Today we experienced the wind and rain that is common to walking The Camino in the spring. I was thankful for the advice I heeded about purchasing a rain poncho that would protect both body and knapsack from the elements. Must admit I had a bit of a “George Bush at the Trump inauguration” moment the first time I struggled to put it on. It also flaps like a flag in the wind, and I had to hold onto the sides to keep it from taking flight. However, it did the job and I arrived at my destination for the day with wet legs and feet but with a dry knapsack and body. Last night I reunited with a couple of Camino friends that I had been separated from the previous night. We stayed in an albergue (hostel) that was housed in an old church with mattresses on the floor. It was one of the simplest in terms of facilities, yet the people that run it were so friendly and kind, with a communal meal served family style on two long tables, that it solidified the goodness and generosity that can be experienced along the Way. I had not had a great experience the previous night when I had stayed alone in a municipal albergue in a city celebrating a holiday, similar to a town festival like the Alliston Potato Fest. The bunk beds were doubled up in the middle of the room and single bunks lined the perimeter, sandwiching the maximum number of people into a common room. However, in hind sight, I realize it is the less desirable times that make the good times seem even better. Being without my Camino friends for a night made me recognize how good it has been to have fellowship along the way. Fighting against the wind and rain today made me appreciate even more how blessed I have been to have had sunshine and warmth for the majority of my journey so far. Suffering with blisters and sore legs makes stopping at the end of the day a joy! Stopped at 1:00 pm today after a “short” 20km day, having averaged about 28km for the past few days. Enjoying a Sabbath rest.
My many apologies. I am having trouble getting my words to save. Tenth time is a charm. Today, “The Fellowship”, our rag tag group of 6 random pilgrims consisting of myself, 3 priests (a South African, a Canadian and a Romanian – sounds like the start of a joke- three priests walk into a bar…), a young, hip New Yorker and a chef from London, parted ways. Three of us decided to stay and nurse our various ailments, while the other three carried on. I have developed a rash on the back on my ankles, which could be a result of “breaking the seal” and using the forest facilities for the first time. The New Yorker has suffered with bad ankle blisters, lost toe nails and a blood blister on one toe due to improperly fitted boots, very reminiscent of the movie The Wild. Our third friend brought along “the monster”, a heavy knapsack loaded with too many “necessities” and his tendons are telling the tale. After incessant but kind mocking, he traded it in for a smaller, lighter model. None of these issues are uncommon on the Camino and we were well cared for by the local Farmacia , drug store who viewed and patiently nursed our various infirmities. We took our rest at the local cafe, catching up on journal entries, news from home and sampling the local delicacies- cafe con leche ( coffee with milk) , fresh squeezed orange juice, and the food. The picture you have now seen numerous times is me enjoying the equivalent of Spanish poutine called patatas bravas- large chunks of deep fried potatoes smothered with sour cream and a spicy tomato sauce. For tea time, we enjoyed chirros, a fresh donut- like pastry dipped in a rich., warm chocolate mousse, paired with a bottle of the local La Roja red wine ( wine is as cheap as water here- silly not to). We are rested, refreshed and ready to continue our journey in the morning. Cheers!
In earlier times, pilgrims carried nothing but a small sac on a stick and relied on the generosity of the church and strangers along the way to provide for their needs. While most of us have the means to pay for our own accommodations and meals, there is still much sharing and generosity that is offered by the local people as well as amongst the pilgrims. Early in today’s walk, we passed by a fountain of wine where anyone can freely fill a cup. A local winery is carrying on this tradition once offered by the local monastery. Probably good planning on their part that the fountain is at the beginning and not the end of the day’s journey. Shortly after my vino pit stop, two paths diverged in the woods, and I choose the road less travelled and thus travelled alone for most of the day. It was refreshing to spend time in silence and even the rain did not detract from the serenity of the day. I spent the previous evening in a pension with a single room, as I had not yet had a good night sleep in the dorms. It was both simple and absolutely heavenly to have a double bed with sheets and blankets and a private bathroom! However, in choosing that place, I was in my own and wondering what to do with my evening in an unknown city. I decided to go for a walk and being a little directionally challenged, did not know where I was going. However, as fate would ( or I would call it a “Godincidence”) I happened upon my friends who invited me to dinner at their hostel, and then waked me back to my place. While I may be here on my own, I am never alone.
