Day 1 - MCI-Dulles-Charles de Gaulle/Paris

Said goodbye to David and Maisie, the cat, and headed with too full a pack to Paris through Washington/Dulles. Both legs of the flight were uneventful. On the Paris leg I sat  with extra legroom next to two flight attendants who were flying standby. They were happy to get on the flight; I was wishing the seats would have stayed empty.

I slept more than I normally am able and arrived in Paris at 8am, and headed for the hotel. As it goes, I was unable to check in until 11am, but was assured I was given “the best room” because of my patience. Doubtful. 

I followed my normal routine to get over jet lag by immediately showering and crawling into bed. I woke up mid-afternoon and decided to go into town, pay my regards to Notre Dame, that 2 days before sustained a horrible fire. I also went to La Palette, the café I’d first visited three decades before. It’s become a necessary stop whenever I come to Paris. I ordered an “uno Pastis”, not quite able yet to make the switch from Spanish to French. Le garçon just smiled.

Walking the streets of the left bank, I felt strangely at home. With weary feet, and no city map, I managed to find an RER metro stop to take me back to the hotel, having to walk a ways away from those stops closed because of the Notre Dame fire.  

Back at the hotel, I printed train tickets for tomorrow’s trip to Lyon; then Le Puy, where I will start my Camino. Although I sometimes yearn for Paris, I look forward to seeing the countryside by foot and anticipate what’s to come.  

 

 

Day 40, 2017 - O Pedrouzo to Santiago de Compostela

ARRIVAL

Where millions have trod,

I walked once and once again.

Five hundred miles, twice.

From my notes:

51° and clear
Departed 6:45am
The last 20 km
I head down a familiar road and veer left into the forest. The moon is a sliver, adorned with one bright star. 

I smell the eucalyptus. 
Roosters call the light and birds sing. 
I see only two others ahead of me. 
I remind myself to slow down. 
A man singing, approaches from behind. I let him pass but not before offering a "buen camino". And, I meant it! 

My mind races. 
I anticipate the sound of bagpipes when I walk under the arches, into the Square. I wonder who of my new tribe might be there to meet me. I walk on. 

Out of the forest now, the path parallels the highway. I hear a dog bark from inside a house. I wonder if dogs ever get hoarse. And I imagine the annoyance of the dog's owner, especially at siesta time, or when the number of pilgrims increases from dozens to hundreds. 

I stop at the first cafe, thinking I'll have one last café con leche, but because of my desire for solitude this last day, I leave the breakfast eaters behind, grab a banana for one euro and head out, again into the forest. 

My thoughts range from savor to arrival...and to inevitable goodbyes. I wonder, what happens if you live your life as if everything is a goodbye? Are you really able to enjoy the moment...or the future? Maybe goodbyes are simply adieus...for the time being. 

The path undulates. The “last hill" is never the last hill. I plant my sticks. 

Halfway at 8:50am, 10K left of this 800k journey. 
My pace quickens due to walking with a young Irish couple from Dublin. We share Camino stories; then I walk on. 
At 9:45, I have 5k left to walk.

I walk down the "last" hill, anticipating first sight of the cathedral. 
Emotions surface. 
I know transition is beginning. I consider that transition may be hardest for children, elderly, animals AND pilgrims. 

Up ahead I see a busload of people who now walk the narrow path alongside the street. Again, my pace quickens. 
I follow bronze scallops that replace yellow arrows. 
I hear bagpipes. 
I round the corner and look up at the scaffolded cathedral with recognition and awe. 
Tears. 
Thankfulness. 
Joy. 
Pride. 

I watch as others arrive. 
We stand where millions of others have stood. I savor the moment before entering the Cathedral. 
Inside, I hug the gold statue of St. James and look out from the altar toward those who pray. 
I thank God for my desire and ability to have walked this 500-mile journey across Spain, not once but twice. 

Although no two Caminos are identical, there are common aspects. Friendship, companionship, beauty of the landscape, hardship, perseverance, laughter and just plain fun are commonalities. Each of the over 1,000,000 steps is both a hello and a goodbye...to the past, the present and the future. For all of these steps, I am grateful. 

People, similar and different, help on this journey. But when you reach Santiago, you say goodbye...to those who have walked with you, to those who have provided for you; to those who have shown you the best parts of themselves. And they say goodbye to you. Transitions are neither beginnings nor endings. They are just transitions. Somewhere along the way, second impressions morphed to second chances. Life seems not as it was; yet is still the same. Bittersweet, hopeful and lovely.

The arrival in Santiago de Compostela - 2017

Day 39, 2017 - Arzua to O Pedrouzo

THE SHOW MUST GO ON

The end is fuzzy;

the future unclear, but still

the curtain rises.

