Christina Has a Meltdown – Just One More Day Until Santiago

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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???

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Camino minus 21 – Feet, meet shoes. Shoes, meet feet.

Is it going to rain?

If it rains, 1) DH won’t want to ride his motorcycle, and 2) I won’t want to wear my new boots on my long practice walk for the Camino.

In the end, he bet that it would rain and took the car. I bet that it would stay dry and wore my new boots.

Fresh out of the box.

Fresh out of the box.

With such a short time left before I begin my Camino, I was anxious to learn whether my bet would pay off – had it been smart to buy new boots on-line so close to the Big Day? They had arrived in just a week but I hadn’t even taken them out of the box.

The answer appears to be yes.

They will never look this nice again.

They will never look this nice again.

Today was my regular long walk day so it could be perfect for breaking in new shoes, giving me much needed confidence in a decision well made. Or it could be an utter disaster, setting my training back weeks with lots of limping and more black toes. I had packed my backpack with about 20 pounds worth of things I wanted to take on today’s long walk, some I would also take on the Camino:

1. summer sleeping bag

2. rain jacket, still not waterproofed

3. checkbook, although I’m the only person in Europe still using a checkbook

4. glasses, since I’m wearing my sunglasses

5. peanut butter sandwich

6. i.d cards, cell phone, euros and dollar wallets

7. two Camino travel guides, in case of down time

8. hat and hiking poles

9. rosary

10. camera

I later packed my fleece jacket into the bag. And 2 liters of water in a Camelback. I figured that would give me a close estimate of the weight I will be carrying on the path so that I could give the new shoes a realistic try out. With two sets of socks on each foot, the shoes fit snugly and well. And they didn’t untie every ten steps, a persistent problem with my other boots.

So, I own shoes and socks and two pairs of pants. I’m working my way up.

The weather stayed cloudy but dry. Today, May 1, was a German holiday so the roads were empty, although the sidewalks were full of people walking, biking, hiking!

A beer wagon. They were probably ontheir way to the huge beer fest going on in Bad Cannstadt, "Freulingfest."

A beer wagon. They were probably on their way to the huge beer fest going on in Bad Cannstadt, “Freulingfest.”

I had a nice encounter with some young German men, waiting for the rest of their friends at the gas station that has become my WC stop halfway through my long walk. They had day packs and beer!

Heaven forbid there should be a German holiday without beer.

They were friendly and, since they saw me walking past them with my enormous pack (compared to their dinky little day packs), they gave a friendly “Hallo.”  I asked if they were going on a hike, they pointed in the direction they were headed, and asked where I was heading. When I told them they noted, correctly, that my “hike” was really just a walk because it would be all along roads.

They offered me a beer, I declined. I pointed out to them that I had water and they agreed that beer probably wasn’t needed.

I enjoy talking to German men even when they have a beer or two under their belts. The fact that I am old enough to be their mother has alot to do with it. They are like gentle giants, for the most part

I wished them a safe and fun trip, which I’m sure they had, and I continued on my walk. By then I had forgotten about my feet and my pack, which is the sweet spot when you’re trying out new shoes.

Spring in the City.

Bloom where you’re planted.

Feet, shoes, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship . . . .

but I’m taking moleskin and Compeed for blisters, anyway.

Camino minus 22 – the X-Ray-ded edition, with a special warning for the faint of heart

Knowledge is power.

I mentioned yesterday that I had gone to the lab to get medical work done. I realize I’m not as young as I once was, although my Wii Fit instructor/avatar seems pleased as punch with the shape I’m in.  But in preparation for this trip,I knew I’d better find out anything and everything that’s wrong with my health before I go.

I especially wanted to make sure my leg is in good shape. Several years ago, I broke one of the most break-resistant bones in the body – the femur. The thigh bone. I did it snowboarding.

My DH had sent me off that morning with a cheerful “Ha,ha, don’t break your leg!” Well, within one hour of getting to the mountain, I was face down in the snow, unable to get up. Never having broken a bone before, it was an unusual experience.

Also, being in Japan and not speaking the language, it was especially unusual. I think the “rescue” people thought I was just an old American lady slacker, whining over nothing.

OK, here’s the warning. I’m OK with these x-rays of my leg. But others have turned slightly green at the sight. If you tend to turn green, I advise you to scroll down and avert your eyes for a bit.

Otherwise, here are some of the x-rays taken 9 hours after the accident, when I finally got to a hospital:

Side View - OUCH!                        Front View

Ouch.

