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.



Day 1 – St Jean to Roncevalles

Truly one of the most difficult days of my life.

It is the end of May and you would think it was the end of January.

I left St Jean with high hopes. My pack was as light as I could make it. I knew my route. I had decided long ago to follow the advice of the Pilgrim Office and if they said the Napolean Route was too treacherous due to the weather, I would follow their advice. The hospitalieros (hostel hosts) said that the conditions so bad that even the locals, who are familiar with the route, could easily get turned around. 

The way was cold and foggy, rainy with icy droplets hanging in the air. Since it was my first time on the Camino, I was especially alert for way-markers.

At one corner the road seemed to disappear.  I went ahead to confirm the direction. Slowly, coming up the hill, was a man leading a donkey! Following him was a woman walking, and two more donkeys carrying young people, apparently his family.  How often in this day and age do you find families transporting themselves by donkey?

The weather became very cold and stormy. But, after a short coffee and toilet break, I cheerfully headed out. It was the last time I would be cheerful for a while.

The trail began to rise through beautiful country. I decided to take an alternate route which went off the beaten path for a kilo or two, away from the road. It was nice except the the last 500 meters which went straight up before returning to the main route.

Up, up, through rain and chilly wind, along a highway, through wet paths. Not exactly what I had in mind. I had been walking, on and off, with several women from Germany. When I finally caught up with them again, they had lost one. She had decided that the route was too much and had gotten a ride to the town we were heading for. I could understand why she had decided to take the easy way out. This Camino was not what I had expected. 

I had thought it would be a time for reflecting on God, religion, my life, where I was heading in the large sense, a time for prayer and meditioan.

Instead, I found myself fighting to keep one step in front of the other for one, then ten, then twenty more steps. The weather got worse and worse. The path became muddier and more frigid.

This Camino was the one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

The wind and rain was strong and non-stop. It was cold, cold, cold. Dangerously hypothermia-cold.

And seriously uphill. Non-stop uphill.  I was in the middle of the Pyrenees climbing straight to the top. There were no beautiful views of anything because the fog was too dense. And my fingers were almost too frozen to press the shutter of my camera.

If you have ever seen a video of people climbing the Himilayas and stopping every two steps to catch their breath (because the air is thin) you can visualize my trek up the mountain. Except I was my own Sherpa.

Did I mention that this was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done?

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 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.


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.

L'Esprit du Chemin-1

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.


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.


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.