 

Departed 7:20am
51° and cloudy
Early Breakfast. Chocolate croissant, still warm from oven, orange juice and cafe con leche. 
Walking with Frank from North Carolina.
Beautiful light as the sun rises. 
Path is level. Few ups; few downs. 
Taking it slow. 
Pine and eucalyptus forest. 
Fragrant. 
Savoring. 
Roses of many colors. 
Path sometimes parallels highway. 
Cars and big trucks speed by.
Bikers choose walking path, not road. 
My mind wanders to tomorrow's walk into Santiago. 
How can it be possible this journey is already coming to an end? 
3:30 tomorrow in the square by the Cathedral. All my peeps know to be there. 
Frank walks on to have shorter day into Santiago tomorrow. 
I'm first to arrive at Pension, although it is completo. 
Sweet man at Pension did my wash for free. 
Time speeding up. 
One more day.

 

Day 38, 2017 Casa Nova to Arzua

BLESSING

I tapped each marker

for those on this ancient route,

before or after. 

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Departed 7:45am, 54° mostly cloudy, warmest start yet.

Solo this morning on a beautiful trail through the woods.

Still, birds sing.
Horseshoe marks in the dirt. 

Stopped at first café (not the second) for a good cup of coffee and to get the small BOULDER out of my shoe. 

Peace lilies. More here than I've seen anywhere else. 

First day of no bandages on feet!! Hallelujah!!
Smell of eucalyptus. 
Red leaves on the path. 
Delightful!

Starting to make the transition. It's slow at first, then, BAM. 

Stopped in church in the old town of Melide. An Asian girl was crying. I touched her shoulder. Without a word, a slight smile. I walk away, never having seen her face. 

Further through town, I stopped at another church where a service going on. I sit on a bench with the locals. Soon, I give my seat up to another. 

Markets all through the town this Sunday morning. 

More downs and ups. Take it slow. 

It's been said that the hunt for Pulpo really begins in Melide. Onward to find a perfectly prepared dish. No comment, Brian Jones. 

Warming up nicely. 74°. Humid. Sweat. 
Ran into Frank from North Carolina again. Walking with someone helps make the k's go quicker. 

Stopped and had a lunch of French fries with salt or maybe it was a lunch of Salt with French fries. Coke with ice tastes good. 

Onward to Arzua. Hadn't planned to stay here but booking ahead was necessary. All completo. 

Beautiful farmland
Rolling hills
Kilometer marker tapping. I have touched each one within reach with my stick from St. Jean. Sort of a blessing of those who have left a stone or gone before. 
A beautiful white horse.
A massive dog. 
Paella.

Laundry, shower, rest, drinks on the square. 
Still, no pulpo. 

2 more days of walking.

 

 

Day 37, 2017 - Portomarin to Casa Nova

VISIBILITY

Ahead and behind,

it is hard to see clearly.

I watch and listen.

Departed 7:15, 45° and fog!

Long day 30k

Single file pilgrims over the small bridge out of Portomarin.

Steep uphill right from the start; even a biker had to walk.

Have mastered timing the distance between myself and the nearest pilgrim behind and in front. 

Pine and Eucalyptus forests.

Kilometer plates are mostly gone from Galician stone markers. Sad.

Sun out, fleece off; it's going to be a hot day.

Sometimes I think I hear someone behind me. I turn and look and there's no one there.

Don't look up, just keep the rhythm and the tap, tap, tap.

Most of the path today parallels the highway.

Walked with David from Australia to the town of Vendas de Naron that once provided hospitality to Charlemagne, the holy Roman emperor Charles V and to King Philip of Spain while on his way to marry Mary Tudor.

Much history in these little villages.

Imagination soaring.

Outside of town, cows roam freely in the street and drink from a fountain before slowly making their way to pasture.

At least 10 taxis go by. People must be getting tired.

Faithful with the sunscreen.

With 9.5k to go, I stop to change my socks and elevate my feet. Dogs are barking!

Refueled with tater chips, Aquarius drink, and chocolate with almonds.

One more hour. Sometimes 5k seems like 10k.

Arrived, shower, wash, nap and dinner.

3 more days.

 

Day 36, 2017 - Sarria to Portomarin

DON'T LOOK DOWN

Fear can slow us but

bridges provide safe passage 

to the other side.