One of the things I am enjoying about the Camino is walking through the pastoral settings of Northern Spain. Whereas Homer has just begun planting potatoes at home, here there has already been a first cut of hay and today I passed a field of canola that was as tall as me. At times the path is rough and uneven, and one needs to keep alert to the yellow arrows that mark the way, so every so often I stop and look back, to take time to drink in the scenery around me. The trail sometimes passes through working farms, and I’ve seen many baby animals. In the Pyrenees Mountains, the horses were free range, and horses, cows and sheep alike all sport cow bells (I guess in Spain, they need more cow bell- Sorry, only SNL fans will get that little aside). I have yet to encounter the infamous wild dogs of the Camino. To date, my only dog encounters have been with domestic varieties out for walks with their owners. However, the other day as I approached Pamplona, famous for its July festival, the running of the bulls, a strange thing happened. As I neared the city and was ascending a small hill in a heavily forested area, I heard something galloping towards me. My body on full alert, I prepared flee. However, one does not easily flee while carrying a 22 lb backpack, so I stood still in my tracks, awaiting whatever was coming over the hill. You can imagine my suprise when a herd of cats crested the hill and charged towards me! Perhaps the Spaniards are training these felines to provide an alternative attraction to rival the popular bull run. I wondered if they were attracted to the residual odour of the sack of cat food that I used in my pack for training weight. The true story will remain a mystery , but I’m happy to report that they simply ran past my frozen form. I wonder if I am the first to encounter the wild cats of the Camino!
Two nights ago as a group of us shared a pilgrim meal, one of our dinner mates informed us that he is a chef and offered to cook our next meal. We had been having a laugh about a joke told by a South African priest at our table that went something like this: In heaven, the police are British, the chefs are Italian, the French are the lovers, the Germans the mechanics and the Swiss make it all runs smoothly. In hell, the police are German, the chefs are British, the Swiss are the lovers, the French are the mechanics and the Italians make it all run smoothly. The laughs were of course compounded by the presence of multinational crew, including a handsome, young French man and the British chef who were part of our party. However, we seized the opportunity and began by planning our accommodations for the following night. I accompanied our Master chef to purchase supplies at the village store close to our hostel, while others picked up ingredients and libations along the way. We had no idea what was in store- a bit of a “stone soup” story. Our friend did not disappoint. His meal was a delicious labour of love and generosity and we were blessed by partaking in the bread and the wine, chorizo soup (flavoured with rosemary that he had picked along the side of the trail), pasta and ensalata (salad with tuna). To coin a popular country song “Yes, I guess that’s my church.”
My day started at 6 am when the dorm lights were turned on and two older Dutch men walked through the halls playing a guitar and singing Morning has Broken. Had to laugh because it brought back memories of Sunday mornings when my dad (also Dutch) would wake us up playing the same song on the organ! The Dutch do love to sing! It is surprising how quickly connections are made on the Way. There are certain people whose paths you keep crossing, though you made no plans. The first couple I met were Canadians from Ajax who like myself, narrowly missed our train due to long customs line ups in Paris. We shared a cab to St. Jean, and met up numerous times along the trail, the first day, although walking at different rates and taking different breaks. Met them on the trail again today and unplanned, we all ended up going an extra 5 km to meet again this evening. I also met an Anglican Priest from Ottawa ( ironically, all 4 of us Canadians were wearing Maple Leaf Blue ( even though he is a nasty Senators fan). We ended up finishing our walk at the same time and then ended up sharing the same bunk bed. Wow, that probably sounds somewhat risqué, but I promise you it is not! The dorms aren’t segregated by gender, so beds are on a first come first served basis. A bit unsettling and strange, but it is only day 3 and the novelty wears off quickly! Anyway, that is the way it is. Introductions are quickly made and in no time you feel like a family, talking politics, religion, making jokes and eating a communal meal at the end of the day. The wifi here is slow and I am having trouble saving these blogs, so it may be a few days in between. The sun is shining here and all is well. This is how we celebrate communion, Camino style!
