No Defecar! – Day 14 on the Camino

The town appeared to be a ghost town.

After so many days of passing through tiny pueblos which clutched faithfully around Churches, in spite of all apparent signs that the town was dying, it was quite clear that this place was decidedly . . . different.

The tiniest of pueblos always seemed to have a sense of unity, of community, because they all had some kind of plaza, town center, facing the Church, which was the most important building in town and the building of which the town was most proud and cared for most. The markets, the shops, the art, music, culture, all activities circled around the Church.

The Camino de Santiago de Campostella, being a path through Spain, goes from town to town. Medieval pilgrims would not be interested in beautiful scenery or great views of vineyards.  They needed to stay healthy and survive the rigorous and often treacherous trip through the mountains and fields. Towns were where  they would find food, clothing, shelter and would be able to recover from injuries and illness. 

The Camino makes a direct line from town center to town center.

To the plaza.

To the Church.

This town, however, seemed cold, lacking humanity. There were no signs of life, of human habitation.  No cars, no children’s’ toys, no dogs or cats.

Where was the Church? In other town, you could spot the steeples from a distance. But I couldn’t find one here. 

No farms, no shops, no cafes. No sound. 

There were houses, however. Nice, newly built homes, with front and back yards waiting for flowers and fountains, stone pathways and swings.

They all seemed deserted.

The only place that was occupied was the golf course. Entering town, I passed next to a beautiful green golf course. Water hazards and sand traps, well manicured with lovely swatches of trees and cart paths, designed to provide a wonderful afternoon on the greens. 

Cars pulled up to the clubhouse and people took golf bags and clubs out of their trunks, testing their swings, and entered. 

I had planned on spending the night in this town but it was too creepy. Too “Twilight Zone.”

Just before entering the town, when the golf course was just a suggestion, there was a small resting place for pilgrims provided by the town, as many towns along the Camino provide.

After a long walk, it was greatly appreciated. Yet, there was something unusual at this one. Something that should have tipped me off that this place was happy to have you here, but not too happy.

A welcome sign that really didn’t say welcome. And, realizing that the golf course property was on the other side of the fence of the resting area, it made perfectly good sense. What other sign could you put there for peregrinos? 


They do WHAT to a Chicken??? – Day 13 – Najera to Santo Domingo

The legend goes something like this:

A father, mother, and son were making a pilgrimage to Santiago. One night, they stopped in Santo Domingo for rest. The innkeeper had a daughter who took a fancy to the son, who was handsome and devout. He, being devout, rejected the advances of the daughter, who was not happy at being spurned.

She put some gold or jewels or something in the young man’s baggage and, the next morning, accused him of stealing. 

The local magistrate found the lad guilty and he was hung.

The father and mother, heart-broken, continued on their pilgrimage to Santiago, praying for their son. On their return trip, they walked near the same town. To their surprise, their son was hanging but still alive! They rushed to the local magistrate’s house, who was in the middle of dinner, and begged him to cut their son down, for he was still alive! The magistrate laughed at their request, saying that their son could no more be alive than the chicken which was on his plate for dinner.

At that moment, the chicken stood up and cackled. Amazed and recognizing a miracle, the magistrate ordered the young man cut down and the family lived happily ever after.

Since then, the church at Santo Domingo has been famous for the legend of the chicken. It is said to keep a live chicken because of this legend.

How do legends get out of hand?

A wet day made the trip to Santo Domingo boring and tiresome. Imagine my surprise to hear a marching band playing as I approached. My fellow pilgrim wondered what the music was about but excitedly remembered that she heard today was a special day at the church in Santo Domingo – they were going to do “something” with the chicken at Mass that night.

As a Catholic, I was curious as to what a priest would do with a chicken during Mass. I knew there were Masses where animals were blessed, but that was all I could think of. 

Sacrifice a chicken? Wasn’t that a voodoo thing? We don’t do that in the Roman Catholic Church, at least I had never heard of it, and I was pretty sure I would have heard if there was some kind of ritual where a chicken was killed during Mass.

No, no, no, something wasn’t right. But I was having a hard time convincing my companion of this.

The town was celebrating Corpus Christi, a major Catholic feast day. The whole town processed after a band and a colorful float, through the narrow street to the church. They walked over lovely murals made of grass and flowers which had been made on the pavement. After the band, float, and townspeople walked over the displays, children played with the grass and flowers and the street took on the colors of a lovely ticker tape parade.

The Mass at 8 p.m. was peaceful and serene, with not a cluck to be heard or a feather to be seen.

As Mass ended, I looked around at the beautiful interior. 

There, overhead, where a choir might be in another church, was a tiny lit apartment, bars in front. Did I see movement? Yes! I found the chicken!

It  turns out that the chicken is kept (probably more for the benefit of tourists than anything else) in the church in a sound proof room so as not to disturb Mass. In fact, the chickens (there are several, very pretty) take turns and live in the church for only a week, then are free to roam around, carefully attended to both in and out of the Church.

I realized that the chickens had better living conditions than I had in most of the albergues I had stayed in on the Camino.

My friend was not disappointed that there had been no slaughter.

Another misinterpretation of Catholic ritual was “laid” to rest.