Departed 7:30am, 45°
No rain expected today
Buff over ears....cold start. 
Enormous cemetery on the outskirts of town. Crypts all above ground. 
Downhill, downhill. Knees.
Stay left. 
Happy birds. 
Quiet squeak in my backpack. Arrggg. 
Breathe in four times, breathe out four times. 
Breathe in two times, breathe out two times. 
Put my shirt on inside out today. Made me laugh, midday when I noticed. 
Masses of new peregrinos starting from Sarria. New packs, clean boots, quick pace, more stops. Most not using poles...I mean sticks. 
Met Danielle from Switzerland who walked from Porto, Portugal to Santiago; now "backwards" to St. Jean; then will walk back to Santiago. Can't imagine. 
Adjusted pack, no more squeak. 
Mud, now hard packed...thankful the weather has cooperated. 
Finally, my boots are broken in. I never think that takes as long as it does. 
Walked head down straight past the "deaf" girls (who really can hear), asking for money.
Roosters announce an upcoming village. 
The "homebrew festival" continues. 
Low rock walls with moss line the path. Reminds me of Ireland. 
Shadows, then sun, and shadows again. 
Sheep. 
Big, friendly dogs until they see your sticks. 
Young calves and evidence of sheep. 
Cafés are natural procession thinners. 
Milka with almonds. 
Aquarius. 
Pine forests. 
Cow parade. 
Experienced shepherd. 
Enough of the downhill already!
High, narrow, bridge with designated walker lane. Eyes focused ahead.                                      Safe on the other side.    

63 steps, count 'em, 63 steps.                                                                           

                                                                                                                   

Day 35, 2017 - Triacastela to Sarria

MUY MALO

Speaking like a sheep,

I befriended a shepherd

with anti-Trump views.

Departed 8:30am 42°

From my notes:
Cold morning. Looks like rain.
Geared up. 
Mind shift. Want to be in Santiago. 
Going toward, not away from. 
Right route, not going through Samos
Rain jacket off, fleece on, fleece off, rain jacket on. 
Hills. Hills. Hills. 
Slippery, steep downs through the forest. 
Confused roosters crow at noon. 
Tall ferns. 
Ancient trees. 
Sheep whisperer. 
"Muy malo" Trump, said the shepherd.  
Donativo table. 
Old man proud of his rows of potatoes. 
Whistling pilgrim. 
Dirt path paralleling the road. 
High hedge rows. 
Through small villages with little of anything. 
Home brew festival in full force. 
Tree canopies over the path. 
First sight of Sarria, still eight or 9 km away. 
Roosters conversing at each end of the road. 
Dogs barking. 
Memories. 
I am not directionally impaired. 
Hairdryer. 
Random meeting, Jose, wife and friend. 
Christina from Germany.  
Glad to rest early.  
Tomorrow, a bridge to cross.

I never knew his name but we shared a few "ga-fa's" when I called his sheep by bleating. He opened the gate and we walked into the field, I'm certain he thought me a crazy American. But as we turned to walk away, he called after us and out of the blue and with a furled brow and gruff voice said, "Trump...muy malo!!!". We made each other's day.

I never knew his name but we shared a few "ga-fa's" when I called his sheep by bleating. He opened the gate and we walked into the field, I'm certain he thought me a crazy American. But as we turned to walk away, he called after us and out of the blue and with a furled brow and gruff voice said, "Trump...muy malo!!!". We made each other's day.

Day 34, 2017 - O Cebreiro to Triacastela

DONATIVO

Woman with pancake

waiting for pilgrims to pass

offers what she can.

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From my notes:

52° and rain
Thick fog, like walking in the clouds. 
Jose from Portugal. 
Carmen from Casa Rodriguez. 
Bacana and obrigado. 
Hugs and kisses on both cheeks. 
Walking solo. 
Drizzle. 
Low clouds. 
Hill to Do Poio is easier in the morning than late afternoon. 
Memories can be often skewed. 
Voices behind me, carry. I let them pass. 
Eyes 5 feet in front, on the ground. 
More stone markers in Galicia. "Complimentario". 
Thinking about Santiago, and the Square, and 3:30 PM. 
No snakes, hardly any bugs or spiders. 
I have no blisters. 
I wear no tirita. 
All is bacana. 
Old woman offers a pancake with sugar; then donativo? I except and give her two euros. Makes her happy. Asks if I want more sugar. 
Rain on path kicks up fewer stones. 
Cow bells in the distance. 
Cow parade. 
Recognized cow herder from last year. 
Patchwork landscape. 
Slugs, big black ones. 
First the dogs (herders) are released; then the mooing cows, both ready long before. 
I wonder if cows have a pasture preference. 
Considering pulpo. Uh, no. 
Russian salad. 
Cerveza
Last 4k's walking with Frank from North Carolina. 
800 year old tree.  
Familiarity. 
Lavanderia. 
Banco. 
Farmacia. 
Salt. 
Santiago tarte. 
Booking ahead. 
Sleep.

Day 33, 2017 - Las Herrerias to O Cebreiro

ONWARD

I've learned how to stroll.

The snails need not remind me 

how to reach the top.