Plane, trains and automobile got me to my starting point at St. Jean Pied du Port yesterday and to a very welcoming auberge (hostel) where I met an international crew of fellow pilgrims and enjoyed a communal dinner. Dorm room sleeping is a challenge- mostly for me because, I’m embarrassed to admit, I snore and I’m so concerned about keeping others awake that I sleep lightly, and snore more! Oh well, pilgrims are forewarned about this so it’s not really my problem. Left this mornining at 8 am and walked about 7 hours through the mountain trail. The sun was warm, the wind at my back and the scenery spectacular. The company and the red wine are good and I am exhausted. Hope to have more to say tomorrow but exhaustion calls. I haven’t lost my way yet- my theme of the day was just to follow those who had gone before me- nothing new as each of us pilgrims are really just following those who have gone down this ancient path before us.
One week until I’m leaving on a jet plane ✈️. I have jettisoned the cat food, dumbell and blankets that filled my knapsack for training purposes and have now packed, weighed, unpacked, removed items, repacked, and still am second guessing what I think I will need to get me through the trip. The challenge is trying to predict the weather and deciding if I need to go heavy on the clothing that will keep me warm in the cold, or cool in the heat. Reality is, I hate extremes. I am built for 20 degree (Celsius) temperatures. A little like Goldilocks, I like things not too hot, not too cold, but just right. Unfortunately, I don’t get a say on that and have thus loaded my bag with too many “just in case” items. I recognize this as my fear- my fear of discomfort. A fear that I need to contend with in order to lighten my load and not be carrying a knapsack that presently looks ready to burst, like an oversized, overcooked Octoberfest sausage! Bare necessities only. Time to rethink and repack!
I can’t believe the day is almost here! Two weeks from today, on April 18, 2017, I will fly to Paris, then take a train to St. Jean Pied de Port to begin my pilgrimage. I have been conditioning physically since January, yet part of me is concerned about not yet being ready. My longest walk to date has been 19k, but I will be doing 25k per day, every day. Sounds a little daunting. I think I have everything I will need, equipment wise, but need to amalgamate it all into my knapsack without going over my 20 lb limit. How many socks, bras and underwear will I really need is the pressing question of the day. Tomorrow it will be what medical supplies should I pack for blister care? Rain gear, warm clothes and things to wear on a sunny spring day add to the challenge. Do I take the Crocodile Dundee hat that I am sporting in the photo above? One daughter tells me it is not exactly a “fashion forward” accessory, while the other daughter, fearing for her mother’s virtue, thinks it is a good idea to look as unattractive as possible while away. No worries there, as my hiker-to-shorts convertible “man pants” (none of the women hiking gear fit me) and hiking boots definitely fall on the unattractive end of the fashion spectrum. I am also taking an English/Spanish bible that I liberated from a hotel room during a recent trip to Costa Rica. My limited Spanish indicated it was “libro” which I translated as free, so I didn’t feel bad releasing it from its captivity in the nightstand next to my bed. I noted that it had incurred a little water damage (at least I hope it was water), so a replacement was in order. I say all this to justify to myself that I did not steal a bible, because that would probably be seen by some as a “bad” thing to do. Or perhaps I say this all to confess that perhaps I do feel just a little guilty. Oh well, I’m going on a pilgrimage, so there will be lots of time for contemplation, confession and perhaps even redemption!