Jeremiah Johnson Would Never Have Lost his Pants – Day 32 – Rabanal to Molinaseca

I’m feeling kind of “Jeremiah Johnson” today.

The latest in pilgrim attire, circa 1870.

The latest in pilgrim fashion, circa 1870.

Jeremiah Johnson was a character played in the movie of the same name by Robert Redford. This character started out as a pretty “green” newcomer to the American frontier, planning to make his way as a trapper or trader or some such thing in the American Rocky Mountains.

There were few people who lived in the frontier at this time, except for the native Americans who were wary of the newcomers who were slowly but surely crowding into their space. Also, the old timers who were doing what he was just starting out to do, and had been doing it for a while.

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Over time, Jeremiah Johnson learns how to fend for himself alone in the mountains. He becomes proficient at trapping and shooting. he can build his fires and keep warm as needed. He becomes a grizzled mountain man, respected by the Natives and the locals.

Slowly, he realizes how much he has learned during his time in the mountain, although he does not stop learning and, yes, making mistakes.

My Camino Family Portrait.

My Camino Family Portrait.

I’m feeling a little Jeremiah Johnson today.

I’ve met an unusual number of new peregrinos today. I’ve also run into groups of people starting out. “I just started in Leon.” “We haven’t had a day of rain!” “Wow! We’ve been walking for two days and it’s so much fun!”

Is it so wrong that I feel like smacking them?

Many of them have sent their packs ahead to the next town so they don’t have to carry them (OK if you have a legitimate physical need),  Walkers arrive by taxi (ditto for physical need).

They carry light little day packs and swing big bottles of water in their hands, spritely jogging up the hills, chatting and laughing.  They’ll get to the albergue long before me and I will, therefore, be unable to find a place to stay.

Yep, I’m feeling grizzled. I could just grunt in answer to their “dumb” questions. I could roll my eyes as they stop along the way and complain about their newly developing blisters. I could smile to myself as they race up the hills, knowing that I will pass them on the way down as they begin to nurse slowly disintegrating knees.

You call that a blister?? I know babies that have bigger blisters than that! And you call yourself a pilgrim.

You call that a blister?? I know babies that have bigger blisters than that! You’re a disgrace to pilgrims everywhere.

I could, but I don’t. Because, like Jeremiah Johnson, I’m still making mistakes.

Let’s put it in another way. The Camino is keeping me humble.

1.   It’s a long, challenging day, 25 kilometers, all of it mountainous.  To add to the challenge of the terrain, which includes lots of loose scree, the temperature goes from 5 degrees to 32 degrees Celsius today.

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It was really cold this morning.

2. I reach the impressive Cruz de Ferro (Iron Cross).

El Cruz de Ferro, the Iron Cross

Shortly after, I come to the highest point on the Camino Frances, the Punto Alto, a heavenly 1,515 meters high and I celebrate the gorgeous view with some water, I spend several extra minutes up there. Why? Not because of the view , which is majestic, but because I can’t figure out the way down. I seem to have temporarily lost the trail. Thanks alot, St. Christopher.

I'm at the top of the world. Now how do I get down?

I’m at the top of the world. Now how do I get down?

3. I run out of money. Not cyber money, but real, honest-to-goodness, hold-in-your-hand, cash. And without cash, you can’t get into an albergue or buy a meal. The only cash machine in town has run out of money. I used my last euro at a wonderful lunch in Acebo. I planned to get more at the next cash machine.

St. Phil, the jokester, whom I haven’t mentioned in a while, decides to play a little trick on me instead and lets all the cash machines along the way (there aren’t many) run dry. Ha, ha.

4. My greatest tragedy happens today. It involves my beloved rain jacket.

Rip my heart, why don't you?

Rip my heart, why don’t you?

5.  After getting some money (several weird turns of events including a *gasp* ride into a city in a real car) I am enjoying my first communal meal in an albergue since day one in France.

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Suddenly a guy bursts into the dining room and frantically exclaims at the top of his lungs “WHO STOLE MY PANTS!!!???”

In the moment of silence that followed, I realize that the pair of pants he is holding up as an example of his stolen pants are MY pants, which I had washed and hung to dry outside. Then, he disappears, along with my pants.

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My goodness, my goodness.

Thank you, Camino.

Thank you, Saints.

How dreadfully boring my journey would be if I actually did have everything/anything under control. Instead, I chuckle as I write in my journal and review the day’s events.