Depart 8:30
60° overcast

From my notes:

Last mountain climb. 
Walk or Horseback?
Missed opportunities are sometimes chosen. 
A beautiful day on a shaded path. 
Songbirds, crows and coocoobirds
Up, up, flat, up, flat, up, up. 
Some days are sprints; some days are strolls. 
Old, distorted tree trunks. 
Not hot, but humid. 
Pines. 
Mosquitoes buzzing. 
No horses on path but they've been here. 
Monologues. 
Curious cows. 
Tortoise and the hare. 
Agua frio. 
Graffiti. 
Galicia. 
Celtic music. 
Universal beauty. 
Tears
O Cebreiro. 
Buses. 
Queso and miel. 
Cerveza. 
Young Shepard. 
Cows coming home. 
Roosters crossing road. 
Soup, salad, tortilla, and tarte de Santiago
Full stomach. 
Lovely Carmen at casa Rodriguez
Joe from Portugal
Bacana
Sleep. 
Ultreia.

Day 32, 2017 - Villafranca del Bierzo to las Herrerias

PULPOLICIOUS...not

I will do without

this favorite delicacy

of Galicia.  

 

In my best Vanna White, I present....PULPO! 

Departed 8:00. 
55° overcast 

From my notes:

Green routes are worth the effort...more difficult and more beautiful. 
Mountain climbing. 
Lavender and large ferns line path. 
Clover, white and purple. 
Chestnuts, large and small. 
Ants and giant hills. 
Cool breeze and sometime shade. 
Pilgrims of old crossed this mountain before the tunnel scarred it. 
Fresh squeezed orange juice, cafe con leche and potato chips for sustenance. 
Goat cheese and honey. 
Pulpo. 
Legs like rubber. 
Quilted bed and dry hair. 
Cows chewing, waiting to be milked. 
Light on the mountain. 
First scent of the "homebrew festival". 
Galicia, I'm coming for you.

Day 31, 2017 - Ponferrada to Villafranca del Bierzo

CAMARADERIE

Sharing wine and bread

turns silver friendships to gold

hopefully, for life. 

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Departed at 8:00
52° 

Ponferrada is a big town and it's best to follow arrows and the road most taken. 
The day is warm; the sun in and out of clouds. A breeze cools. 
I walk past vineyards and cherry trees on
undulating hills, practice for the next climb to O Cebreiro and into Galicia. 
Bicyclists glide the downs and huff the ups. 
Crickets and birds serenade. 
Storks make their homes on the tops of churches. 
Wild roses line each side of the path. 
Poppies are crimson red. 
Cherries are shared by generous strangers. 
Free wine and tapas are given because Canadian friends were urged to ask in Spanish. 
A man, a horse and a dog. 
New friends from Canada and old friends, reunited. 
Now walking towards Santiago. Mind shift made. 
Won't be long.

In Cacabelos, at the beginning of town on the right is the vineyard Restaurant Moncloa. If you go into their shop and say the words "¿Tiene un vaso de vino por un peregrino (orperegrina) que esta muriendo de sed? (Do you have a glass of wine for a Pilgrim who is dying of thirst?), they will give you a free glass of wine and a tapa. :) My Canadian buddy decided to try out his Spanish and lo and behold.... sustenance...along with laughter from all. 

 

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Day 30, 2017 - Acebo to Ponferrada

OVER MY SHOULDER

Looking behind me,

a burst of color appears

where once there was gray.

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Departed at 7:20am
47°
No rain. 

(From my journal notes):

Out of Acebo, a rainbow shaft of light grows on the mountain to my left, still with snow. There is beauty in the looking back.
It's muddy and treacherous, down steep bedrock. 
Birds sing and water flows.  
Breakfast is eggs and bacon. 
Roses, lavender and white lilacs are in bloom. 
Saturday is market day. 
Templar Castle. 
An Italian girl sings Oh Solo Mio with GUSTO! 
Lavanderia siting. 
Homesick.

________________________________________________________________________________

I walked the steep, rocky decline into Molinaseca,  a valley between mountains. I felt grateful I had out-walked the rain, since, if wet, this particular stretch would have been treacherous. I walked for most of the day with Noel from the Isle of Jersey. He was the second person I’d met from this small island between England and France...it’s such a small world.

We walked into Molineseca. He walked on. Famished, I stopped at a place I remembered from last year which served an English breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast AND beans. It did not disappoint! I'd forgotten how photographic this quaint town was and decided that if ever again on this path, I would rest here at least for most of a day...maybe even the night. This time though, after my breakfast, I walked on alone to Ponferrada. 

Ponferrada is a big town (comparatively). The 16,000 square meter Castle of the Templars sits high upon a hill. From Roman times, this position was a valuable place of defense. The castle was built in 1178 AD by Ferdinand II to protect pilgrims traveling to Santiago de Compostela and was owned by the Knights of the Templar Order. Up close, it was massive and conjured up stories of those who passed centuries before.

I stayed on the edge of town, away from the "plaza major", but later met in the old town with my friend, Jacqueline and two Italian girls. One of the Italians was outgoing, boisterous and I'm certain had some karaoke experience. She  serenaded us, and any others within earshot, with "O sole mio". I won't forget the volume nor her inhibition. We were quick friends! 

