus on how grateful I am to Ken for his willingness to take over on the home front while I chase this dream of mine; how grateful I am to be in a place where I feel totally safe as I walk the countryside alone; how grateful that the village dogs I pass are so absolutely bored that they could care less about me. Perfect!

Mostly, though, my thoughts are of the “lessons-of-the-Camino” sort. I stop again and again to write them down, to add to the list. Nothing earth-shaking. Nothing I didn’t know before. Nothing you don’t know. Yet the frequency and the urgency with which they come calling, nagging and repetitive, gives me hope that they are sinking in more than ever before. For my own sake, with hopes of making them more easily accessible, I’m transferring that list to this post. Maybe you’ll find some of them useful as well. Or… maybe you’ll make or start your own list of lessons. Here are mine:

  • Slow down
  • Look around; observe
  • Turn around to see where you’ve come from
  • Pick up your daily burdens and be glad you have challenges; they’ll keep you from becoming too haughty
  • Find beauty!
  • Give thanks!
  • Listen to nature
  • Listen to the stories others have to share
  • Don’t be too full of yourself
  • Be humble
  • Sing!
  • Count your blessings; take nothing for granted
  • Be kind and generous and forgiving
  • Open your eyes, your ears, and your heart
  • Be your best self each and every day
  • Forgive yourself when you are not [your beset self] and remember to start again
  • Presume goodwill in others and when it is not obvious, assume it is just under the surface trying to emerge; when possible, gently coax it out
  • KINDNESS is king!!!!!
  • Simplicity: less is (almost) always more


Early on in this Katy’s Camino blog–back in the fall– I wrote quite a long post called “Why?” I asked questions like Why walk? Why now? Why Spain? Why a pilgrimage? Why write about it? I believe it was in that post where I stated that this trip was like setting in place a second book-end. The first book-end was placed in 1967 when I went to Spain for the first time. I was 17 years old. And now I’m less than two months from turning 70.

That book-end idea came to me yesterday as I did my final walk. For one thing, I ended up along the coast observing waves crashing on the rocks. It was a calm day, thus the crashing waves were not dramatic, but still…. I found myself recalling the month in 1967 when I was studying Spanish in Santander (along Spain’s northern coast). Near our residence hall was a place where we would walk to watch the waves splash high on the coast’s jagged rocks. A different coastline, but the same country. The same Katy… but also a very different one! Different, of course, for a myriad of reasons, for experiences I’ve had a chance to reflect on during these weeks of travel. Another set of splashing rocks; the book-end to balance that earlier experience.

In addition, yesterday I walked “among” the wind turbines for a while. It was the first time I wasn’t seeing them on a distant hill but rather only a football field or less away at times. No, they obviously don’t resemble the windmill “enemies” against which Don Quijote tilted his lance, prepared to fight to the death to defend the honor of “his Dulcinea.” And yet I found myself recalling how during my year abroad in 1968-1969 I had traveled around the area of La Mancha, to Campos de Cristana, in search of some of those old windmills and in search of any traces of Cervantes and Don Quijote and Sancho that I might come upon. What 19-year-old doesn’t attach some symbolic meaning to the don’s jousting with the windmills? (Especially one who has seen and loved the play Man of La Mancha and has sung over and over again the song “The Impossible Dream”?)

And so I saw those turbines yesterday and thought once again about how many “evils” are out to keep this from being the perfect world in which to live and how we have to keep on doing our part to not let those evils win the battle.

“CooCuu, CooCuu” calls the bird. And we challenge it and proclaim, “No, not crazy at all! Not at all.” We’ll get there, someday, to that better world. We’ll learn to be our better selves and to coax out the better selves of others.

Step by step. Day by day.

Come with me! We have to keep walking our Camino!