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When a Stranger Asks You To Come In, Do You Do It? – Day 30 – Mazarife to Astorga

IMGP3985Looking on my map, I realized that this would be one of the hard days. I had to do 32 kilometers and, for me, that’s a hike.

This day would be unimaginative and tedious. A nice way to say boring.

But my saints always jumble things up for me.

More than 17 kilometers into the day, I crossed one of the most impressive medieval bridges on the Camino, the Puente de Orbigo. It is the site of a wonderful chivalric legend.IMGP3973

A knight, Don Suero de Quinones, was scorned by his lady love. In despair, he vowed to challenge all who dared cross this bridge. Knights came from all over Europe to accept his challenge but he defeated them all. He broke 300 lances of 300 challengers, which was his goal.

His mission accomplished, he went to Santiago de Campostella to give thanks to St. James for helping him forget his broken heart.

Every year there is a festival of jousting on the banks of the river crossed by this beautiful bridge. And some say that this story inspired Miguel Cervantes as he prepared to write “Don Quixote.”

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Leaving this town, the Camino became quiet and sultry. There was little breeze and the sun was bright but not hard enough to give me something to focus on. “Boy, the sun is hot.” “Should I put on another hat?” “Convert into shorts?” “Maybe stop for the day?”

None of those ideas crossed my mind. There was no good reason to stop.IMGP3980

Outside the town of Santibanez de Valdeiglesia I met him.  A nice old man, standing in front of the doors to his garage. He stopped me on the street. He waved and spoke to me in Spanish. There was no one else around either in town or walking the Camino. I was at a loss as to what he wanted.

Then I realized he wanted me to go into his house.IMGP3982

What a weird situation. The personal safety factor had long since left my mind on the Camino. I was safe. My things were safe. No one got hurt on the Camino. Well,  if they did, there were people around within minutes to help.

It was time for me to decide whether to trust all that had happened on the Camino so far or to put my street smarts into action. Number one city rule, Never Talk To Strangers. But everyone on the Camino had been a stranger and I had had nothing but good experiences.

I could only rely on my common sense and intuition. I looked him over carefully. He seemed harmless. His eyes seemed normal and friendly with no hint of crazy. What were the chances that Mr. Weirdo would be waiting on the Camino, ready to pounce on unsuspecting pilgrims as they walked along?

The dog at his feet waved his tail in a friendly manner. I checked out how I was feeling. I was taller than him by about half a head. I had two sharp hiking poles in my hand. He was older than me and he walked slightly hunched.

I warily walked through the garage doors, looking around carefully. No one lurking behind the doors. Just the sound of the breeze through the trees. I held my poles firmly and followed him into his back yard, his dog walking between us.

There in the yard was a cherry tree. The man spoke to me in Spanish and the story began to make sense.

It was cherry season in this part of Spain and the trees all along the Camino were fully loaded. This cherry tree was no exception. Rich, ripe cherries hung heavily down, like thousands of dark red waterfalls, reaching to the ground.

And that was the problem.

“Roof,” the dog, loved cherries. He was eating all the cherries he could get his mouth around. All day, every day. Also, the birds took all the fruits from high in the tree. So the gentleman had dogs and birds eating all the cherries on his lovely tree.

He could make a cherry pie every day during the season and still not use all the cherries on this tree. So he invited pilgrims to take all the cherries they wanted, as many as they could carry, from his tree.

We struck up a conversation as best we could – my bad Spanish and his non-existent English. But his smile was friendly and he was sincere as I watched his dog eat from the tree.

I picked cherries from the tree. I put out my hand and the ones that were not over ripe became my property.

I didn’t have a bag or a basket, of course. Where did I put them? In every pocket I had. My pants, my raincoat, my shirt. I thought carefully of the effect smushed cherries would have on my clothing but there was no way I could decline this offer to pick unlimited cherries.

He showed me the antiques in his barn. I know old junk when I see it but I nodded and smiled, impressed with  his collection of . . . um . . . stuff.

He showed me a large spiral notebook he had on the table near the tree. At first I didn’t know what I was reading. But slowly I realized what the handwritten messages in the book were. This notebook was an album, going back years, of messages of thanks from pilgrims who had visited this back yard like I had.

There were thank you notes from people from all over the world. Alaska, Japan, Australia, Germany, South Africa. In all languages, thanking this man for his generosity.

