The Beginning of the End

IMGP4520

Christina and I wake at a normal hour. We don’t have to pack and leave by 0800 today. We go downstairs and enjoy . . . what’s it called again??

Oh, yeah. BRUNCH.

It is our last day on the Camino. Tonight we will be in Santiago. Can it really be over?

We walk at different paces, hanging together, then separating. Even if she isn’t with me, I know that she, Andres, Juan Carlos – my Camino family – are at my side. I haven’t seen the brothers in a while, but I know they are in the area. We will all arrive at Santiago today.

I feel sad. I feel great. I miss my family. I feel strong and energized.  I feel lost.  I am physically and mentally ready for any adventure. I want to walk for miles and miles, weeks and weeks more. I don’t want this to be the end.

IMGP4521

Christina and I pass through a serene eucalyptus forest. Although I had walked by these types of trees before, I had never been surrounded by their intense natural fragrance. I stand still and inhale  – the aroma implants in my brain.

IMGP4534

We stop for lunch at a local cafe. There are tourists – real tourists. Their tour bus is nearby. There must be some important local sight nearby. We are not here for sight-seeing, however. We have a journey to end.

IMGP4539

Christine and I split again. I spot the huge monument to the visit by Pope John Paul II. It is bigger than I imagined it would be.

As I walk around it, I see a homeless person come out of the bushes behind the monument. Shabby, he looks like he just finished taking a leak in the woods. He meanders over to a cart set up by a gentleman selling soda and juice to passing peregrinos and makes himself comfortable.

IMGP4541

I am standing in front of the monument, taking pictures. Christina comes along, smiling (she knows something I don’t know).  Suddenly, who comes running up out of nowhere and grabs me?

Andres! Juan Carlos! The brothers!

It was a wonderful surprise. I had not realized how happy I would be to see them. I give them the strongest of hugs and blink back emotion.  We chatter away, in English and Spanish, delighted to be sharing this last day together on the Camino.

The brothers had arrived earlier at the nearby albergue, Monte de Gozo, and would spend the night there, walking into Santiago the next morning. I could stay, too, since there are hundreds of beds available at this municipal albergue, which was built to handle the crush of pilgrims who arrive during the fat days of July and August and the city’s worth of regular vacationers.

But Christina must get to Santiago today. She has a plane to catch and has only one day available to visit Santiago.

I decide to not abandon Christina on this last day. We will get our campostellas tonight in Santiago.

But, since Santiago is so close, we decide to take the boys up on their invitation to share a feast they are preparing at the albergue. There will be about a dozen people who have already donated money for groceries, and Juan Carlos will be the “chef du jour.”

The boys amble down to the nearby grocery store to buy the supplies.

I wander over to the cart and buy a soda. I put my pack down and relax in the shade. I listen to the conversation between the homeless man and the person who is minding the cart. They are talking about Spanish politics, something I know absolutely nothing about.

But the homeless man seems to know what he is talking about. Even in my rudimentary Spanish, I can tell he has reasonable opinions and is expressing them well. He fiddles with a coil of wire as he sits in the shade and talks. I join the conversation. They enjoy having a NorteAmericana  talking about politics and kindly ignore my many linguistic mistakes.

They ask and I tell them where I’m from, how long I’ve been walking, etc.

The homeless man has been traveling on the Camino for the past two years. Before that, he spent a year living on the beach in Mallorca. He stays in albergues and makes money by selling little figures he makes from wire. I had admired his skill as he twisted plain wire into action figures, words, and sculptures. Now I realize why he was so skilled – this is what he does for a living.

I then notice that he has about a dozen of these figures set up on a stone pillar in the shade nearby. It was the worst marketing location ever. If you walked into the pillar you still wouldn’t see them because the gray of the wire blends so well into the gray of the stone.

As I say goodbye because it is time to find the albergue for dinner with my “family,” he hands me one of his wire sculptures. Lovely, intricate, he had casually crafted a  pilgrim walking while we had talked and was “gifting” it to me. Of course, I could not accept it as a gift.  I was a pilgrim but I wasn’t homeless. I give him €2.

He refuses to take it. I insist. He refuses again. I really insist.

He relents and accepts.

But he gives me another sculpture, more elaborate, with words and figures.

IMGP4543

It is sitting on the desktop next to me as I write this.

