Tender Hospitaleros and Seven Hours Without Rain – Day 20 – Castrojeriz to Fromista

This would be one of the best days ever for me on the Camino.

I awoke gently from a very sound and comfortable sleep to the distant sound of church bells ringing. Slowly, the bells worked  their way into my consciousness.

Well, not exactly.

The volume slowly (quickly, if you are being awakened) increased, getting louder and louder until the bed shook and it felt as if I was sleeping in the belfry. I had never heard bells ring so loudly. I was definitely awake.

The ringing was soon replaced by the gentle sound of Gregorian Chant, a more peaceful and civilized way to wake pilgrims from a long rest. The hospitaleros had a reason for warning everyone not to get up earlier than 0630 – the bells and chants were their own surprise way of being everyone’s alarm clock, courtesy of loudspeakers in each room.

The hospitaleros were kind and gentle . . .

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. . . and worked hard to put a smile on everyone’s face. Although there was no kitchen for the pilgrims, the hospitaleros had a small kitchenette in which they prepared a much appreciated breakfast of coffee, bread, and butter/jelly, etc. for all the pilgrims to enjoy in preparation for the day’s journey.

The hospitaleros were sad to see me go . . .

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. . . but the knowledge that I was heading for a majorly steep hill, with the promise of lots of rain and mud, was irresistible and I was off.

The climb up to Alto de Mostelares was not as difficult as I thought it would be and the view back into the valley, with Castrojeriz now in the distance, was magnificent (although overcast).

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The path was wide and not rocky and there were many pilgrims around to talk with.

When the wetness ended, the loveliness of the meseta began again. The fields were beautifully green and lush and the flowers were all in bloom, with a delicate explosion of red poppies everywhere – is this the national flower of Spain?

For the rest of the day, the Camino was flat and easy. I walked past the ancient Ermita de San Nicolas, a popular albergue which lacks modern comforts such as electricity and phone service, but makes up for it with its  cloister-like atmosphere and communal meals.

I decided to call it a day in Boadilla del Camino and looked for a place to stay. But the albergue I had my eye on had only upper bunks available by the time I arrived, late lunch time.

I searched my soul, checked my feet, and realized that I still had kilometers left in me. So I downed a bocadillo (sandwich) and a beer at a picnic table and, although many pilgrims were ending their walks, I set off again, in spite of a sudden downpour that had everyone who was eating lunch outside racing for cover.

I found myself walking along the most peaceful stretch of Camino I had walked on. This was the charming Canal de Castilla, a 3-kilometer long straight stretch of Camino .  With no pilgrim in front of me nor behind me, I had the path to myself. The clouds began to break up and patches of baby blue gradually grew larger overhead.

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The rustle of the wind in the trees along the canal, the birds, frogs, and insects that called to each other, announcing their sexy ( I assume) presence, the lack of human voices,  and the exhilarating  realization that I was meandering, taking photos and making recordings of any quiet spot I might not want to forget, made this my best day on the Camino yet.

Just outside Fromista, the canal dipped into a series of locks. A “pilgrim” had a tent pitched next to the canal – he said he was trying to work his way back home to the Czech Republic. We talked about the Camino. I offered him a euro. He accepted.

I strolled into Fromista.

The Iglesias de San Martin in Fromista was consecrated in 1066 and stands as one of the most handsome examples of Romanesque architecture in Spain. The afternoon light gave it a glowing radiance, like a miniature Christmas house lit from inside with a candle. The calm coolness inside was a fitting end for my quiet day on the Camino.

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The gentleman who was manning the ticket booth for the church was the parish priest, covering for the real ticket taker, who was on his lunch break. The Priest told me that this church was only one of seven for which he was responsible. Busy man. He reverently blessed my rosary.

I was able to Skype and phone my family and had a great meal of “black rice.” I ran into some familiar faces from the Camino. I didn’t know it at the time, but some of these people would become my dearest Camino family in the days and weeks to come.

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Camino minus 11 – He’s Got Superpowers!

I like St. Christopher, but not for the reason you think.
St. Christopher is an obvious choice to take as my “wing man” on my Camino. He is the patron saint of travelers. When you see his picture or statue (look for him on dashboards) he is the tall man holding a child on his shoulders.