He told me that, when the cherry tree is not in fruit, he offers cold drinks and cookies to the pilgrims. He does this as often as he can. He has a car but doesn’t drive it any longer so he has a neighbor or one of his children drive him into town occasionally.

The pilgrims who pass by his house every day have become a source of delight. He has met people from all over the world this way. His album is a reminder of – what? That he still has a positive impact on the world? That his life still matters to people he doesn’t even know? That kindness is still appreciated and rewarded?

That his world can be bigger than just his dog and the birds?

I had been lost in thought on how many more kilometers I had to go, how boring the walk was and how tired I was. Then, this old man stopped me with his words and hand motions to follow him through the doors.

An hour earlier, I had faced a dilemma – listen to my street smarts or my saints. The  saintly voice in my head had reminded me of my decision to not refuse anything I was offered on the Camino. It had told me that I was strong and confident and could get myself out of any danger. It had told me to let my guard down and that I was always being watched over and was safe.

I signed his book and thanked him. I gave Roof a hug and a good rub all over. The man brought out a package of cookies and I took two. They were giant and sugary. We walked back through his garage and I thanked him again for his kindness.

Did he have any idea how inappropriate it was to invite strangers into his house? Did he think that pilgrims who refused were being rude?

In another place and time, he would be visited by the local police. They would make him stop this crazy, quixotic mission.

And then his world would become a little smaller.

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Elisa’s Precio – Leon

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The magnificent Cathedral in Leon.

I planned a two-day stay in Leon. I wanted to see the sights of this great city. I wanted to get my cell phone taken care of. I wanted to walk for a day without my pack and a sense of urgency. I wanted to play tourist for 24 hours.

But instead of going all tourist-y on you, Dear Reader,  I’m going to take you down a different path.

My plan was not falling into place. I had gone to the tourist office to find a hostel and had gotten a short list of places what might fit my budget. The old section of the city was packed with short, winding streets full of people and lacked obvious street signs.

In other words, I spent alot of time trying to un-lost myself.

I went from hostel to hostel but they offered no prospect of success – “We’re all full, every place is full today!”

I decided that I would try one last spot and, if I couldn’t find a bed there, I would go to the municipal albergue, spend the night, and leave Leon in the morning.

I found the building, and buzzed. No response. I buzzed again, preparing for a walk to the muni. Suddenly, there was a voice on the intercom – “Hola!”

I said I was a peregrina and looking for a bed for two nights. The door buzzed to let me in. However, it was too short a buzz for me to get the door open and before I could turn the knob, it was locked again.

Did I really want to stay here?

I rang again and, after another long pause, the door buzzed. This time I was prepared and went inside.

I looked at the mailboxes in the darkened lobby and found the name of the hostel. Second floor. The elevator looked iffy and so small that I took the stairs. The building was really quiet. No voices from inside the apartments. No sound of traffic. Somber and breezeless, more than a little discomforting.

I knocked on the door of the hostel. I waited and waited and, just as I was about to give up, the door opened and a frazzled yet friendly looking woman welcomed me in. I must have looked a sight, tired, sweaty, leaning on my hiking poles. She motioned me to sit and wait and she disappeared down the hall of the apartment.

Five, maybe ten minutes later she returned, wiping her hands on her apron. She grabbed some keys and I followed her out of the apartment, across the landing, and into another apartment.

She explained to me that she took care of the residents, making their meals and cleaning up after them. I had never heard of peregrinos being called residents but figured it was a local thing and if there was a bed, I didn’t care what I was called.

She showed me a simple, clean room, much less expensive and much larger than other singles I had stayed in so far. There was a pleasant amount of light coming in and the street outside was quiet.

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Clean, neat, large and bright.

She showed me the tiny kitchen and the bathroom down the hall.

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The kitchen and bathroom had a surprisingly large amount of people’s stuff in them – towels, toothbrushes, plates, mugs, shampoo, a bar of soap, a half used box of laundry detergent. It looked like people lived there.

Whatever. The room would be mine for the next two nights. I didn’t ask about communal meals.