Afterwards, I walked back to my hostel, gathered my laundry, and eventually found a lavanderia. That's where I met two fellow peregrinas from California, Sarah and Mitra. We chatted and had a drink together in the bar next-door while waiting for our clothes to wash and dry.  I don't believe we were in the safest part of town, and we were glad for each other's company. 

With clean clothes and a full stomach, sleep came quickly with dreams of tomorrow.

The day's terrain

The day's terrain

Market Day - Ponferrada

Market Day - Ponferrada

A British breakfast in Spain

A British breakfast in Spain

Castle of the Templars

Castle of the Templars

O sole mio

O sole mio

Laundry friends

Laundry friends

Day 29, 2017 - Foncebadon to Acebo

BALANCE IN FAVOR

Looking up, my prayer

is for right to outweigh wrong

and life to matter.

Departed 7:00am
As predicted, there was rain, rain and more rain.  I woke early, readied for the short 2k walk to Cruz de Ferro and left just as the sun began to rise, content with the expectation I would probably walk in rain for most of the day. Many pilgrims braved the elements long before me, with more faith the clouds would lift and the sky would brighten. 

Geared up, I set out to climb to 1,504 meters above sea level and combine the mementos I'd carried from my front doorstep with others at Cruz de Ferro. Once atop the centuries-old mound of rocks, I placed what I carried (and the burden each memento symbolized) on top of other rocks or on the cross itself, and recited this prayer:

"Lord, may this stone, a symbol of my efforts on pilgrimage that I lay at the foot of the Cross of the Savior, one day be the balance in favor of my good deeds when the deeds of my life are judged. Let it be so. Amen."

Regardless of belief in prayer, weight is lifted as stones (or other mementos) are added to the mound. Reaching Cruz de Ferro is often an emotional and sometimes solemn experience for pilgrims. For me, it was powerful. I thought about all the people for whom I'd carried a stone or memento and also for one American woman who was not able to walk this far. 

On the descent and after such an emotional experience, my senses were heightened. I noticed many small purple, white, and yellow flowers. Cows were calling their young. There was lichen on tree trunks. Light rain was almost constant. The colors reminded me of fall more than spring. Bicyclists whizzed down the mountain. The views of mountains and fog in the distance took my breath away and many times I stopped just to take it all in. 

Some ask why I walk the Camino more than once. This is why. Because on the Camino, I see God. In the people, the places, the mountains, the fog, the clouds, the sunshine, the rain, in the laughter and even the tears. I'm awestruck, inspired, and appreciative that when standing on a mountaintop, I see unrivaled beauty. 

The combination of physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of this pilgrimage made the day one of the most difficult but rewarding, despite the accuracy of any weather guesser.

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Day 28, 2017 - Astorga to Foncebadon

THINKING OF DENISE

On the day before

the day before the last day,

my thoughts were with her.

Day 28, 2017 from Astorga.jpg

Departed 7:00am
47° and I can hear birds. 
Were the weather guessers wrong, again??? Maybe no rain? The sky was tentative and it was a "see your breath" kind of day...my kind of day, regardless of rain.

I walked the first 20k with Jacqueline from Holland, past the point where two years before, an American woman named Denise was lured from the path and killed. She was on my mind constantly...not because I feared any personal danger, but because I wondered what she was thinking as she walked this same path. Did she sense her upcoming fate? Did she ignore her instincts? Why did it happen? It was so senseless. I hurt for her and for her family and hoped her last views of the Spanish countryside were as beautiful as mine had been. Maybe that counted for something. 

The ebb and flow of the Camino allows friends to see each other, sometimes more than once a day, sometimes every other day, and other times only after weeks. Four members of my "tribe" all arrived today, at different times, in Rabanal, a small village where I remembered staying the year before. We ate lunch together and compared our days. Times like these reconnected us and helped form lasting friendships. 

After filling my belly with lentil soup, I decided to walk solo, 6 more kilometers, to a village called Foncebadon. I was nursing another blister so I went slow. Through rust colored ferns, small white flowers and rock walls, I walked this cushioned, rain-soaked path alone with my thoughts. Up ahead, just as I needed a rest, I spied a lone bench. I sat, looked out over the landscape and reconstructed my day. Although still preoccupied with thoughts of the American woman, It nonetheless was magical.

After a short stop, I climbed closer to Cruz de Ferro, a high point on the Camino. For centuries, a metal cross on a simple, wooden pole has attracted pilgrims. Stones or other mementos are carried, many times from the beginning of the journey or from "home" and added to the existing pile to symbolize the laying down of burdens. Prayers are offered and faith renewed. Tomorrow, as the sun rises, with my own offering, I will climb the rock pile at Cruz de Ferro, lay my burdens down and say a prayer for Denise.