No problem, though. The American military doctors were excellent. I never had a cast of any kind. Three tiny one-inch scars. My care was wonderful.  And, although I was NOT HAPPY at the time, the Air Force physical therapists had me out of bed and very gingerly back on my feet the next day.

      Kathy5                        Repaired, see the original break towards the top right.

As I recall, the PT to get the strength back in that leg was much more painful than the break.

Thanks to my PT wizards, my recovery was swift. Within a week, I was very carefully getting around on crutches, and, within months, had climbed Mount Fuji, pain free (except for the pain of climbing Mt Fuji, but that’s another story).

However, years later, the site of the break  occasionally gives me a little discomfort. So, I wanted to take a peek inside, before the trip, to make sure nothing weird was going on.

I suspected the discomfort was caused by my simply being out of shape and my poor muscles not being able to handle stress. But for an 800 km walk, I needed to  be sure it was just me failing my body, not technology failing me.

Well, I saw yesterday’s  x-rays. They looked excellent. Even better than they did years ago. No slightly jagged edges where the original break had been, everything looking clean and smooth, like a normal bone, just with a giant nail running from top to bottom. The medical people call it a nail, I think it looks more like a sewing needle.

The metal does not set off airport security.

So, one more hurdle jumped over. The leg is in technologically good shape. I can’t blame anything but my own laziness and “junk in the trunk” for any aches and pains.

Thanks to those amazing military doctors, nurses, and therapists, not to mention the craftsmen who kindly put in hours building structures so I could get around our house, I’m no worse off than before.

All of their names will go with me on my Camino, on a slip of paper, so I can remember them in my prayers along the way. My prayer list will be long, as I remember how blessed I am.

A big hug to my DH.

And, no, I no longer go snowboarding.

Camino minus 25 – Wii train for the Big Day

The rain that was supposed to hit yesterday didn’t come in until last night. Today it is rain, rain, rain. So today I trained inside.

I use my Wii Fit program.

I start with 15 minutes of yoga. Yoga fanatics will be upset about my doing so little. But it’s beneficial, enjoyable, and taxing.

I like doing yoga in the privacy of my own home. I can stumble around and lose balance without losing face. I don’t have to worry about what view of me the tight bodies on either side (or, heaven forbid, behind me) are getting. And, sorry, I do feel badly when I can’t flip around and touch body parts in highly contorted ways like the people on the other mats.

They serenely breath in and out as if they are watching a movie. I huff, puff and sweat like a heavy smoker who has just lumbered up five flights of stairs.

And that’s just for the opening warm ups.

At one yoga class I attended, the teacher led the class in the cool down exercise which was –  of course, what else – standing on one’s head.  The few, pitiful,  beginners were allowed to use the wall for support. Crawling over on my hands and knees, with my fogged-up glasses slipping down my sweat covered nose and my vapor-filled water bottle clenched between my teeth, so that I could simply sit  with my back against the wall, was enough of a cool down exercise for me.

But don’t get me wrong. I like yoga. I’m doing yoga to improve my posture and balance. I know it will help me very much as I make my way up mountain passes with an unaccustomed  weight on my back. I do not want to be one of those who twist an ankle, or worse, and have to call the whole thing off before I really begin.

After yoga, I move on to my least favorite exercises, Wii or no Wii – strength. Sadly, the Wii doesn’t really provide much for upper body strength. You’re mainly on the honor system.

Except for push-ups. Those you can do on the Wii and I do, although I skip the accompanying side plank. My excuse is that I don’t have enough room in the apartment to do push-ups and side planks together, but I know if I had an empty apartment, I still wouldn’t do it.

The rest of the strength work-out is good.

Then, aerobics. Unfortunately, I can’t do my favorite aerobic exercise on the Wii, which is running. Yes, running for the Wii. You don’t use the balance board but hold the controller in your hand and it keeps track of your speed. I can’t do it here, though, because we have the world’s squeakiest floors.

If you’ve lived in Japan, you may be familiar with the idea of  “nightingale floors.” The story is that, in the days of the Shoguns and the early Emperors, floors were deliberately left to squeak so people could hear someone (i.e. Ninjas!!) approaching. This could also serve as a great excuse for shoddy craftsmanship and/or high humidity on wooden floors and keep you from having to honorably kill yourelf.

As an alarm system, it certainly works in our apartment. The business downstairs knows when I get up, when I head into the kitchen, when I sit at the desk, etc. I can’t have them hearing me run with the Wii.

Instead I do hula hoops and step aerobics. Very, very silly and looks childishly easy. However, I have yet to get a perfect score, so I guess it’s harder than it seems.