And now, Dear Reader, I’m going to do something I haven’t done before. I’m going to simply quote what I’ve written in my journal. I hope it isn’t too choppy:

I thought I was staying in a weird place, instead I was blessed – old people live in this hostel, hospitalera makes dinner, takes care of them – Great! surrounded by old people! – after shower in less than pristine bathroom (I doubt I’ll get diseases), I headed out to 1100 Mass at Cathedral – as I was leaving room, I ran into one of the residents, Elisa – at least 90, using her walker, she greeted me as she was also on her way out – I told her I was a peregrina, she began asking questions, asking if I had a “precio” – I had just told her I was on way to Mass so didn’t know if precio was something for Church? price? what? – she told me to wait – I did although it might make me late & I didn’t know what I was waiting for – she slowly returned with a picture she had made of the Cathedral! She gave it to me as a gift! – she asked me to ride the elevator down with her – how could I say no? – I squeezed in & she started telling me about all the sights I needed to see in Leon – a few minutes later we parted ways, me towards the Cathedral, she towards the park – what a blessing I had been given from a place I expected to receive bedbugs from.

I spent the rest of that day, and all of the next, wandering around Leon, visiting the park, the Cathedral, San Isodoro, San Marcos, Gaudi’s Casa de Botines, the Pantheon.

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A beautiful park.

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I’d been walking through gates on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for decades. Now, seeing these in the Cathedral, I understood.

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Gaudi’s Casa de Botines on the left, Town Hall on the right.

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Superb frescos honor the final resting place of 11 Kings, 12 Queens, and 23 Princes!

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Medallions in the historic Plaza San Marcos mark each of the major cities one goes through on the Camino de Santiago de Campostella, from Roncevalles to Santiago.

I ate good food . . .

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Can you imagine a more satisfying lunch?

. . . and met nice people, even some pilgrims I knew from previous encounters.

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Sabine and Markus.

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A Leon native and I share a photo-op with the statue of Gaudi, sketching away.

The rains came and went and the city folk paraded up and down the main thoroughfare, elegant, happy and comfortable, stylish yet open and friendly.

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A few tourists, also.

That night, I was comfortable in my room. The t.v. didn’t work so I prepared to catch up with YouTube on my iPad but Oops, no wi-fi.  It turned out that the window that let in all that lovely bright light didn’t have a shade or shutters. So all that lovely bright light came into the room at zero-dark-thirty in the morning. Oh, well.

It took me 24 hours to realize that I didn’t have to lock my door in a hostel I was sharing with a bunch of 80 and 90 year olds. What were they going to do? Sneak in while I was in the shower and take my iPad?  There’s no wi-fi. Take my phone? I couldn’t even figure the phone out and I had already had it for a month!

And I felt badly that I had only had the one encounter with Elisa, who had been so kind and seemed so happy to have someone new to talk to. I wanted to see her again. I wanted to talk with her. I hadn’t even gotten a photo of her to remind me of her face, her voice, her kindness.

Then, serendipity. She was coming in as I was going out the next afternoon and I got her photo.

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My dear Elisa.

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Elisa’s Precio

Thank you St. Julian. You done good. To quote my journal again, “On Camino, I am recipient of much more kindness than I deserve.”

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Contact – Day 27 – To Leon

IMGP3806The albergue had a nice courtyard. There were picnic tables and benches and shade provided by the surrounding building. The clothes lines, sinks for hand washing, and showers were downstairs and the water was warm and plentiful.

Sadly, the beds were upstairs and every step up felt like I had giant rocks tied to my boots.

But I found a lower bunk away from the door in the first room and claimed it for my own. It was near the window overlooking the courtyard. I learned how to spot the optimal bed for me.

  • Lower bunks are easier to get into and out of than upper ones. Upper ones, however, offer more space. For me, I go for a lower bunk simply because I don’t want to have to climb down when I’m still half asleep in the morning.
  • A bed away from the door means I’ll be away from the noise in the morning as the early risers leave.
  • Windows allow me to control the light coming into the room (I usually leave the shade up and let natural light put me to sleep and wake me up) and the air circulation

I had to wait for siesta time to finish before the local tienda opened and I could buy some food for dinner. The kitchen in the albergue was crowded – this was the municipal albergue so it was cheap and it was nice, so it was crowded.

The albergue had wi-fi.  I got my iPad and went through my e-mail. Some bad news caught my eye. I realized I really needed to talk to my children back in the States (remember, DH and I live in Germany). The albergue was noisy – groups were cooking together. I went outside to the street in front of the albergue and sat on the sidewalk. I pulled up Skype and connected. This was the first time I had been able to contact the U.S. since the start of my Camino.