 

 

 

 

.

Advertisements

Christina Has a Meltdown – Just One More Day Until Santiago

IMGP4507

In my mind’s eye, Dear Reader, I see Christina leaping across the  desk, grabbing the clerk by his t-shirt, and giving him a slight, yet intense, shake, as she says, between gritted teeth:

“I. Need. A Bed. And I Need. One. Now.”

She gives me a look out of the corner of her eye, looks back at the clerk, her eyes narrowing, and adds,”

“No. I Need Two. Two Beds.  PRONTO!”

How had we come to this uncharacteristic turn of events? We would be in Santiago the next day. What was happening???

IMGP4500

This crisis had begun earlier in the day. Christina and I had separated during our walk, as usual. We knew we would run into each other later in the day. I was the faster walker and prone to long, leisurely stops for bocadillos and beer,  she was slow and steady.

We were Camino family.

As we got closer to Santiago, there were fewer and fewer beds available. The crush of pilgrims who began their Camino in the city of Sarria was surprising and overwhelming. There were the same number of albergues, but there were more pilgrims to accommodate. Survival belonged to the fittest. And the fastest.

Christina and I were neither.IMGP4520

At lunch time, I had pondered (over my bocadillo and beer) the real possibility that there might not be any beds available for many kilometers. The weather was blisteringly hot and sunny.

Christina came along as I sat there eating and drinking. We considered our options.

I had noticed the warning signs of no room ahead and was thinking about getting a taxi to take us to the nearest available albergue. Christina would have none of it.

She reminded me that catching a ride at this point would betray weeks of  decisions to walk rather that catch cabs, buses, vans, etc., as so many other pilgrims had done.  Walking had made us a family.

She was right. I could not give in this close to the end.

(blubbering like a baby) “I can’t do it, Sarge! I just can’t do it (sniveling). I wasn’t cut out for this (wailing, moaning)!!”

(slap) “Snap out of it,  Private! (slap) You’ll do it ’cause it’s your mission!! (slap, slap) It’s what you came here to do!! Now get back in there!! (slap).”

I snapped out of it.

By hook or by crook, we would continue walking and, somehow, we would find an open albergue for our last night on the Camino.

IMGP4514

We set out in the hot midday sun. This was why people got up at 0430 and left before dawn – so that they would not have to walk in the middle of the afternoon.

But, you, know, it just wasn’t our style.

So we walked.

As always, we split, me ahead, her behind.

I walked along highways and villages, beginning to see more and more of the trappings of suburbs and not of abandoned villages. More stores, fewer dogs lying in the sun.

I passed an albergue which looked inviting. There were young people lying on the nicely mowed grass as their clothes dried on the nearby clothes lines. I heard music. There was  gentle conversation and laughter. I think I hallucinated people playing badminton in the backyard while a little white dog got a belly rub.

I approached the door and saw the dreaded sign which filled me with a sadness that I was becoming accustomed to – “Completo.”

Full.

I trudged on.

IMGP4519

It was later in the day than I had ever been walking. There were few pilgrims on the Camino now. Most had stopped for the day. But I, and I knew Christina, still hadn’t found a place for the night.

I came to a small town with a tourist information booth. It was a small log cabin with a bulletin board outside, brochures, postcards, and a friendly young man getting ready to close for the day.

I asked him if there were any albergues in the area that might have beds available. He didn’t know but there was an albergue a few kilometers down the road. If that one was full, there was another a few kilometers from that.

I began to consider the possibility that I might be spending the night under the stars, in the suburbs of Santiago.

As I looked at maps and brochures, in walked a very exhausted Christina. We were happy to see each other but we looked bedraggled and faced a serious problem.

I told her that there were no albergues in the area and no guarantee that there were any beds available down the road for many kilometers. It was so late in the day, you see, Dear Reader, that most beds were already taken.

This is when Christine had her virtual meltdown.

This is what I saw in my mind’s eye. Nostrils flaring. Eyes widening. I saw Christina’s spirit reach across the counter and grab the innocent tourist information clerk.

What Christina actually did was politely ask if there were any places in the area which might have space.

I heard the tiny twinge of desperation in her voice (she kept her hands to herself).

The clerk must have heard something and seen the “Don’t-you-DARE-give-me-an-answer-I-don’t-want-to-hear” look in her eyes.

