This Time Last Year

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My DH and I were a few months away from celebrating 38 wonderful years of marriage. The children were grown and our lives had taken us to many places around the world, places I had never dreamed I would see, much less live in. We had recently moved to another country and were enjoying the adventure of getting settled. We were working on where to store Christmas items in our new apartment.

But I had other plans also and I knew they wouldn’t include him. I was going to walk the Camino Frances soon.

I didn’t know exactly when or how. I didn’t know exactly where. I especially didn’t know why.

I hadn’t made any transportation arrangements because I had no clue how to get from where I was to where I thought I might need to be. I didn’t believe in hiking poles – too dorky. I was a good (what’s good about it?) twenty pounds overweight and I’m being kind. I didn’t have hiking boots.

The only thing I had going for me was that I liked walking although I sometimes found it boring.

I had decided to walk the Camino Frances and I had broken the news to my DH just after Thanksgiving. Would he be OK with it? It would cost us money and time. Lots of time but I had no clue  how much.

Not even my children really knew what I was up to.

“Mom’s thinking about going for a long walk.” What did that mean???

You don’t choose the Camino. It chooses you. And I had been chosen. But try to explain that to people who want to know why you want to walk across the top of Spain.

The ancestry of the Camino Frances sits squarely on a pilgrimage. But I’d never been religious enough to feel drawn to religious sites. I’d never felt compelled to visit places noted for miracles. And my life was relatively happy – no need to do penance or suffer to set things straight.

I was an older woman, inactive for many, many years, suddenly possessed by an idea that no one I knew had ever done before or even heard of.

It was time to give this some serious thought.

Day 35 – Vega de Valcarce to Fonfria

Since Juan Carlos, Andres and I had spent the night in our own house, we slept as late as we wanted and were out on the road when we felt like it – 0830.

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We hung around the village to return the landlady’s house key and thank her for a great stay in a nice home. As we lingered over breakfast, who should wander up but Christine, our Camino family member who had decided to stay someplace else the night before (missed out on those Spanish movie musicals, tsk, tsk).

Then, we were off. Up, up and away.

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The walk to O’Cebreiro was challenging but not impossible. The weather was great – I began to wonder if I had seen the last of my wet Camino and should consider zipping the bottoms off my pants. But I also knew we were entering one of the wettest regions of Spain, so, no.

Juan Carlos kept me laughing as he continually underestimated the distance we had to walk – two kilometers when it was actually four, four kilometers when it was ten!!

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Welcome to Galicia.

The countryside reminded me of weeks earlier when I had been a novice pilgrim, making my way through the rolling hills of Navarra.  Alone, alert to the yellow arrows  along the way, I remembered the vineyards I walked through and the mud.

I remembered looking through rain dripping off the brim of the baseball cap I wore under my rain jacket hood as I tried to keep my glasses dry and fog free.

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I remembered the determination as pilgrims, strangers to each other, encouraged each other to the top of the hill which we promised was just around the bend up ahead, and which never was.

Now I was dry and following the arrows was second nature.

I no longer noticed my backpack anymore than you, dear reader, notice the shirt you are wearing right now.

These strangers whom I was walking with could crack the right jokes to make me laugh out loud. I knew I would be missing them all too soon.

We crossed into Galicia and found the stone markers that would lead us the final kilometers to Santiago. Was it possible? Were there really only that many kilometers to go?? Had I really walked all that distance? I still felt so good!

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O’Cebreiro was beautiful, an unexpectedly active village on the top of a mountain, full of pilgrims and souvenir shops.

I was told that the church, Santa Maria la Real, was said to have held a relic of the original Crucifix. I prayed accordingly, wondering if my Saints had traveled with me all this distance so they could get to this place. I told them I was grateful for all the help they had given me on this journey.

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About 15 minutes later I learned that, um, no, there weren’t any cross relics here.

Wrong legend.

It was the resting place for Don Elias Valina Sampedro, (1929 – 1989). He was the parish priest who gave birth to the modern Camino, as a way to help his tiny little parish.