DS1 and I had a long conversation. Using my iPad, I showed him where I was, the narrow street where I sat, the bistros nearby where I could have gotten a pilgrim menu if I had wanted. Seeing pilgrims sitting on the sidewalk, back against a building, was not an unusual sight on the Camino. Things can be very basic around here.

I knew I missed my children, but now I realized that I couldn’t help them. I was too far away, too invested in my journey. I couldn’t even keep up with the situation because I couldn’t get wi-fi every day, not even every hour.

But as long as I could get wi-fi then and there, I stayed and we spoke. I brought the iPad inside and panned around the dining room, where a roomful of Spanish,  French, Brazilian, and German pilgrims were sharing a meal. When they saw the screen, they waved, cheered, toasted, and send jolly greetings to America from this little town in Spain.

The pilgrims who cheered didn’t know me or my family. Yet, because of the Camino, we all felt connected when one of us, in the middle of this crazy journey, had contact with loved ones far away.  In a way, that person represented all of us who are far from home;  the further, the more heartfelt the cheering.

That night, Andres and Carlos were bunking in the same room as I, along with 20 other pilgrims. My Skype call had left me feeling sad and useless. There was so much I wanted to do to fix things but couldn’t because . . . I was walking the Camino. There was no one I could talk to.

But, wait, there was.

I shared my bad news with “the boys,” Carlos and Andres. They have children the same age as me and they understood. We talked, our first serious conversation, maybe the only serious conversation we had in the whole trip. The language barrier was significant, but they understood my distress and were cheerful, kind and supportive.

I fell asleep that night, comforted by my talks with my family and with my Camino family. We were in an albergue that allowed pilgrims to stay until 0830. Blessings! It would feel like a hotel! The sun slowly set as I listened to the last few pilgrims in the courtyard quietly laughing and talking, sharing wine and conversation.

The next morning, the people on the other side of the room couldn’t find the light switch on their side as they prepared to leave at 0545. Yes, 0545. So, they turned on the lights on our side of the room.

Most of us were fast asleep. Their noise woke me up, but I understood that they were trying to get out.

But the lights on! No, no, no!  Couldn’t they see we were asleep?? Did they think we wouldn’t mind being awakened at that hour? Did they think we would appreciate their “wake up call?” Did they think I secretly wanted to see the stars disappear and the sun rise on the Camino?

If so, they were greatly mistaken.

I tried, oh how I tried, to ignore them. But, Big Tess suddenly took hold of me. Was it the conversations last night? Was it my feeling of helplessness?

I crawled out of my sleeping bag. I walked over to the light switch. I gave a very dirty look to the pilgrim who had turned the light on. Making sure I could be seen by all, I indignantly flipped off the light switch with a scowl and strode back to my bed and my nice, warm, sleeping bag. I was going to get that hour of sleep, even if I had to punch somebody to get it.

And then, I turned, went back, and also closed the door to the noisy hallway.

From inside his sleeping bag, a hand poked out and Andres gave me a sleepy thumbs up.

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A Kick in the Heart and a Very Short Post – Day 26 – Mansilla to Leon

How do I write about this day?

This was a day that would take me from the tiniest and emptiest of villages to the huge city of Leon. I would walk solo for the longest stretches, and also have some of the most meaningful conversations with strangers I’d had yet. I would wind up staying in the oddest pension I’ve ever stayed in, and walk away with a lump in my throat and a souvenir that I will always treasure.  Family would join me with an unexpected kick in the heart.

My saints would be with me, and I would need them.

Looking over my journal for this day, I realize it would make several chapters of a book. How to condense it for a blog?? What do I cut out? What person do I shortchange?

I planned to stay in Leon for two days because I had heard about the Cathedral, because most pilgrims stayed in Leon for two days, and because I wanted to take a rest. But this day alone covers six pages in my journal even though my notes and photos are only designed to jog my memory.

  • Unexpected news from home, which I share with my new family
  • Theresa gives me the guts and I earn a thumbs up
  • I stop carrying around other people’s fears
  • Mr. Coffee rescues a bar
  • My “language skills” help an Australian get a ride to Leon
  • I have an unforgettable talk with a local
  • Raneros, in the flesh
  • Irony at a bus stop in the city
  • Many unnecessary kilometers of walking in the city, searching for necessities
  • I expire on the road
  • Dad sends me a message, although he passed away two years ago

Seeing the Cathedral is the least important thing that happens this day. And day 2 in Leon is another 7 pages.