But for me, alas, he raises many questions. Let me review his story for you.

Legend has it that he was a very large man – tall, not fat. A little over seven feet tall, by some accounts. He wanted to serve the greatest there was, so he decided to serve the King. But, one day, he saw the King bow down and cross himself. When he asked why he did that, the King told him that he was afraid of the devil.

So, Christopher says to himself, Hey, Here’s a guy even the King is afraid of. I’m going to serve him! So off he goes to find the devil.

Soon, he comes to a dark, scary forest. He’s a big guy, so he isn’t afraid, but soon he finds a band of robbers. They’re pretty bad and one of them calls himself the devil. St. Christopher says Aha, I’ve been looking for you! And he joins the robbers. But, one day, he saw the robber who was called the devil bow down and cross himself. When he asked why the devil did that, the devil said he was afraid of Christ.

So, St. Christopher says to himslef, Hey, here’s a guy even the devil is afraid of. I’m going to serve him so off he goes to find Christ.

Soon, he meets a hermit living in a cave by a river. He asks the hermit if he knows where to find Christ. The hermit says, Sure, and begins to teach St. Christopher about Christ. Pretty soon, Chris becomes a Christian.

How can I serve Christ? Christopher wants to know. Well, the hermit says, You can fast and pray. Christopher thinks about it and says, No, I don’t think I can do that. Is there anything else I can do? The hermit thinks and says, You’re big and strong. Why don’t you help carry people across this river. Everyone always has a hard time doing that. Christopher says, Great and so begins his job as traveler carrier.

One day, a child comes along and says, Hey, can you get me to the other side and Chris says Sure. But halfway across, while Chris is carrying the kid (you know who) on his shoulders, the child gets really heavy and the river gets really crazy. He has to work really hard to get the kid across but he does.

Once on the other side, Christopher says, Wow, kid, you were really heavy to carry and the kid says, Oh,yeah? Well, I’m Christ and I carry the sins of the world on my shoulders! Then he disappears!

The end.

O.k. I have a few problems with this story.

1. Why did people cross the river at the worst part of the river. Why didn’t they just go to a better part of the river and cross?
2. Boats had been invented. And rafts. So why did Christopher have to walk people across? Why not ferry them?
3. Didn’t anyone think it was weird that this little kid needed to cross the river by himself? There were no adults with him? Even in olden days, people took care of their children and didn’t let them travel alone.
4. Didn’t the hermit get mad? I mean, there he was, fasting and praying and living in a cave and who does Christ show up to? The new guy!

But here’s what I like about this story.

Christopher made up his own mind. He used his eyes to observe what people around him were doing. He thought the king was the greatest, then the devil, but changed his mind based on what he saw. He had no problem saying, Well, I guess I was wrong and continuing his search for truth.

When the hermit told him how to serve Christ, Christopher knew enough about himself to know that there were better options.

From a Church built on obedience, here’s a saint who says, humbly to be sure, Well, yes, I understand what you’re saying, but I think there might be a better way for me to serve Christ.

Mother Theresa taught school in India for 20 years, then decided that a better way for her to serve would be to be with the poorest of the poor. She got push-back from some of her superiors but she knew better than they how she could serve Christ best.

That’s why I’ll take Chris with me. He was practical and reality based. He trusted his instincts and wasn’t afraid to keep looking for the real deal.

And he has that superpower of getting through rivers.

Yes. I can use someone like that on my team.

Camino minus 23 – Too Late

This is going to be quick. Several things have happened today and it’s just been busy.

1. Went to the doctor to get blood work and x-rays – no problems, just want to make sure everything is in good shape for the trip.

2. The shoes I wrote about a few posts ago came in. I barely had time to open the box, much less try them on. Tomorrow. I promise.

3. Found a new place to get really fine coffee. And I needed some this morning because I had to do the starvation thing before I got that blood work drawn (don’t eat for 12 hours, etc.), which I didn’t get done until about 1 p.m. No coffee until after lunch? Grrrrr. Found out too late that black coffee would have been fine.