Lastly, the balance games. They have several, The first is a soccer game where you head the ball and other things that your “teammates” hurl at you. Somehow, I consistently miss the soccer balls they throw and  always get konked on the head by the shoes they toss.

Another balance activity is the ski jump. Let’s not go into details, since it looks easier that sitting down – all you have to do is pretend to jump. Yet, I’m a total Olympic-sized weenie.

To finish off my inside work out, I found a step machine at the thrift shop about three weeks ago. It’s small but powerful, has hydraulic lifts, and an electronic counter. Also, it sways slightly from side to side, I guess to mimic your natural motion if you were actually walking up steps.

I step on and turn on the DVD player. I watch an episode of “The Simpsons” or “Curb your Enthusiasm.” Both work well to take my mind off the monotony of stepping in place in my apartment.

When I’m finish, I’m drenched.

I’m ready for a nice glass of whine.

Camino minus 26 – Now, with Pictures!

It’s promising to rain here so I have a “forced” non-walking day. Since today is the day I usually do all the laundry, it’s just as well, although the weather may impact on drying the clothes outside. Whatever. My DN uses her Friday to do all the household chores. I’m not as motivated as she is, unfortunately. I’m happy to just get laundry done.

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Hiking socks, quilting materials, drying outside, waiting for rain.

The final reservation to be made in advance was made today. DH and I already had our train tickets to Paris, and his return to Germany, my one-way to Bayonne, France. I also already had my reservation for the first night of my trip in St Jean Pied de Port (SJPdP), on the French side of the Pyrenees in Basque country. Because  I expected that I would not be able to sleep the night before, I had decided a while ago to treat myself at a well-recommended albergue for that first night.

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This is L’Espirit du Chemin in SJPdP, which will be my first stop and provide the first stamp for my credencial.

But it wasn’t until recently that I decided that I should make a reservation for the second night, also.

The entire route of the Camino Frances can be broken into “stages,” a very general break down of a day’s worth of walking. Using this measure, the 800 km  Camino Frances takes about 33 days (I’m giving myself 5 weeks).

The first stage is reputed to be the most challenging. It’s the beginning/end for pilgrim routes all over Europe and pilgrims converge, fresh off the trains, taxis, buses, airplanes, and by foot, at SJPdP. No matter what shape you’re in, no matter how tired or hungry you may be, no matter how prepared or unprepared you are, if this is where you begin, there’s nowhere to go but up and over the Pyrenees.

The nearest town is on the other side of the Pyrenees Mountains. And, although these aren’t the highest peaks of the Pyrenees – those  are to the east – the climb is formidable. The altitude goes from 200 meters above sea level to 1400m in about 20 km straight up. From that high point in the mountains, there is a steep descent of about 500 m in 5 km to the town at the end of stage one, Roncevalles, in Spain. This climb is done, of course, with a full backpack in unfamiliar territory and in unpredictable weather.

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About a month ago, a pilgrim was tragically killed while making the hike on this first day over the mountain. Apparently, he simply took a wrong turn and walked off a cliff (in serious snow conditions, which I don’t expect to meet in May, so don’t worry). If you see the movie, “The Way,” you’ll know that this was the opening scenario which propels the entire story. When I saw the movie, I thought the pilgrim dying on the first day was a little over-dramatic. Now I know it was not.

There are no places to find food, shelter, or warmth in the mountains. There are only two places along the way for the weary to find a bed and a meal during that first stage and they are both closer to the starting point than to the mountain. I’ve decided I would stop  at the one about 7 km from SJPdP at the end of that first day’s walk, making it very short but a final place to prepare for the next 750 km.

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This photo of the Refuge Orisson, where I plan to spend the second night, is for the benefit of my friends living in the South Pacific. That white stuff is not cotton but a cold, icy thing called snow.

My goal is not to get to Santiago de Campostella first, or fastest, but to get to Santiago de Campostella. Providing a bed, dinner and breakfast may well be a welcome relief and, if not, well, it will be a pleasant final kick-off point for me.  My poor, old bones will probably enjoy the day off to re-evaluate my packing and walking strategies, re-adjust socks and boots, do everything except re-consider walking in the first place. .

Of course, there’s always the possibility that my staying an extra day on the French side of the Pyrenees will mean I miss a beautiful hiking day and end up having to make the trek in wet, windy, miserable weather the following day. Ah, well, I’ve never had any luck trying to second guess God’s plans for me.

It still hasn’t rained.