One month ago today I walked into Santiago de Compostela. It was a very different experience from two years ago. Then I stood before the cathedral and…felt nothing. It wasn’t until the next day when a woman working in the Pilgrim’s Office spelled my name wrong on my Compostela that I felt something big. I looked at my misspelled name and the full impact of having walked 500 miles hit me like a great rushing wind. Thankfully it was no problem to issue me a new Compostela.
This year I hurried through the outskirts of Santiago carefully watching for those yellow arrows to find my way to the plaza so I could see Santiago gazing down from the cathedral. And when I stood there looking up I was seized with this thought…
I made it! I’m here!
That moment repeated itself the next day when my friend Viv and I went to the Pilgrim’s Mass in the cathedral. We waited in a long line outside the cathedral for an hour and a half. At 11:00 am the doors opened to allow us entry for the noon mass. We wended our way through the cold cathedral and suddenly upon turning a corner there was the center of the church.
I made it! I’m here!
After walking for 51 days I am here in the cathedral where the legendary bones of Saint James are buried. I have been processing what all this means to me. I haven’t made much progress but every day I pull out various memories of my time on the camino and try to sort it all out within my heart and soul. I do know my walk has made me different.
Two years ago, just a few weeks into my walk I knew I wanted to walk the Camino Frances again and I wanted to walk it alone. This time as I entered Santiago I sensed I had done what I came to do. Five days later I felt the pull of the pilgrim’s walk again. Maybe it’s because this time as I made it into Santiago I was in shape to walk the camino unlike when I started. But I sense it is deeper. This pilgrimage changes me every time and I believe there is still more within me to change.
Today I saw a man pose his little dog in front of a statue in the square. I will say he was a well behaved dog and even looked at his owner and barked for him on cue.
If you spend all morning looking for someplace that sells postcards within 30 minutes of buying some at the first place you found them, you will find better ones at half the price. Thank goodness I didn’t have to break a €50 note for 2 postcards.
The sound of a rooster is actually pleasant after 10:00 am.
No matter how slowly you ask a Spanish person something they will answer with at least 30 seconds of rapid fire Spanish for the response. If you tell them you don’t understand they will repeat themselves at the same speed.
Iberia airlines apparently has no way to read their website in English.
Custard, flan, and crème brûlée are really all the same thing.
A large bed on the Camino is really just two twin beds pushed together.
A “tortilla” is an egg pie with potatoes.
Spain is beautiful and it’s people are very nice 😊
If you’ve been to Europe you’ve seen people who bring their dogs with them when they go out to eat. And it’s not only when eating outdoors, I personally have seen people bring their dogs inside of a restaurant and I have absolutely no problem with this. You see… the same people who bring their dogs with them to a restaurant are the people who walk their dogs with no leash. These dogs are trained, well-behaved, and well loved by their owners.
Over 10 years ago my cousin from France was visiting. She, two of my daughters, my dog, and I took a trip to Gatlingburg, Tennessee in October when the color of the leaves was absolutely magnificent. We decided to go into town for lunch, found a place with outdoor seating and tried to get a table with my little dog in tow. ABSOLUTELY NOT! Eventually we had to settle for a table next to the fence surrounding the patio with Templeton on the outside of the fence. He was well behaved and sat quietly while people passing by would stop to pet him and remark on how he should be able to sit with his pack.
So here I am in Spain, eating outdoors at a wonderful cafe on the plaza, sharing my space with a pigeon. It’s not even a well behaved pigeon. It wanders around from table to table sometimes taking flight near diners.
So I ask you if you have to share your outdoor space (I’ll leave the indoor controversy for now) with someone’s well behaved chihuahua or beagle or an on-the-loose pigeon, which would you choose? Think about it…a well behaved dog gives you and your partner something to talk about other than how big the Amex bill is. Or in the case of my husband in me we don’t argue because I’m enchanted by the dog at the table next to us and wondering how our little dog is alone at home. Unruly children are captivated by a dog and don’t need to be pacified by a parent’s phone. That huge steak isn’t going to waste because Fido is going to share the meal. Plus the pigeon is basically a free agent. No one is in charge of it.
I’m going to suggest one more controversial thought. I was in a restaurant in Molinaseca when I saw a gray cat saunter into the restaurant, obviously unaccompanied. Two little girls at a table near me were captivated by this cat. No one screamed at the presence of this feline, no one’s head exploded, the cat didn’t even beg for food. It just walked around and left.
Full disclosure…I’m allergic to cats so I’ve never developed a real appreciation for the feline personality but I certainly respect others who do. If you want to bring you cat and it’s well behaved and willing to sit under your table for the duration of the meal…have at it.