4. IKEA didn’t have the stuff I was looking for.  BLAH   😛    (Are people still allowed to use manual emoticons?)

5. I learned that the library cannot keep track of the books I borrow (I knew that, of course; I was around for Bush II when librarians took the lead in standing up for privacy) but I can!!  Good news because I always borrow about 2,000 pages worth of books from the library each week, knowing that I can realistically read maybe 20 pages in that time. But I’m addicted to the “new non-fiction” book shelf at the library. Now I can keep track of the books I don’t get to finish.

6. I had the most delicious pasta shells caprese at a snack bar on base. A new addiction.

7. Writing is more fun sometimes than watching Star Trek re-runs.

Sorry. I had hoped to make this a tidy list of ten but I can only come up with seven. This may be God’s way of telling me to call it a night.

8. Discovered that emoticons are a fun way to drive your spell check crazy.And that spell check cannot handle an emoticon with a tongue sticking out.

Camino minus 27 – Holey Soles

Today I tracked down another sporting goods store. My dear friend had told me about two stores, one in town, one about 10 minutes outside. I found the one in town a few days ago and drooled over the nice equipment. Today I went to the other, smaller, less fashion conscious store. More boots, backpack, MUCH bigger catalog.

I also corresponded with an on-line Camino Forum friend who has a pair of tech pants to sell. Those are pants designed for outdoor wear. Not denim, nor any kind of cotton, which has become anathema in outdoor wardrobe. Actually, there is a difference between tech clothing and “normal” clothes.  Tech clothing, usually a combination of polyester and other stuff, is lighter, yet not lightweight. The fabric wicks moisture (formerly known as “sweat”) and dries quickly. These materials can comfortably handle a day of outdoor activity. I wouldn’t wear them to chop logs, but for hiking, sure.

Unfortunately, I had to do a fast 180 on those pants when I ran into the boots crisis I wrote about a few days ago. My on-line  friend is on her way out the door to begin her adventure and wants to know if I’m still interested. I asked her about the length of the zipper in the front. If the zipper is short, I’ll know they are women’s pants designed more for fashion than for practicality and are designed to sit, sexily, at the hips. If the zipper is long, I’ll know they are designed to head up to the waist and will stay put in spite of all the things I’ll need to pack around the waist – belt, power bars, euros, Kleenex, and my own personal “muffin top,” and I don’t mean Betty Crocker, although that lady may have had something to do with it.

I bought some tech wash and “Impregnator” from the second store. Tech wash is the special laundry soap you use on those pieces of outdoor clothing you spent tons of money on – or got a great discount on – and don’t want to have disintegrate too quickly. Fancy fleece, down, socks. “Impregnator” is the stuff you spray on your formerly waterproof items to make them waterproof again. I have a beloved red rain jacket that has seen me through miles of adventure and will go with me again this time. However, I think I’ve washed it once in ten years.

Hey, it doesn’t really get dirty.  Don’t judge me!

But I don’t think it’s waterproof anymore. I’ll find a German friend who can translate the directions and I’m sure my jacket will turn out great. Or it may simply dissolve as I spray, like sneezing on cotton candy.

Imagine my delight in announcing to DH when he got home, “Guess what, honey? I was hanging around in town and found a spray impregnator!”

Downstairs of today’s store brought me face to face with a rack of Crocs. Those ugly, plastic shoes. People who wear them swear by them and Camino people have praised their comfort at the end of the day when they need another pair of shoes for tired toes to retreat into. I had walked to the store in my old, worn out pair of low tops. The sides are bursting, the toe stops in the front are peeling away from the shoe, there are holes in the soles so water cannot stay out. They are, of course, as comfortable as a pair of slippers. And as 800 km trek worthy.

Perhaps I should take those instead of the sandals I bought a month ago.

This second store also had a sleeping bag liner, 100% silk, for half the price I’ve seen anywhere else.

Tempting. Silk. Ahhhh.

But the more I spend on this side of the trip, the less I’ll have available when I hit day 14 on the Camino and need to spend a day in a luxury hotel, with room service and hot showers.

I need to do more walking outdoors and less in sporting stores.

Camino minus 28 – How Many Grams does God Weigh?