 

Day 27, 2017 - Hospital de Orbigo to Astorga

RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME

The unexpected

is better experienced

on roads less traveled.

 

Departed at 7:30 AM°. 

Today, I sent my backpack forward. All I carried was my "frontal" (the term used to describe the small fanny pack I wear in front). There's an unspoken judgment about not carrying one's backpack as if walking wasn't difficult enough. I've come to believe that everyone's Camino is their own;  the way one gets from point A to point B is unique. Today for me, the lack of weight felt nice...a well-deserved break. 

Leaving town, I walked past cappuccino-colored earth and rows of yellow fields, wonderful to look at but fairly common at this point. For about fifteen minutes however, the clouds were dramatic and I concentrated less on my steps, looking up more than down. I cared not if rain came. The opportunity to see this storm rolling in was reward for the day or so I thought.

Ahead, I remembered an alternate route. I walked this way last year and I knew when the road forked, I would come to La Casa de los Dioses - The house of the Gods. The property was owned by David Vidal, an energetic and gracious man who had lived in this out of the way place for years. I wondered how he could sustain it, much less live in such a humble abode. Each day he would walk the 7k to Astorga to replenish the fruit and drink he provided freely to passing pilgrims. It was a totally "donativo" oasis, which meant people left only as much money as they could.  Along with a dozen or so other pilgrims, I was glad to have veered right. 

La Casa de los Dioses

La Casa de los Dioses

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Today was what my mom used to call "a red letter day". The day began at the right place at the right time. I experienced a wide array of color in the earth and fury in the sky and met once again a man who, when I looked into his piercing, slate-blue eyes, I thought I must be seeing the eyes of a saint. Reward comes in many ways.

 

 

Day 26, 2017 - León to Hospital de Orbigo

JOUSTING

When met with challenge

we don armour for battle, 

and meet it head on.

 

On July 11, 1434, this bridge in Hospital de Orbigo was defended by the knight Don Suero de Quiñones after he was scorned by a beautiful woman. A jousting tournament was held with knights from all over Europe who each needed a letter from their Parish to certify them before able to pass. For two weeks, Don Suero defended the bridge against 300 lances and regained his honor before going on to Santiago with his knights. Later, he married the woman who scorned him.

Despite inclement weather, exhaustion, hunger, sleeplessness, injury and/or lack of café con leche, pilgrims fight through challenges to persevere. Each Camino is unique and pilgrims seek to rise to the challenge of a 500 miles walk. Don Suero defended his honor and defeated 300 knights. Although the challenge for pilgrims is decidedly different, they too arrive victorious as they walk into Santiago..

Day 25, 2017 - Mansilla de la Mulas to Leon

QUESTIONING

Doubtful and unsure,

digging can uncover truth;

but not weaken faith.

Day 25, 2017 - Leon Musee de De San Isidoro.jpg

I splurged and stayed at the Hotel Real Colegiata San Isidoro, the same place I stayed at last year when I walked the Camino. I knew the routine of when I could check in, and when I could take a tour of this magnificent, converted monastery, gaze at the Romanic origins of the fortress walls, the Romanic architectural simplicity of the basilica's choir, stroll through the cloisters and once again see the holy grail, said to be housed in the adjacent museum. 

It is said (in the Australian) that in 2011, two medieval Egyptian parchments were discovered that mentioned the chalice of Christ, saying it was taken from Jerusalem to Cairo. From there, records show that an emir in Muslim Spain received it as a reward for helping the Egyptians during a famine. Finally, it arrived in Christendom in the 11th century after being presented to King Fernando as a gift.

Two historians (León University medieval history lecturer Margarita Torres and art historian José Manuel Ortega del Rio) conducted a three-year investigation and claim this agate, gold and onyx cup (made of two goblets formed together, once known as the goblet of the Infanta Dona Urrace), to be the holy grail that Jesus drank from at the last supper.

Regardless of truth, faith requires one first to believe. 

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Looking out from the old cloisters, now converted to rooms in the hotel, I imagined the surprise and joy felt by those who uncovered this goblet and who believed Jesus drank from it at the last supper. I thought about how faith can sometimes alter reality and why faith endures, even when there are naysayers.

On this 500 mile pilgrimage, there is opportunity to meet people from all over the world, to share opinion/belief (or non-belief). I began to question why certain people have come into my life.  I wondered about my faith in a belief that they come at the time in the right place to help me be a better person. I considered the impact some have had to alter my reality and if knee-jerk reaction could ever swing back to neutral. My faith in people was being challenged.

There are said to be three "legs" or phases of the Camino. These include physical conditioning (St. Jean to Burgos), emotional reflection (Burgos to Leon) and spiritual awareness (Leon to Santiago). Leon marked the beginning of the third leg and even though I'd already walked 471 kilometers (292 miles), I felt like my Camino had just begun. With a little over 200 more miles to walk, I looked forward to whatever inspired spirituality was in my future. Maybe, just maybe my faith would prevail. Or maybe it would simply morph and a different reality be unsurfaced.