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He knew his village was on the route of the ancient Camino and wanted to try to bring people back to, or at least through, the village. He brought his idea to the local leaders and they said OK, but you’re on your own. So, he went to the public works guys who were working on the roads and got their leftover paint.

That ubiquitous yellow paint.

With permission, of course, he painted arrows along the way to help pilgrims find their way from one end  of the village to the other. Slowly, the arrows extended to the other towns along the way and, well, here we are today, more than  200,000 pilgrims this year alone.

I was ready to call it a day at O’Cebreiro but the family insisted that we continue so on we went.

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I hadn’t expected Alto de Poio to be the highest point on the Camino Frances – I had thought that was O’Cebreiro. But it is, with 1,330 meters compared to O’Cebreiro puny 1,300 meters. Done on the same day at O’C, it is just as challenging.

We stopped for drinks but all we could find were sodas from vending machines. But where was Juan Carlos? We couldn’t find him anywhere. Christine and I waited outside, cooling off, while Andres went to find his wayward brother. Finally, he found him and ushered us inside the local pilgrim office.

There was Juan Carlos, happily surrounded by dozens of old ledgers. He had looked through many, many of them to find one particular one. Years earlier, on another Camino, he had signed his name in the books kept by many places, and this was one of the few places where he could find that book again if he was lucky. He was, and we gazed at his signature and notes from way back then, his past self giving a note of encouragement to this, his future self.

We found the new book and added our names and notes. Maybe one day our future selves will climb this mountain again and remember this moment in time.

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That day, we didn’t arrive at the albergue until after 7 p.m. We each fended for ourselves for dinner and I ate something at the albergue’s  bar while I blogged.

Our big break, however, was in our accommodations.

Because we had gotten there so late and there were four of us, the bunk beds in the main bunk-bed room were taken. The hospitaleros generously opened the overflow room for us and gave us the pick of the beds. But these were not ordinary beds.

Now, class, if you open you IKEA catalogs to the teenagers’ rooms section, you will see those lovely bunk beds that are double beds on the bottom and twin beds up top. Since the four of us were expected to be  among the last to arrive, we were invited to each have a bottom, double bed, to ourselves!

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My bed is last on the left row, closest to the back wall. Christine has the bed across from me, the boys closer to the camera. One purple mat is in front of the shower, the other in front of the bathroom.

We had our own bathroom and shower in the room. This was lucky because I had gone to the crowded bunk-bed room to take a shower and went to the men’s shower room by mistake. You may use your imagination to figure out how I realized it was the men’s shower room (not by the tiny little man stick figure sign practically hidden away not in the center of the door).

The community room had comfortable chairs and a fireplace. Pilgrims shared a few bottles of wine. There were books about the Camino and about Spain. There were books about Galicia. The boys showed me a coffee table book of  Santander, their home city.

Night fell. I fell asleep in the security of friends and strangers. But sad.

I was so close to Santiago. Was the adventure ending??

Not by a long shot.

Video? – Day 33 – Molinaseca to Villafranca

Still feel like a gorilla with a computer.

I’ve been working for many days on embedding this YouTube video into this blog. I still haven’t gotten it right.

Put on headphones if you’re watching this at work.

A special shout-out to my Camino family who inspired me and helped make the final days of my Camino so enjoyable and memorable. Still have many days to go, but everything is coming together at the end.

Video nerds – I still need help. This movie was done on Picasa 3 when Microsoft Photo Gallery became too unwieldy. Any thoughts??

They Walked Together – Day 29 – Leon to Mazarife

IMGP3832I was sorry to leave Leon, in the end.

I had experienced many more mind-blowing incidents than could be covered in a reasonably lengthed blog post. I had met people from my past and my present and seen unique sights, some large and touristy, some small and personal.

I had renewed my joy of being on the Camino and excitement began to build – the next major city I would hit would be Astorga and then, Santiago.

Santiago! Had I really gotten that far following my rain-soaked guidebook?