I did get out this morning, but it was hard. The weather was too lovely to resist – it was perfect “drive-the-Fiat-convertible- top-down” weather but I resisted driving and walked instead. I couldn’t fall asleep last night so I overslept, was tired, and ran behind schedule so driving would have been soooo lovely and convenient. But I walked. And it was hard.

Today was a busy Wednesday. I have a German class every Wednesday at lunch time.   But I have had trouble getting there on time since I determined Wednesday would be my “walk to Patch” day. Walking on German class day means I have to leave the house extra early in order to arrive on time and, well, I just don’t seem to be able to do it.

Today I had lunch with a woman who is planning to walk the Camino with a friend this coming July a few days after I plan to be back home. Her girlfriend is the driving force behind their Camino. She herself is just returning from a trip to Barcelona! Plus, she is a very experienced traveller/walker, so I doubt she will have any trouble.

Her boyfriend is concerned about her safety. I told her that, on the on-line Forum, she will find answers to questions about the safety of women traveling solo (safe enough) but I don’t recall questions about safety of women who are traveling in groups. It doesn’t seem to be a concern. She mentioned the sleeping arrangements and I never thought of them as threatening – up to a hundred people of all ages sleeping in bunk beds in the same room.

I feel more threatened about body odor and snorers.

And I didn’t mention bedbugs. I don’t want to think about them, why get someone else all riled up.

She asked good questions about how to get the biggest “bang for the buck” when walking, since they have a limited time for their walk. They want to get a Campostella, the certificate issued at the Cathedral  in Santiago de Campostella signifying that you walked at least the last 100 kilometers, yet they also want to hit the important cathedrals in northern Spain. They are also considering walking in the Pyrenees because it will be a much cooler walk (temperature-wise) during July. However, the Pyrenees part of the walk is 800 kilometers from the Cathedral in Santiago.

She asked me several questions about spirituality and what role spirituality played/ is playing/ will play in my Camino. Difficult, difficult questions. One writer whose Camino book I’ve read, Kevin Codd’s To the Field of Stars, mentions how the writer got into the rhythm of starting each day of his walk saying the rosary. I’ve started that and found it useful. It let’s my mind focus on things, people, other than my self (my feet, my back, my thirst).

At this point, however, I’ve been able to brush aside the big spiritual questions as I prepare the practical, technical items I’ll need – passport (check), sunblock (check). I seem to be avoiding working on the most difficult aspect of the Camino:

What, if anything, do I hope to get out of this? Why am I doing this?

The obvious answer is that you can’t prepare in advance for this. The Camino will provide what you need. Some pilgrims don’t seem to get anything out of it and are disappointed. I hope that will not be me. One pilgrim suggests that you can’t find God at the end of the Camino if you don’t bring him with you from the beginning.

Great. More stuff I have to bring.

KIDDING!!!!

Camino minus 29 Days – Grand Malaise

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The definition of “malaise” is “a general feeling of discomfort, illness, or uneasiness, whose exact cause is difficult to identify.”

My training plan was to walk a few miles every day and I usually do. Today, however, I just couldn’t get the energy. Not enough sleep? Too much walking? Bad breakfast?

I don’t know but I couldn’t get it together until too late in the day to go out.

I have the feeling I have things on my mind simmering too far below the surface to be thought through, yet too close to the surface to be ignored. I feel restless, but can’t move.

The Camino has me in a holding pattern. There isn’t much I can do to get ready now except walk.

I have my backpack and my boots are on the way. I don’t need any more clothes (OK, maybe a new pair of pants and a warm weather shirt).  I have five pairs of socks.

The other things I need to pack are all minor – gloves, Compeed, zip-loc bags.

I’ve read books and articles about the Camino, been a Camino Forum member and asked questions of experienced “peregrinos.”

I’ve watched videos on YouTube and I’ve made the few reservations that I need.

I have walked the miles to Patch often enough that, although still challenging, I know I can do it. I’ve participated in long Volksmarches.

I’ll wash and waterproof my ol’ faithful red rain jacket.

I’m running out of ways to prepare. I am in danger of overpreparing.

