Yesterday I walked in to Santo Domingo de la Calzada. Two years ago when I arrived I was limping with a bad blister on my right foot. I couldn’t believe that I had a blister as I’d been walking for almost 10 days and I thought I had dodged that particularly malady. I’m glad to say that I’m blister free but I am nursing something that feels like tendinitis in my right heel. So count me as one of the walking wounded.
Having this problem has frustrated me. It feels like a sign of weakness and I fall back into berating myself. I should have trained more. I should have checked in with my physician before going. I should have brought some ibuprofen. I should have asked for ice for my foot. I should have used my voltaren gel before this. What am I doing on Camino?
Here’s the rub (no pun intended)…I’ve heard scores of pilgrims say those same things to me and I would never chastise them. I would offer encouragement. Take your time. If you need a day off to recover take a cab or a bus to the next town. Use some of my gel to calm the pain. I’ll help you find a pharmacy.
I’ve been the recipient of that kind of grace. Puy in Estella walked me to the bus stop and helped me get a ticket. The next day in Los Arcos Oisu drove me to Logrono and helped my get to my hotel. Beautiful acts of kindness that helped me to recover from the heat exhaustion I was suffering from. Grace
I’m back on track with this camino after being ill for two days and taking two days to visit Bilbao. Today was a short day, only 8.5 miles and mostly flat with a few climbs. I feel good.
I went to the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption in Navarette. It is an incredibly beautiful little parish church. It’s a little hard to see in the picture but the chancel is surrounded in intricate gold designs and a beatific Madonna and child. There was also some taize music piped in the sanctuary. That’s only part of what made this visit special.
Before leaving I went to get a stamp for my credential (pilgrim passport). There were three French girls seemingly bewildered at the lack of a real person to stamp their credentials. So I explained that I often had to stamp my own passport and that I almost always have to fill in the date myself. Then one girls said, “I will write the date on yours and you can write the date on mine.” There was a brief discussion of whether to write to whole date out or just the numbers. She thought the whole date was much prettier. So today I was gifted with what I am sure will be the prettiest date on any of my Camino stamps.
What do you think about when you are alone with your thoughts? Do you try to distract yourself with your electronics or do you engage with the musings that seep into your consciousness?
For two days I’ve been in Bilbao away from the Camino and all the pilgrims I have met along the way. It’s been good for me as I have taken these two days to recover. The only conversations I’ve had have been to order food and ask directions. This morning I was a bit lost and I asked a man, “Which way to the river?” He chuckled and traced the river on my map to show me which direction the river flows. Haha. Then he graciously showed yes me which direction to go to get to the river. Other than that I’ve been alone with my thoughts.
So when you are alone with your thoughts what do you think about? For me I think that my deepest yearnings rise to the surface. The most common theme is hospitality. I have long had a dream of opening a restaurant. It would be small, maybe a dozen tables inside with a few tables outside, a well stocked bar, an intimate atmosphere, classical music softly playing, and somehow designed so that the sound of one table doesn’t drift to another.
I would have a limited menu of maybe half a dozen dishes some of which would change daily or weekly. I would bring my experience of traveling in Europe to create a mix of French, Italian, and Spanish dishes. These two days in Bilbao have introduced me to pinchos. These are uniquely Basque. Pinchos are small plates, bigger than appetizers (tapas); for me 1-2 makes a nice little lunch. I actually learned that the best time to eat pinchos is in the morning when they are freshest unless it’s a very popular restaurant where they make the pinchos all day. So for breakfast yesterday I had some kind of croquetta with ham on a slice of baguette and a puffy thing filled with potato and a fried shrimp on top
Its not an Egg McMuffin but it was very good.
I think about bringing all of these things to my family and friends. I want to create an environment where they can slowly savor the flavors and heighten the experience with the best wine to go with it. I want to share the history, geography, and culture of where these epicurean delights come from.
Marriage, having a family, having grandchildren, and probably a healthy dose of fear of failure mean that my dream of a small restaurant will not bear fruit. On the other hand my thoughts still speak to me of hospitality, warm friendship, good food and wine.
What do you think about when you are alone with your thoughts?
Let me make myself clear, clair, claro…I do not speak Spanish. I grew up speaking French with my mother and English with my father. My friends in England would probably insist that I don’t speak English, rather I speak American. No matter I do not speak Spanish.