Day 24, 2017 - Bercianos del Real Camino to Mansilla de la Mulas

INSTINCTS

Trusting what I know

about my health or people

helps to protect me.

Departed at 6:30am; 41° 

I was up early with a bad sore throat. This could not be good. 

Perhaps it was because of lack of sleep, or the sore throat, or because this was a 27k day or just because I missed home, but today was the first day I didn't want to walk. I just wanted to throw the covers over my head and sleep. Plus, I realized I was out of magic, Spanish Ibuprofen (my pain reliever of choice available over the counter in 600mg). I knew I had to remedy this as quickly as possible so it was best I be on my way.

It was dark so I had a somewhat hard time finding the way out of town. But I knew all I had to do was walk away from the rising sun. When I consulted the oracle (the weather app on my phone), I saw the temperature was going to get up to the sizzling 70's. Right now, though it felt cold. I needed gloves but didn't want to take off my pack to get them. So, my laziness made me suffer...a conclusion applicable in other situations, I'm certain.

A crow cawed in the distance. Birds chirped as the morning lightened. Pinks and purples marked the horizon. Large pivots spanned the recently tilled fields. Sycamore trees lined the path. The air smelled fresh and clean.

As the sun rose and shone across the fields, it seemed to glow...an orange-brown color marred with shadow.  

I caught up with a fellow walker, Ray from Cambridge which made the first 8 km go rather quickly. He was a chef and was cooking for others on his journey.  We talked about the increase of pilgrims walking and how the Camino was changing with the use of technology. I wondered what the differences might be in only 5 years. How many more pilgrims would be walking? How would technology make the journey different?

Before we parted ways, Ray told me a saying that goes like this, "trust God, but tie your horse".  It made me ponder my faith and responsibility for my own well-being. It was typical to ebb and flow with other pilgrims and "buen camino" was both a hello and a goodbye. Ray and I parted when I needed my first café con leche and he did not.. I supposed I wouldn't see him again though I sensed he would be a welcome companion and there would be no need to tie my horse. I found a farmacia and restocked my ibuprofen.

I relaxed for 20 minutes or so; then walked on, solo. I felt a blister forming so I stopped to put a precautionary bandage on the outer edge of my left foot. I knew the benefit of tending to any "hot spots"...the first rule of the Camino again came into my head...MIND YOUR FEET. 

Just at the edge of town where I ended the day in Mansilla de la Mulas, I met Mick from Cincinnati. We chatted for a while, but something told me to steer clear of him...he was confident and boastful. Later, when talking to several other pilgrims, I learned that his reputation preceded him. My intuition had been right. I began to consider what contributes to first impressions and to second impressions. What part does trusting one's instincts and the opinion of others play in forming and altering perception? This would be an ongoing focus, one that I hoped would be resolved by the time I reached Santiago.

I found my hostel quickly and showered. It was heaven to have access to a hairdryer and a double bed with clean, white sheets. Sometimes, the simplest pleasures are the best! I later joined friends in the garden behind an Albergue where many other pilgrims had stopped. We steered clear of Mick as we quenched our thirst with a cerveza and revisited the day's events.

The day ended but not before dinner and a walk about town. Unlike earlier when I'd chosen not to wear my gloves, I tended to my other aches and pains. A change from boots to sandals soothed my feet, a throat lozenge soothed my throat and my magic, Spanish ibuprofen relieved any bodily pain. Sleep came easy.

 

 

Day 23, 2017 - Moratinos to Bercianos del Real Camino

SOCRATES IMPROVED 

I don’t know a thing

except that the second bar

is a good idea.  

 

Departed at 8:00am
40° partly cloudy, no rain.

It was a cold morning walking into the wind. I headed out solo and thought about how I walked this same ancient Roman road last year with Luca, one of the five Slovenian monks who I met a few towns back. He said he wanted to walk with me until he believed I was strong enough to again walk alone (because of painful tendinitis). He was a chatterbox and as I limped beside him, distracted by his banter, the long walk became bearable. 

Unlike other days, today the path was mostly unrecognizable. It was long and straight and I didn’t have a sense of what might be ahead, when the next town was coming, nor did I remember any landmarks. It occurred to me when someone else takes care of me, I notice less than when I take care of myself. I rely on my senses less if someone else leads the way. I suppose it's not a person but the distraction a person creates that accounts for this. At any rate, I was grateful for Luca's companionship. I won't forget him. 