Uhm, yes, the clerk replied, there was a hotel up the road.

She looked at me. I had been standing at the other end of the counter, flipping through brochures but mentally weighing my options.

She and I were both on a strict pilgrim budget. We could not afford to spend more than the usual 5 or six euro for beds, especially this close to the end. She had a plane to catch so she had time constraints. I would soon have to pay some to-be-determined dollars for a t0-be-determined way to get home.

We both knew we couldn’t afford to spend a night in a hotel.  And we couldn’t afford to waste time.

And then, Christine pulled a silver bullet out of her wallet.

“My Dad,” She explained to me, “gave me a credit card to use in emergencies. I haven’t used it yet. This is an emergency.”

I explained that I didn’t have enough money to split the cost.

“My Dad won’t mind,” she said.

The tourist office was closing in five minutes.

I said, sure.

She made the transaction, I thanked her, and said a big prayer of gratitude to my Saints. I also added Christina’s Dad to my list of people I say a rosary for.

She headed towards the hotel, and I stayed back to make a reservation for my time in Santiago. Christine and I would arrive at the Cathedral in Santiago the next evening, after dinner and I did not want to wander around without a place to stay,

I left the tourist information booth, having made a reservation in Santiago.  I followed the clerk’s directions to get to the hotel – go up, turn left  at the corner, and it would be less than five minutes away.

I misunderstood.

I walked out of the booth, the clerk locked the door behind me and took off in his car. There were no people in the narrow street, no voices, and no sign that said “Hotel this way, you idiot,” which was what I needed.

I walked to the corner, turned left and went straight ahead to a house with an open door.

IMGP4511

It was very quiet.

Too quiet.

I hesitated at the door.

“Hello??” I called from outside the doorway.

There was a bucket just inside the door with some cleaning tools, as if someone was in the middle of washing the floor and had left the door open.

This didn’t feel like a hotel. It felt like someone’s home.

“Hello? Christine?” I called again, still not entering the building. These were the directions, but this didn’t seem like a hotel. And Christine had only been about ten minutes ahead of me. Surely she would be on the lookout for me. I heard conversation in a back room.

Should I walk in? What kind of low-key hotel is this?

I slowly realized that this wasn’t a hotel but someone’s house, someone who probably did not speak English. Sweaty, smelly, dusty, with hat and sunglasses, I stood a very good chance of scaring the crap out of a family watching t.v. and eating dinner.

Imagine as I walk in, drop my backpack and say, in my faltering Spanish, “Hola! The gentleman said you have a room for me and my friend??” Imagine as their forks fall from their hands, mid-bite, dropping paella all over the just washed tile floor.

I decided to quietly back away from the door and look around town a little more.

I went back to the main road, went up a few more blocks and found the hotel. I went to the reception desk (real hotels have one) and told them my friend had just come in. They directed me to the room and there was Christina, stuff already spread out around the room.

IMGP4513

Within minutes it looked like our backpacks had exploded. Stuff was everywhere, airing out. Girls gone wild. We each crashed on our very own twin beds. No sleeping bags tonight!! Nice clean sheets, soft mattresses, and a bathroom we only needed to share with one other person. We didn’t even worry about leaving our stuff out while we each took turns in the shower.

IMGP4512

After washing clothes in the sink (yes, we still had to do that), we headed down to the bar.

We were handed a drink menu. It had been many weeks since I had seen one of those.

The day called for one particular drink.

Not beer.

Not wine.

The perfect drink for this most interesting day?

An icy gin and tonic.

Ahhhhhh.IMGP4509

 

 

 

 

 

What Are YOU Waiting For?

IMGP3072

” . . . What then? Shall we sit idly down and say,

The night has come; it is no longer day??

The night hath not yet come; we are not quite

cut off from labor by the failing light.

Something remains for us to do or dare

(Even the oldest tree some fruit may bear) –

Not Oedipus Coloneus, or Greek Ode,

or tales of pilgrims that one morning rode 

out of the gateway of the Tabard Inn –

But other something, would we but begin.

For age is opportunity, no less

than youth itself, though in another dress,

And as the evening twilight fades away

the sky is filled with stars,

invisible by day.”

– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Morituri Salutamos”,  1874

IMGP3191

How Did the Chicken Cross the Road?? – Day 39 – Melide to O Pino

 

IMGP4478

I’m so close to the end, it just doesn’t seem possible.

My head and my heart feel so full of thoughts and ideas that I hardly know where to begin.

The Camino is the perfect actualization of the idea of “Ask and you shall receive,” but not from God, from your fellow pilgrims.

“Can you grab my hat?”

“Can you get my water?”

“Do you have a euro?”

I have asked my fellow sojourners these questions at various times in the past five weeks. Strangers all. And the questions were always answered with an unconditional “Yes.”

I have been asked to adjust ponchos in the wind, to pick up hiking poles, to watch packs while the owner makes a quick dash into the woods for relief and, yes, to lend a euro to someone whom we both knew I’d never see again.

And I, also, had done all without a moment’s hesitation.

We are all strangers passing alone on a long journey together.

IMGP4473

I saw a person without legs biking the Camino. He was riding a recumbent bicycle powered by his arms.

I saw a blind person walking the Camino. He had two companions hold each end of a long – 10, maybe 12 foot – bamboo pole, one in front of him, one behind. The blind pilgrim walked in the middle, one hand on the pole, and the three of them walked along, chatting, fully loaded packs on their backs.

What a long, strange journey it’s been.

I arrived at the small town where I planned to get my cafe con leche and croissant for breakfast. The two lane road butted up against the narrow sidewalk of the bar and was just at the receiving end of a blind curve.

As I put my backpack down, I heard the loud squeal and angry honking of a heavy eighteen-wheeler, braking just in time for a car that had blindly entered the road. My fellow pilgrims and I looked in the direction of the noise but, hearing no crash, thud, or cries, returned to our activities.

The doorway was crowded as people entered and exited. It was a beautiful morning but threatened to get extremely hot in the full sunshine of the cloudless sky.

I noticed something odd as I headed for the entrance.

A chicken was strutting in front of the doorway.

Chickens and dogs had been the most common domestic animals I’d seen on the Camino. It was fitting that I should see a chicken one last time before reaching the metropolis of Santiago. But I worried about this one wandering into the road. The road was clearly problematic for cars and no doubt for pilgrims (the Camino continued on the other side).  I’d be foolish to take bets on any chicken crossing this road.

Yet, I was transfixed by what I saw next as I waited for the bird to move so I could get my coffee.

A pilgrim leaving the bar picked the chicken up. That’s when I noticed the string  on the bird’s leg. The man put the bird in the top pocket of a backpack which was leaning next to the doorway and which the bird was tied to.

The bird went in – plop – not protesting, with its head sticking out and happily looking around.

Another man came out and lifted the pack to help his friend get the pack on without losing the bird. Then he put on his own. They belted themselves up and, apparently in good spirits from a good breakfast, carefully yet nonchalantly crossed the road.

The chicken was bright-eyed and alert, almost cheerful, as it looked around at the world from the top of the pack.

Poultry in motion.

I stood there, pondering what I had just seen. The chicken literally crossed the road.

Why were they carrying a chicken? Did they find it? Was it a pet? A gift? Had they been carrying it for a long time? Did they always travel with a chicken? What did the bottom of his pack look like? What would they do with the chicken when they got to Santiago? Take it into the Cathedral? Take it home? Set it free? Eat it?

I had walked for 38 days. I had only about 48 more hours on the Camino.

I thought I had seen everything the Camino had to offer.

But the day would still be full of surprises.

IMGP4475

 

 

 

Hellooooooooo? Anyone There???

IMGP3798

Remembering Sinin’s tortilla. YUMM!

Dear Reader,

Sorry for not posting lately.

I’ve had out of country visitors for almost four weeks, then I was out of the country, and next week more out of country visitors!!!

All beloved and happily received and anticipated family and friends.

However, all the visiting has kept me away from the blog. Only physically, though. Mentally, I am in Spain and arriving at Santiago within days.

In fact, I’m heading out the door to give another Camino talk as I write this mini-blog (forgive any typos). I’m always excited to tell people about my trip and to relive the adventures as I remember my dear Camino family.

So, thank you for staying with me, catch up on your reading if you haven’t read some of my posts, and I am (sadly) looking forward to the last days of my Camino adventure.