Because I’ll be gone for five weeks, I can’t get involved in long-term projects (the theater, learning long-arm quilting, developing a plan to teach) until I return.

With only a month to go, I don’t have time to get involved in short-term projects either  (making a quilt, starting an on-line class, starting just about anything).

I’m on the runway waiting for launch.

I looked up the definition of pilgrimage and came up with several suggestions.

” . . . a journey to a place associated with someone or something well known or respected . . . ” – New Oxford American Dictionary

” . . . a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance . . .” – Wikipedia

” . . . a journey in which one travels a distance to pay their respects to a religious icon . . . ” – Ask.com

” . . . a ritual journey with a hallowed purpose . . . ” – Illuminated Journey

” . . . a long journey or search, especially on of exalted purpose or moral significance . . . ” – the Free Dictionary

” . . . invitations from God to visit spiritual locations and signposts left behind by God . . . ” – 206Tours.com

” . . . a personal invitation from God . . . ” – Medjugorje.org

Surprisingly, some of the most heartfelt and thoughtful came from tour companies selling trips to pilgrimage sites.

I hope that tomorrow I have the energy to get out and do what I need to do. Tomorrow is my big trek day of the week (walk to Patch) and the more I do it, the less I look forward to it. I know the parts that are hard and don’t want to do them. I know the parts that are boring and long to take my headphones.

I know I have to go if the weather is rainy, or wet, or cold and I just DON’T WANT TO DO IT!

I need a good night’s sleep.

Camino minus 30 Days – Am I Bigfoot?

I spent an hour and a half on the phone with my mother, catching up on news. It’s not surprising how much you miss when you’re 3,000 miles from home. She has heard about my Camino trip from the children. She doesn’t know much about it, but she has always been my most fervent supporter of any adventurous inclination I have displayed, justified or not. My Camino is no exception.

Tell me all about it, she asks enthusiastically. But how can I tell her about an adventure I haven’t been on yet? I struggle to describe what I’ve heard of other people’s experiences, but I know I’m being false and I quickly surrender.

Go to the library and get this movie, “The Way,” I tell her. We’ll talk about it next week.  That way, I commit myself to calling next week, which I want to do but too often get caught up in other things. Really, what’s more important than talking to your mother????

I ordered new boots last night. My old faithful ones, the ones I had planned on using for the Camino, had suddenly, inexplicably, given me the dreaded “black toe” last week while on a routine 11 km hike. I was totally dumbfounded. This was a walk I have done, same boots, same socks, same backpacks, numerous times in the past two months. Yet, this time, I found myself consciously pulling my right foot back at each footfall in order to not have the toe press against the front of the boot. What’s going on here?

I’ve had the Black Toe before from shoes that didn’t fit correctly and even from simple overuse in fairly well-fitting shoes, but I thought I had these boots well broken in. Now, with only 30 days to go, I have to hope and pray that the shoes I ordered would a) arrive on time, and b) fit.

For days before hitting the “submit order” button on the Zappos website, I had spent time in local sporting goods stores trying the shoes of my choice, based on internet recommendations – a pair of Merrell Moab Ventilators. My feet had perversely decided to change sizes on me at the last minute, just to mess with my mind, so I couldn’t just order shoes of the same size as I had worn for the past year. I never wear the same size twice.

I’m glad I did because it turns out that I don’t wear a size 41, the size I have been wearing – comfortably – until last week. Now, I need a size 43.

Men’s!

Until I tried on these new shoes and enjoyed the comfort, I had been feeling so good about my physical condition. Weight holding steady, blood pressure down dramatically, able to climb gentle hills without huffing and puffing, no longer dreading the uphill walk to the apartment and the accompanying three flights of stairs. But now, realizing the delight my toes are signalling to my brain in these new shoes at the store, I suspect that blood, bone, and excess fat had simply slithered down to my feet, providing a false sense of cushy, soft, marshmallowy security. Now, I realize where all the weight has shifted to – into my big, fat, magically-mutated-into-a-man’s foot.

Only one foot, though, the right one. The left one still feels feminine at a dainty size 41.

*Sigh* I’m so not ready for this trip. In so many ways.