Found my coffee shop, found some pilgrims! Thought this tasty little guy symbolizes my rest day quite well. Boston cream donut man- breakfast of champions!
Yesterday I arrived in Leon, a larger city that marks the halfway point of my journey. I decided to walk 37 km in one go, as I had read that the last stage of the journey out of the Meseta and into Leon is along highways and through industrial zones, and getting there quickly would give me an extra night and days rest. At times I was waking alongside a busy highway (rather dangerous), followed by a stretch that was more protected but would be the equivalent of walking into Toronto along the 401. However, once I reached the city centre, with its historic catherdral, numerous sidewalk cafes and public squares, I was able to take in the beauty of the place. After the silence and rural nature of the Meseta, as well as the simplicity of walking through each day, it is a bit of a jolt to be reminded of the hustle and bustle of regular life. Of course, I found myself directionally challenged trying to find my accommodations for the night, as google maps only works when connected to wifi, but that’s another story… I am taking a few days to rest here in Leon. I have already reunited with one friend who is recouperating from a knee injury and another friend who is continuing on his way today. Plans are underway to sit in a coffee shop, watching the world go by, give my feet and legs a break, and do a little exploring of the city.
“Buen Camino” is a common greeting on the way. As you pass by an oncoming Spanish person you often greet them with an “hola”(hello), and they will wish you a “Buen Camino” in turn, meaning, “a good way or journey.” They are also the words that pilgrims use as they pass each other on the trail. For me, it has come to symbolize both a friendly greeting as well as a farewell. As I begin my journey each day, I don’t know who I will meet on the trail, who I will walk with for a moment or several days, who I am walking away from that I may not see again. I wonder if there will be a familiar face or faces at the next place I stop for the evening, or whether the strangers I meet will become friends, as others who have become friends for a time are left behind. One hopes that our paths will cross again, but wishing each other Buen Camino is a little like saying , “God be with you until we meet again”, though we don’t know when that will be. Today I met unfamiliar people along the path, potential “little while” friends to pass the time with on the way. One interesting man I met today is a Muslim from Zanzibar, whose Jewish friend walked the Camino several years ago and encouraged him to do it as well. Tonight, I have been invited to a communal meal prepared by an enthusiastic Italian motorcyclist who has crossed my path for several days but with whom I cannot converse, as he speaks no English and I speak no Italian, but who has invited my entire room (people he has only just met) to enjoy his feast of spaghetti Napolian! One never knows what tomorrow will bring, but it is wonderful to enjoy the people that walk into your life for a reason, or just a moment.
Today the weather, threatening rain, encouraged a quick 25 km walk through landscape that felt a lot like home. I have entered the area known as the Meseta, where the trail runs through agricultural area and is known for its monotony. The trail was mostly flat and straight along a two lane highway, with various crops planted as far as the eye could see. I enjoyed the walk, as there was a sense of familiarity as I “rambled” along the country road. There were other reminders of home as well- an irrigation system running in a field, fresh plowed fields, a farmer digging around the edge, a willow tree at the side of a lane, like the one in our front yard, and even a tractor trailer emblazoned with my sister’s name Teresa (not that I’ve seen that before- just the name reminded me of her! Don’t take that the wrong way Teresa!) The photo I posted is a sign showing the distance, 6 km, to my “home” for the evening, as well as the distance to my journey’s destination, Santiago, at 463 km. You might see just a hint of desperation in my face, as the clouds were threatening and the last 5 km of the day is always a bit of a trudge, when the end seems close, but feels so far. A few nights ago, we stayed at a small alberge where we were invited to participate in evening prayers. Each person read a prayer, in their own language, of a pilgrim that had previously stayed the night at this place. The words that I read have stayed in my mind, as they are a metaphor not just for the journey I am on with my fellow pilgrims, but for life as well. It said, “In the end, we are all just walking each other home”. To my family and friends both in Canada and on the Camino, thanks for walking with me on this journey home!
One of the benefits of sleeping in a crowded dorm room is that there are people who think that waking up and getting ready at 5:30am is a good idea. On this particular morning, I was out on the road by 6:30 am, feeling a little grouchy after a rather lonely evening when I had been separated from friends unexpectedly and had not connected with anyone in the hustle and bustle of the evening. Just after the sun had risen, I looked into the sky and this is what I saw. There were very few people on the road at that hour of the morning, and I was surprised a few days later when a man I had met showed me a photo that someone had shared with him, which was the same as the one I had taken! All I can say is that I felt blessed by this sign in the sky, and I hope you are blessed by it as well.
Today marks day 15 since I began walking this journey. It is difficult to describe the passage of time while walking the Camino. On the one hand, I can’t believe that two weeks have slipped by so quickly and that I’m already a third of the way into my journey. I want time to slow down so I can savour every moment. The days pass by, one after the other, with sights new to me, but ancient and worn by time. It’s not uncommon to see the facade of a row of houses where a modern, well kept exterior is adjacent to a medieval crumbling wall- past and present existing in beautiful harmony. The church spire usually towers over the towns and cities through which the Camino passes. The public square adjacent to the church is often the common gathering place for both pilgrims and locals alike. Yesterday, as one of my fellow travellers and I were leaving our accommodations in the predawn of the morning, we walked across the square fronting the magestic Burgos Cathedral. At that precise moment in time, we crossed paths with another member of “the fellowship”, coming from a different lodging and a different direction. We had not prearranged this serendipitous moment in any way, yet there the three of us were, starting the day together in silent companionship. Something very special about Camino time!
I’m sitting under an umbrella to shade me from the sun on the patio of the Alberge (hostel) in which I have stopped for the night. I walked 31km today, largely through farmland. My Camino is taking on a certain predictable rhythm. Up at 6 am, pack my knapsack, walk to the closest bar (they call everything a bar here- even though it is more of a cafe- but they do serve alcohol at any time of day and it isn’t uncommon to see a Spanish man drinking wine or sipping beer at 8 am), walk until lunch break, walk to my destination for the evening, unpack bag, shower, wash clothing, relax, eat dinner around 7pm and then in bed by 9pm. Of course, a lot of thinking ( or not thinking), socializing and enjoying nature happens in between the “mundane” of the routine. In the past hour as I sit typing this note (wifi service is variable and I already lost this once), I have already connected with my new roommate- a Scottish woman hurrying to meet her deadline and get to the end before she flies home, one of two older Dutch brothers I met the second day on my journey, but haven’t seen for several days, a Bavarian monk who shared a snack with me one night when I was feeling lonely ( he is quite an enthusiastic fellow- think of a German Mr. Bean, who loves talking, beer and The Lord!), a Brazilian woman, whose English, we discovered, is much better than my Spanish, a young German I spent a couple hours walking with, and an interesting woman from New Zealand that I shared a cab with on the day I arrived. All this is to say there are so many intersting people you meet along the way. I have reconnected with one of the original members of “The Fellowship”, but lost one along the way as he hung back to nurse a bad knee. We’ve joked that the Camino is like the United Nations. I would love to challenge the world leaders to take two weeks and walk the Camino together. What would the world be like if they came together communally, under a common roof, sharing squeaky bunk beds in a dorm room, preparing meals and eating together, enjoying a drink in the sun after a long walk together? Can you imagine?
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!