Kathy

As I Fall Asleep

IMGP4500I hear the gentle snoring of people falling asleep.

I hear grown men in bunk beds laughing uncontrollably like school boys at summer camp, one softly saying a word that sends the others into giggling fits. Then the other whispers something that leads to even stronger bed-shaking hilarity. On and on. I know tears flood their eyes – they are hysterical yet trying soooo hard not to wake anyone  up.

I hear the creaking of  upper bunk beds and mentally assess how new the beds are and the weight of my own upper bunkmate.

I hear women snoring. Yes, it happens.

I hear sleeping bag zippers being zipped slowly to not disturb people. Unfortunately, like undoing velcro, it can’t be done silently.

I recall the sound and sight of a group of gray-haired, slow-moving grandmothers laughing uproariously like teenagers, in the showers at the end of the day.

I smell the sickly sweet odor of that God-awful ointment that someone is rubbing on their feet and calves. Do they know how horrible it smells? I will never get that “fragrance” out of my brain.

I smell the body odor of those who don’t wash themselves and/or their clothes.

I hear the soft pad of bare feet on the tile floor as people head into bed after lights out.

I hear the loud clunk of something accidentally falling out of an upper bunk in the dimness as a person tries to roll over.

I hear the echo of a group talking and laughing down the hall in the living area.

I see the light of someone reading an e-book in bed.

I hear the very soft scratch of someone writing in a journal.

I see soft twilight still glowing at 1030 at night. For a night owl like me, it is perfection and I smile.

IMGP4468

Goldilocks and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Situation

[Continued from the previous post – if you haven’t read “No Photos, Just a Terribly Embarrassing Albergue Story,” you might want to read that first]

The problem slowly became clear to me.

The young pilgrim wasn’t especially annoyed at me, but I had messed up, without a doubt. There was no one to blame but me. I had caused a major problem.

Can you see it? Please say no.

IMGP6342

Maybe now? Experienced pilgrims are slapping their foreheads at my stupidity.

IMGP6343

I had to look a dozen times before I saw my mistake.

IMGP6344

The day before, the Xunta was small (20 beds) and the friendly hospitalera had given me the receipt, telling me not to lose it since it was my proof I belonged there. This day, the not-as-friendly hospitalera had given me the receipt and waved me along.

I hadn’t noticed that I was assigned a specific bed in a specific section of the building.

I had just put my pack down in a good location, as everyone had routinely done when arriving at an albergue since Day One (I add, defensively).

Today was the first and only day it would be different. I had unknowingly taken this guy’s bed.

I can’t imagine the domino effect I must have caused when he got to his assigned space, saw me dozing peacefully,  and said to himself, “Someone’s been sleeping in my bed – and THERE SHE IS NOW!”

As my error flashed into my brain, I instantly offered to vacate and go downstairs, tail between my legs, and ask for another available “cama.” He graciously declined my offer since he had already gotten another bed.

I desperately showed him my tickets and explained in my broken Spanish that I hadn’t known I had been assigned a bed, based on my experience the night before.

I don’t think he really cared. I was so apologetic, though, that he may have begun to feel sorry he had brought it up.

Did he feel badly about how badly I felt at my mistake?  Did he really excuse my mistake? Or did he think I was just another arrogant and/or stupid American (had he seen the American flag sewn on my backpack)?  I was mortified and humiliated. How could I have been so dumb to not have seen the markings on the receipt and ask questions?

After walking for more than four weeks and 700 kilometers, I still didn’t know what I was doing.

I had a loooong talk with my Saints that night.

IMGP4469

If it’s any consolation to that unknown pilgrim whose bed I inadvertently took, a pilgrim came later that afternoon to the upper bunk. He had a “bed bug” sheet with him to prevent bugs from getting to him and I helped him slip the cover on his mattress.

This was the first time during the trip that I had thought about bed bugs in albergues, even though it was a common thread in the on-line forums I’d studied in preparation for my trip.

My infestation-obsessed bunkmate climbed up into his bed later that evening, having spent a raucous night on the town.

I, however, tossed and turned all night long, imagining that every itch and scratch was a you-know-what crawling on me and into my pack.

It was all in my imagination. The only souvenirs I brought home from my trip were all bought and paid for.

But the Camino (St. Julian, I’m looking at YOU) continued to keep me humble.