I am daunted as I try to write. I’m not blocked. I’m overwhelmed.

Any suggestions??

I Get a Camino Family – Day 24 – Sahagun to El Burgo Ranero

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I had cancelled my reservation for the community dinner at the convent the evening before so I could go to the bullfight. In return, I made a reservation for breakfast in the morning.

I arrived with the last wave for breakfast and enjoyed the food and conversation.  When the last hospitalero (I’m not sure if she was a nun or not) came into the breakfast room and saw that I didn’t have breakfast in front of me (it had already been cleared away), she insisted upon getting me breakfast. No amount of Spanish on my part could convince her – I knew she understood what I was saying  – that I had already eaten.

In case you’re wondering, breakfast consisted of cafe con leche, some cellophaned croissants, butter, jam, a juice box, and a sandwich to take on the road. If this sounds spartan, please don’t think so. The breakfast was fine and I was grateful for anything offered with a glad heart. All I really ate in the mornings was coffee and maybe a croissant anyway, so this was more than I usually had before getting on the road.

Understand my predicament, then, when the woman in the convent made me sit and have a second breakfast. Coffee, I would drink, no problem. juice, OK, I’m always thirsty. But I already had the first sandwich tucked into my backpack, knowing in my heart that I would not eat it.

And yet, refusing food, in a convent, would probably upset the mojo of the Camino big time.

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Breakfast number two just for me.

So I ate another croissant, drank more coffee and juice, and tucked sandwich number two next to its brother in my pack and set out.

I soon had to decide which path to take.

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Why all the graffiti?

The guidebook listed two choices on this relentlessly hot day. Option one, recommended,  would take me along the ancient Roman road. Historic, yes, but flat, shadeless, and with only one water stop. The other, the Real Camino Frances (that is, Real as in “Royal,” not as in “not fake”) would follow a road.

I decided that I had had enough of ancient roads, historic bridges, and centuries-old churches for a while. The path along the road, which is called a senda, looked straight and well maintained. I decided to take the way that offered a stop (and a bathroom) about halfway.

I took the not-recommended route.

Dear reader, you expect this to turn out badly, but it turned out well in every way. The road had very few cars. The senda was tree-lined and brush free, making it comfortable to walk.

I walked under a little metal archway, an art installation by the local government. It made me think of all the people whom I had not met and would never meet, but who had thought about me, walking the Camino in their town, and who wanted to show that they were aware of my travel. They wanted to give me a sign that I was not forgotten and was well thought of. They wanted to give me a work of art. I cherished that little archway as I passed under it and said thanks to the artist and the people who approved it.

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IMGP3779 At the halfway point, Bercianos del Real Camino, I ran into a home of one of my saints who I have not mentioned in a while. St. Roque (“row-KAY” in Spanish, “Rocky” to his friends) had an inauspicious little “ermitage” next to the bar where I  stopped for a drink. This bar was one of only two places on the Camino where I thirstily downed two sodas in the middle of the morning.

I was very surprised to find Rocky in this most unexpected place. Once again, this ermitage (hermitage) was not on the map.  St. Christopher was apparently guiding my steps. IMGP3780

The ermitage was locked so I couldn’t go in. It probably would not have been much to see anyway.

No great altar, no gold statues, no ceiling up to heaven. Just a simple hermitage, a place of solitude, introspection, and local devotion. It would be meaningful for me only because these weird encounters with my saints  kept happening.

When I settled in at the municipal albergue in El Burgo Ranero at the end of the day, I met Otto, who was Austrian and ran a ski resort and hotel. I also ran into  M.L, whom you may remember had called the albergue at San Juan de Ortega a “hell hole” and was complaining about the conditions in this town now. I had walked part of that day with a woman named Deana, who was English but lived in Germany. And I was happy to meet up again with  Dave and Rena, the newly weds from my first day on the Camino – we had been passing each other for weeks.

But I was happiest to catch up with my two Spanish friends, Andres and Juan Carlos. Our language skills were terrible – my Spanish, their English – but they were funny, they were sweet and they were helpful.  We were similar ages, and similarly enjoyed being among the last to fall asleep and the last to get out in the morning.  They had both been on the Camino before and were enjoying themselves immensely, each for wildly different reasons. Our conversations struck a chord and we became Camino family members.

I, who had decided to travel solo, discovered that just knowing that friends were up ahead or just behind added pleasure to my journey. I liked knowing that there could be familiar faces at the end of the day to share stories with.