I welcome (and encourage) your responses to this post.
There’s a couple near me. He’s younger, Irish maybe. She’s older, Germanic. I can’t really hear their conversation and I don’t want to. I can hear the cadence of their voices and the conversation seems companionable. It’s pleasant and I feel happy to be in this place.
I stopped here because it seemed to be the only place open with food. The sign advertised empanadas. I was hungry and in need of a comfortable place after my morning.
I walked 8 miles from Foncebadon to El Acebo. I thought it was going to be an easy walk after the 16.76 miles that I did yesterday. It was not. It was cold, windy, and rainy. I stopped at Cruz de Fierro, had a little cry, sang a song, and left the stone I carried from home.
And now I’m here in a little hippy bar run by Germans. I love it. The food is simple and good, and the atmosphere is peaceful. Everybody seems to think that today is different somehow. The traffic is slower and maybe there is something different about the pilgrims.
I saw the Spanish man I walked with yesterday for a short time. He’s a former professor of humanities (in 5 languages) at Notre Dame. We had a most interesting conversation about health care, education, the history of Castilla and why the people of Léon want to separate from Castilla.
I met some lovely American women who are on their first camino. They were so happy to be here. We had fun discussing how good the Santiago cake is.
It feels like today has come full circle with the morning difficulties blending in with the pleasantness of the afternoon. As the bartender said to me, “There can be no light without the darkness”. Even more, the light and the dark together have made for a very good day.
Today’s title is not a reflection of a hankering for things American. No. Rather it’s indicative of my lack of full understanding when it comes to ordering food.
I can never find exactly what I want on the Bob Evan’s menu but i know I can tell the waitress what I want and she will bring it to me: two eggs over easy, chicken sausage, dry whole wheat toast, jam, and coffee. Simple, no problem. But things are not the same in Spain.
This morning I asked for one fried egg, toast with jam, and coffee. The menu has two eggs with pieces of baguette. My toast was on the side with jam and my coffee. I hadn’t planned on the extra bread and I hate to waste food. So I wrapped the bread in my napkin and tucked it in my backpack along with the apple I bought yesterday.
So I had a good breakfast and later I can stop for a second cafe con leche and have a second breakfast.
Once upon a time two pilgrims were walking the Camino when they came upon a sign. The sign was not very clear as to which way to go so they looked the sign over and debated what to do.
Pretty soon a local man and three local women came along. The man tried to explain to the Pilgrims which was the correct way to go. While the discussion was not heated by any means it was rather animated.
Soon my walking partner and I came upon this scene and we stopped to assess the question of direction. At one point I noticed the three women who were looking at us like three wise abuelas (grandmothers). They each nodded their heads to the right and give a gentle wave of their hands in that direction as if to say, “It’s ok we know the correct direction.” So we quietly went on our way and left the man with the pilgrims to hash out the meaning of the sign.
It was the correct direction so I guess the moral of the story is this, “when an abuela tells you which way to go, pay attention.”
That’s a pretty whimsical title compared to how I’m feeling today. Sahagun is the geographic halfway point on the camino de Santiago.
I’m under the 400 km mark and the road is pretty flat. I should be taking the camino by storm by now. And yet I don’t think I am.
I planned this camino to be filled with days of 12 miles or less. I didn’t want this to be an endurance race. I wanted to enjoy the camino and spend more time with my spirit than struggling to take another step. Yet no matter how hard I tried to plan this camino I find myself with 19 miles ahead of me today. Maybe the idea that I could “plan” a pilgrimage is the fatal flaw.
The days have been starting out cold, in the low 50’s. I put on my jacket and shorts (because I opted to not carry the 12 oz that my pants weigh) and then the sun comes out and I’m warm. Next clouds cover the sun and the wind kicks up and I’m cold again. By the time I arrive someplace even in the sun I feel chilled to the bone.
It’s lonely sometimes on the Camino. I’ve had wonderful times with the French on the camino but they are moving faster than me so I’ve lost that connection. It seems that the Americans have all grouped up and don’t seem inclined to add a new person even for a while. And the Spanish? They are among the friendliest and my Spanish is so poor that conversation is frustrating for all. I MUST LEARN SPANISH!
Food has been a challenge too. I just haven’t felt like eating most of the time. Of course if I don’t eat I don’t have the strength to keep going. So I try.