The sky was gray as I started out in the early morning (up earlier than usual, that’s the sense of excitement kicking in). I left the money for the room on the dresser since there was no front desk. I hoped for the best in honesty and charity, that the money would get into the right hands.

The walk out of town was slightly uphill and went through a few more interesting sights. One of the most modern churches on the Camino was on the outskirts of Leon, Iglesia San Froilan, La Virgen del Camino. Do I like the contemporary architecture better than the old Gothic? Maybe, but maybe I’m just tired of Gothic. Contemporary was a refreshing change of architectural pace.

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La Virgen rises above the Apostles.

Shortly after the Church, there is a choice to be made – take the recommended or the optional path? For a change, I decided to go the recommended route. It seemed to go through more countryside and I was feeling strong and confident.

For the most part, the route was on a plateau with few places to stop for refreshments along the way. Also, few pilgrims. The wind was strong and a little chilly but the sun had come out and the only real challenge was mental, not physical. My rain jacket, which doubled as my windbreaker, came on and off several times.

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I met a woman named Gabby and we walked the rest of the day together.   She was about my age, a little younger, and was also walking the Camino for the first time. She was walking solo. We chatted for several kilometers, comparing notes and experiences, asking why each was walking.

She told me of a dream she had had the night before. She dreamt that, for the first time, her ex-husband’s wife wanted to talk to her. Why ? She had no idea.

She told me her story.

She and her husband were happily married for 30 years and had several children. When she turned 50, she decided to do something different.

She decided that she wanted to give a recital.

She was a very amateur musician (practicing music had long since taken a back seat to raising a family) yet this was something she had always yearned to do – play her cello for friends. She shared this idea with her family, who were all supportive.

She practiced diligently for the next year in preparation for her performance. She hired a hall and sent invitations. She got an accompanist and, with her teacher, selected a series of perfect pieces. She learned them well.

She gave her recital on her birthday to a hall crowded with friends and family. It was a success! The applause and congratulations, the respect and admiration of the audience of well-wishers were more than she anticipated. She felt honored and successful. She felt empowered – who wouldn’t? She was a novice who pulled off giving a successful recital. All the planning and hard work had paid off. Her children were especially proud of her.

Describing the event to me, as we walked along the Camino, brought an energy and happiness into her voice that was infectious. I realized I was smiling and my heart felt full of joy for her success. I couldn’t help but be delighted for her “chutzpah” at pulling off the event and pulling it off well.

A week after her recital, her husband told her he wanted a divorce.

I was dumb-founded and stopped in my tracks. We were walking an area known as the paramo. wide open with the horizon going off as far as you could see. The Camino was silent except for birds in the distance and the breeze in the nearby pasture blowing through flowers.

She walked on a few steps, then stopped and turned back towards me, silently urging me to continue our Camino.

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I took a moment to process this strange turn of events in her story. Then we began walking again.

She says she had had no clue and was totally taken by surprise.

He had begun an on-line relationship with an old flame from his high school days. Their correspondence had rekindled that old flame.  He decided that he needed to take that relationship to the next level. Gabby, of course, would have no place in that scenario.

She was stunned, hurt, and felt very betrayed. Her children were as taken by surprise as their mother.

He was insistent. Long story short, she was now a divorced woman after 30 years of marriage to a man she loved and a family she doted on.

She didn’t, of course, have much to do with the new wife (yes, he married soon after) but she was shy and introverted, not belligerent and one to rant. Her children stood by her all the way and she was grateful for that.

Now, she was walking the Camino. When I asked her if the divorce was the reason why she was walking, she thought about it a moment and said that she honestly didn’t think so. Five years had given her time to get her bearings and she was doing well. She had settled into her new life and was happy.

She had never spoken to the other woman. I asked if she was angry with her and maybe that was why she was dreaming about her. She said she didn’t think so, she really was at peace with the way her life was, at that point. She walked comfortably and surely along the Camino. Quietly confident but not over-bearing and strident.  Friendly and charming, capable and realistic,

And, last night, she dreamed that the new wife wanted to talk to her.

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