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Carlos, me and Andres at Bercianos del Real Camino.

Consequences of Sharing a Room with a Stranger – Day 22 – Carrion de los Condes to Terradillos

The meseta. Ah, the meseta.

Long, straight, flat.

Boring.

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Can any good come from walking this long, unwavering line?

My friends, the Camino is full of surprises. Expect the unexpected and be open to unanticipated consequences.

It took a good seven hours to get to the next town. It was sunny, hot and dry.

Leave it to St. Philip, the “humorous” saint, to put me in a situation in which I WANTED a bit of water from the sky. Ha, ha, if you’ve been following my tale from the soggy beginning.

I arrived at the albergue late in the day but was not happy to find that there was no more room in the bunk bed (cheap) side of the building. If I wanted to stay at this albergue, I would have to stay in the hotel side in either a double (I was solo) or in a single.

As I dug through my meager assortment of euros, I sadly faced the fact that this night was going to blow my budget big time. I considered the idea of walking to the next albergue, although chances that there would be room were slipping away with every minute of hesitation. Plus, I would face at least three and a half more kilometers of walking in the heat.

I must have looked pretty distressed because the hospitalero decided to give me a break on the price of the single and I decided to take it.

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I had my own bathroom and took a leisurely shower. I dried myself with their towels! Yay for me!!  I hand washed my clothes in the horse-trough looking tub they had out back and hung them up – they would be dry within an hour. My sleeping bag would stay in my pack tonight – I was going to sleep on clean, white sheets tonight, baby!!

I ambled over to the dining room/bar in the front of the albergue, bought a glass of cold white wine,  sat at a table on the grass, and took off my sandals. I could begin to write in my journal. The sun would set in a few hours and I officially considered this day over.

My friends, Carlos and Andres, came up the Camino hoping for a room. I told them I thought the albergue was full but told them to give it a try. Sadly, they had to move on to the next town before they would be able to stop for the night.

Sipping, writing, I met a New York Puerto Rican, Damian.  A fellow pilgrim, we instantly became friends.

I’m Puerto Rican. Rather, New Yor-Rican. Second generation, my Spanish language skills were basically non-existent at the start of my trip but my Spanish cultural skills are pretty good.  And, although I’ve lived in many, many countries, I think New York City is the Capital of the World (sorry, rest of the world). I hope you can see why Damian and I would get along.

Damian and I sat outside in the sun and talked. He translated when a fellow pilgrim had a really nasty blister crisis and needed to get to a hospital. We talked about why we were each on the Camino. We had another wine, then went inside and had a forgettable Pilgrim menu dinner.

Ah, Camino, you work in mysterious ways.

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Damian had done a good thing. He had shown up at the albergue shortly after me. Remember that there was only a single and a double available when I arrived? I took the single. He could take the double or keep on walking. He had taken the double.

Along came a pilgrim, looking for a bed. Sadly, the albergue was full.

But Damian did what any pilgrim would have done. He offered the pilgrim, whose name was “C,” the other bed in his double, if she wouldn’t mind sharing a room with a stranger and splitting the cost.

Sharing a room with a stranger is not as unusual as you may think, dear reader. Every night on the Camino has been spent sharing a room with strangers, men and women, young and old, snoring, scratching, farting, laughing, coughing, packing, in various stages of dress and undress. Nothing means anything anymore. It’s all about helping each other, being considerate of each other, and getting a good night’s sleep.

So Damian and C shared a room that night. The room next door to mine, in fact. And those walls were gossamer thin.

They talked well into the night.

About what, you are indelicately wondering? Strangers, brought together by the Camino? A charming, good-looking, single man from New York and an exhilarating, likeable, single woman from Germany? Both having been through the good and bad of life and now walking the Camino looking for . . . what?

What could they talk about until falling asleep?

Blisters, my friend. Blisters.

Who has how many where. What caused them. What remedies they’ve heard of. What worked. What didn’t. What they might try. What they hadn’t tried yet. Socks. How many layers of socks. Shoes. Boots. Sandals. Powders. Creams. Wraps.

I fell asleep to the sound of them discussing their blisters.

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They left early the next morning.

Although I never saw either of them again, I have it on very good authority that they walked the rest of the Camino together.

And that, my dear reader, is the endearingly sweet and mysterious way in which the Camino occasionally brings people together and brings them what they didn’t know they were looking for.