It wasn’t long before I met up with Andrea from Italy. In conversation, he told me he liked to start walking each day in the dark along with the moon and the stars. He often started at 4:30am and was finished just as others were looking for a lunchtime, pilgrim meal. He walked until he was tired and then stopped. Sometimes, he ended up at a "donativo" albergue and in exchange for a bed he cooked for the other pilgrims. His English was good; his smile contagious. 

I walked past an old man with a bag, collecting snails. If I had seen one as I walked I would have hidden it. I heard myself say out loud as I walked ahead, "quick, hide little snails"...I’m an animal lover at heart.   

I walked into Sahagún which felt like walking into Burgos or Logrono. It seemed to take forever. But by the clock, the first 10k went fast. A taxi drove by; I was not tempted, not even by the signs posted on buildings with phone numbers for taxi service.

I searched for the second cafe or bar and found the Celtic bar I stopped in last year.  As the tribe increased in number and distances between us increased, we all agreed to stop at the second  bar/cafe in any given town; not the first. That way there was greater chance to meet again. The tortoise could catch the hare. It was at this bar that I met Lisa again and her German friends. They were catching the bus from Sahagún to go home. Thanks to our agreement, I was able to say goodbye.   

I walked through the market area, amazed by the variety of items for sale, paying no attention to yellow arrows or lack of them. Finally, and before any WOS (walks of shame), I asked a passerby to point me in the direction of the Camino de Santiago. It was 11:30 AM and I had 10 km to walk. 

My mind wandered. I thought about those I have met on the Camino; then and now...those who have touched my life, made a difference, small or large, from all corners of the world, who I may never see again. 

What is it that Gibran says about friendship?
"Your friend is your needs answered.
He is your field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving.
And he is your board and your fireside.
For you come to him with your hunger, and you seek him for peace.
When your friend speaks his mind you fear not the "nay" in your own mind, nor do you withhold the "ay."
And when he is silent your heart ceases not to listen to his heart;
For without words, in friendship, all thoughts, all desires, all expectations are born and shared, with joy that is unacclaimed.
When you part from your friend, you grieve not;
For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.
And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.
For love that seeks aught but the disclosure of its own mystery is not love but a net cast forth: and only the unprofitable is caught.
And let your best be for your friend.
If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also.
For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill?
Seek him always with hours to live.
For it is his to fill your need, but not your emptiness.
And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures.
For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed."

I was and am refreshed...and grateful.

 

Day 22, 2017 Carrión de los Condes to Moratinos

ACCOMMODATION

To preserve and house

old wine or tired pilgrims,

planning is required.

Day 21 Carrion de los Condes to Moratinos.jpg

53°, partly cloudy, heading into rain

I left late today at 9:15 but by early afternoon, I reached Terradillos de los Templarios, a former stronghold with historical links to the Knights Templar and Jacques de Molay, the Grand Marshall of the order. This was the place where I was brought back to health last year with help from 5 Slovenian monks. It was a critical point in my last year's Camino and memories came rushing back instantly upon entering. It was here I remembered leaving one of mom's blue beads on the gate entrance and went to look. Nope, not there. Too much time had passed...

I stayed a while in the albergue restaurant before walking on to Moratinos, and after having run into Lisa from Germany. She was dismayed to find the albergue in Terradillos full so Jacqueline and I recommended she walk on with us to Moratinos to find a place to stay. Compared to last year, there seemed to be three times more pilgrims walking. It was now essential to book the night's lodging a day ahead. This limited the spontaneity and freedom to walk however far was comfortable, but allowed a more leisurely pace, since the next place I stayed knew I was coming. Regardless of any benefit, I wish booking..com didn't have such a hold on Pilgrims. 

We all layered up and walked in pouring rain into a strong headwind. I leaned forward with head down, hardly looking up until standing next to the albergue in Moratinos. Nearby there was a circle of 500-year-old bodegas, some of which had caved in or were boarded up. There were a few still intact although all were locked, providing no entrance. I wondered if the locks still secured preserved wine or other provisions. I wandered around, wishing I had an umbrella, and looked through small, broken glass "windows" into dark chambers. I was curious why some still stood and others did not. Were they built at different times out of different materials by different people? Perhaps some were better designed than others and along with these factors accounted for the varying degrees of needed repair.

Drenched and cold, I headed for a cafe to warm up and to eat with other pilgrims. I sat around a long table with Jacqueline and Lisa and her friends, hearing mostly German. Lisa showed her gratitude for the Moratinos albergue recommendation by buying a round of delicious almond cake. In return, Jacqueline and I taught her the game of "Dead Face", taught to us by Sean from Australia. It's difficult to explain the game but the winner was the one who could keep from laughing the longest. Hard to do and fun to play. Laughter truly is contageous and knows no language!

I did learn one phrase in German today....nein schnarchen (no snoring), which will come in handy when staying in large albergues! Today, I was just grateful to have a bed in a warm place. Some were not so lucky.

 I've passed the 1/2 way mark. Onward!