Ok it’s time for this pity party to be over. I have accomplished a lot so far. And I know I would be far more gracious to others than I am being to myself. I have a sandwich, fruit, water, and a ticket to take the bus today. I feel very good that with the help of the owner where I am staying I managed to acquire that ticket. The bus will drop me in Mansilla de las Mulas and I will backtrack 6 km to Reliegos.
So the camino isn’t all deep spiritual thoughts and joy. Sometimes it’s downright hard and today is one of those days for me. And I’m going to be fine and tomorrow is a new day.
It has occurred to me that being a woman walking alone on the camino can be a lonely endeavor. Because I’ve had a few days off and lost the people I was walking with at the beginning I find that many walkers have “paired up” with another person or group and while I might walk with them for a bit I’m not really part of the group. Plus most of the people walking are Spanish and my ____ with the language is so poor that talking is difficult both for me and them. But then there are the French 🇫🇷 🤗
I have the distinction of being fairly fluent in French. Because my mother was French my brother and I grew up speaking French to her and English to our dad. Well today the French Armada arrived in full force. I know because I called out “Hola” and the response I heard back was “Bonjour”. So I fell in with them and picked right up in French learning where they are from, where they started from, etc., etc. It was great! And then the inevitable question of where I come from. The United States of America. And then the inevitable wide eyes and open mouths. An American who speaks such good French? No! And with that introduction I became part of the group.
Later I was supposed to have dinner with one couple at my hotel but unfortunately because of Covid the hotel stopped serving dinner. So I met them in the town square and we dined there with another French gentleman. Over dinner the woman said to me (in French), “ We love speaking with people from other countries but our English is so poor”. I didn’t think of myself as a foreigner. I was simply speaking as one of the people at the table.
We had dinner together the next night and another French couple joined. There was a rousing discussion at the table over French and American politics. You might think that a dangerous subject to tackle but it was positively fun. I tried my best to explain the electoral college system and was privileged to listen to them explain the education and health care system of a country that is part of a larger collective of countries. I felt very much part of the group.
They are all walking a bit faster than I am but we have all exchanged WhatsApp contacts and promised to keep in touch and send pictures. Invitations were issued all around to come and visit. I’m not alone on the camino anymore.
I think the church in Hontanas is my favorite along the camino. As you enter town there is a cafe at the top of a road that slopes down to the church.
I remember on the Camino two years ago that Glen was very tired and stopped there. I was convinced there would be a better place down the road.
When I came to the church I was immediately captivated by the prayer area set up with ancient chants playing. There was a young man kneeling and praying. Even more surprising there was a plate of cookies. There didn’t seem to be anyone from the church around. No one to make sure someone doesn’t steal the cookies or the candlesticks or even to make sure that the lit candles don’t burn the church down.
And so today I am here again. It’s all the same. The plate of cookies is gone but that’s probably a remnant of what COVID has given us. The entire church seems to say, come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28
Tonight after a 14 mile day I decided to attend the Pilgrim’s Mass at the church here in Hornillos. There were 20-25 of us from the US, Germany, France, England, Ireland, and definitely Spain.
The Mass was in Spanish of course so I couldn’t follow the liturgy and since I’m not catholic I had to take my cues from those around me about when to stand and when to sit. I enjoyed sitting there letting the words wash over me like waves and soaking in the gilded art. There was a wonderful statue of Santiago; he looked so happy.
After Communion the priest called us all forward and began handing out copies of the Pilgrim’s Blessing in each of our languages and had us read them aloud one language group at a time. Then we sang a song written in French but easy enough for us all to follow.
Then the priest did something I didn’t expect. He asked each language group to sing something in our own language. When it came to the Americans (me and one other guy) I said the first thing that popped into my head, “Let’s sing the Star Spangled Banner.” My partner in this duet looked at me and said “I don’t think I know all the words.” It didn’t matter. We put our hands over our hearts and sang loud and proud even if we did sound like the Tone Deaf Choir of Hornillos. As we sang I thought about the Americans in Afghanistan and all the people back home.
After all the singing the priest had those of us with our pilgrim passports to bring them forward and he stamped them with great flourish. There was a bit more singing with the priest after that.
Before we left he wished us all a buen camino. I turned around and said, in my best Spanish, “And also with you because we are all here on a pilgrimage.” He responded, “Yes. In life as well we are on camino.” Then he asked my name and did something totally unexpected. He made the sign of the cross on my forehead, placed his had on my head and prayed for me. Now maybe he was praying for you obvious protestant soul since I did not take communion, or perhaps for my terrible singing, or maybe he had some intuition that my right foot was in a lot of pain. What I do know is that this man prayed so fervently over me that I felt it down to my toes.
May God bless each and everyone of you on your camino.