St.Philip puts me in Lock Down – Day 6 – Puenta de la Reina to Estella

You know, of course, that it is still raining.

I had struggled to decide whether or not to put an American flag on my backpack, had finally decided yes  (after a multi-person intense search for a good flag patch) and it has been irrelevant for days now because my pack has been encased in a raincover.

The Frenchman in the bunk below me (yes, I am up top again) was up and zipping out of the room at 0530. I know I am not the only one he is disturbing, but it is the Camino so what can we say. 

An extra 15 minutes of sleep is very precious, however.

When I leave and go to the breakfast at the first cafe I find, who should I run into but the jovial Spanish men from last night! They greet the American as I take off my backpack and order a cafe con leche. We have a nice conversation about Mass, tapas, and the Camino. I ask them what work they do that gets them out of the house so early in the morning. They tell me they are retired. 

While I finish my breakfast, cafe, croissant and orange juice (they only make fresh squeezed) they leave. I go to pay and the waitress tells me that the gentlemen have paid for my breakfast! I am touched by their kindness and ask the waitress to thank them for me when she sees them again. 

She will not. They are pelegrinos.

I make my way out of town and walk past the lovely Conventos Comendadores. Since I ended up going to extra Masses the day before, I felt OK with just taking a quick look and leaving.. 

Ha,ha, those wacky saints have something else in mind for me.

Entering the Church at about 0830, too early for the usual 0900 Mass, I once again was blown away by the exquisite and baroque use of gold imagery in these little local Churches. Clearly, each place was designed to make sure that even those who could not read knew they were entering a special place, not of this earth. 

Suddenly, as I was standing in the back, preparing to leave, a priest came out and began Mass for the eight nuns who were sitting in the front. 

How could I leave? It was as if God said, ” Hey, You’re here just in time! I wanted to catch you before you left. I have a place at my table set just for you. Come, join us!”

When God says “I have a place for you,” how do you turn your back with a ” No, thanks, I already ate.”

So I stayed for Mass. But the weather outside was rainy and promised to get worse before the day was over, so I told myself I would leave right after communion.

St. Phil had other ideas, though. As I tried to leave, he hid the doorknob! It was a little dark inside and the overcast skies didn’t help, but I couldn’t find my way out! I felt around where I thought I had gotten in, felt hinges, but no knob where the knob should be. 

 I realized that leaving early was not in the plans for me that morning. I stayed the extra 3 minutes til the end of Mass. Then, a kindly man in the back of the Church saw my plight, lifted the latch (there was a latch, not a knob), and wished me a “Buen Camino” as he held the door open for me.

The saints look out for my best interests, even when I do not. And was that Phil playing a joke by “locking” me in? 

I chuckled as I began on one of the muddiest days yet of my Camino.

Day 5 – The Saints Conspire to Keep my Focus Where it Needs to Be -Uterga to Puenta de la Reina

The day began poorly.

Someone in the room had an  alarm clock in their jacket which started going off at 0545 and went off every 15 minutes after that. Of course, the woman whose alarm it was was in the shower the whole time and never heard it.  

But the 15 people trying to sleep sure did.

The sun was finally out and I could wear my sunglasses. I was feeling strong and decided to take a detour to see the church at Eunate, a very old Romanesque style building in a nice setting.

Since I had left the albergue early, I was at Eunate by 0800. There were a few pilgrims there, sitting on the grass, catching the sunshine on the low rock wall surrounding the Church, like turtles in the sun. My friend from the albergue in Uterga, Antonio, was waiting and I shared some Voltaren for his swollen knees.

Unfortunately, the Church didn’t open until 1030. Who knew that a church would not be open for business on a  Sunday morning?

I changed my plans and decided to wait until the church opened. It was supposed to be very nice inside, in an austere sort of way.

I fell asleep in the warm sun, the silence occasionally broken by Sunday morning power paragliders buzzing around the fields.

Eventually, 1030 arrived. How did I know? Because at 1029, two tour buses full of visitors pulled up to the church. The woman who gave the stamps for our credencias, however, was the same who gave the Church tours and the paying customers came first.

I was finally able to leave at about 1115, having taken a glance at the inside of the church (Ehh) and gotten my stamp.

I arrived in Obanos in time for noon Mass at St. Juan Bautista so of course I went, the only pilgrim in a congregation full of families and friends..

I got to Puenta de la Reina and decided to stay instead of moving onto the next town, as I had originally planned. Waiting for the church in Eunate to open, then stumbling upon noon Mass in Obanos was clearly the work of my entourage of saints making sure I did the right thing and slowed down. 

Assigned to a room – and stuck with a top bunk – I was surprised to find that I was in the same room as Antonio, the friend with the bad knees who I had met the night before in Uterga, Petra, whom I had first met when we were at the same gite on the first day in St. Jean, and Antoine, my friend from the train ride from Paris.

The Camino is full of surprises.

Before the Pilgrim Mass that night, I had tapas with two very jovial Spanish gentlemen at the bar next to the Church. How very Catholic that there should be a bar next to a Church. They showed me the ins and outs of ordering and eating tapas and wine. They had everyone laughing, including the bartender, and they were delighted to discover that I was from America.