I took a half year of Spanish in high school because I was graduating early and needed 4 years of a foreign language for a college prep diploma so to round things out I added a half year of Spanish to the three and a half years of French I would have. Years later in college I studied in France for six months and a group of us found out we could take classes at the local university so we bravely went over and signed up for Spanish.
When I travel to a foreign country I gamely try to learn a few key phrases in the language so I don’t seem like the type of person that expects everyone to cater to my needs and speak English. I try to go beyond just asking where the toilet is and wine please. In Spanish I even learned how to ask for “more” wine please 🍷🍷😉
All of this is to say that I managed to do two difficult things yesterday. First of all I made my way to a “farmacia” (pharmacy) and bought a small tube of toothpaste that was for adults and not kids. Secondly I was able to navigate a Spanish website to buy train tickets (think “Expedia” in Spanish for trains). The latter took considerably more time as my keyboard cannot read my facial expressions or gestures, and doesn’t care if I look like I’m going to cry if I can’t get to Bilbao for two nights. And yet here I am writing to you from aboard a train that costs me about $25 for a round trip ticket, three hours each way.
I really want to encourage you that with a little patience, some hand gestures, pointing, and a hefty sprinkling of gracias (thank you) and por favor (please) you can manage to get along without knowing the language. In fact I’ve found that most people are yearning to practice their English with you or even to give you a little Spanish lesson to up your skills.
It is truly a beautiful thing to be able to communicate with another person.
The camino does not seem crowded like I expected it would be. Normally about 400 pilgrims start out from St. Jean Pied de Port each day. Today I heard that it is 30-40. About half of those walking are Spanish followed by French/Americans, and then the rest of Europe. I often walk alone which I did not expect and sometimes I cross paths with some very interesting people.
The first group I ran into is 6 men ranging in age from mid 20’s to 60-ish. I can’t quite tell if they are Spanish as I don’t really understand them. They may be basque. We pass each other 2-3 times a day mostly because I’m slow and they stop frequently to eat and they always travel with a couple of bottles of wine.
I call the next group “my four Spanish sons”. These young men are in their 20’s traveling together. I saw them one day taking pictures in front of a beautiful old church and asked if they’d like one of them in front of the church. Si! First I did the long shot, then the medium, and finished up with a closeup of the four of them for “las mamas y los papas. We always smile at each other.
One day as I was going down a steep descent I met a young French girl ascending this hill. She was huffing and puffing. She stopped for a breath and I asked why she was going in the opposite direction. She said she’d been to Santiago and was walking back home. Brave young woman and I remember her when I want to complain about the hills.
Juan and the young man with the “Gard-zen”. Juan is the man I wrote about 2 years ago. It was a day that I was almost out of water and hungry as well. I saw him again in the same place. Of course he didn’t remember me but was pleased that I remembered him. BTW he didn’t get his bananas from Nicaragua this year, they come from Costa Rica. The Gard-zen is a food stand outside of Maneru. He hopes to add to his stand with more seating, a small (really small) theater where musicians can play, and a meditation spot. I wish him well.
And speaking of music…I’m in the square in front of the cathedral in Logrono. There’s a large Spanish family seated next to me and they are all singing. I don’t think my family has ever sung like that in public. They are so happy.
I’ll end with the Spanish family that I walked with. Husband, wife, and daughter. We limped along in my broken Spanish and the mother’s broken English and then realized that we both speak French very well. The daughter is an electrical engineer working at a university. She wanted to know where I lived and I told her I’d lived in Ohio my entire life except for 5 years in New Mexico. Her eyes really lit up and she said that ever since she was 11 and had seen the movie Contact with Jodie Foster she wanted to work at the Very Large Array in Socorro, New Mexico.
So many more people I have met along the way. So many of them so very kind. Even though the camino is a challenge (especially for the under-trained like me) it is truly filled with grace. I was ill for two days. I think it was heat exhaustion. Even though I tried to drink a lot I guess I just sweated more out. And there were many people looking out for me and taking care of me. I am so grateful.
Today I walked to Zubiri. It was another long day for me. Remember the alternative route into Roncesvalles that I forgot to take? I swore I wouldn’t make that same mistake in Zubiri. I’m pleased to say I didn’t make that mistake…because there is no alternative route. The great rocky descent is all there is 😮
When I arrived I went straight to the pensione where I was staying but it turned out that was the owner’s home. He walked me over to the pensione and I’m sorry to say I was sorely lagging behind. Occasionally he would stop and wait for me to catch up. I was embarrassed.
Later I went in search of food and found my fellow Daytonians along with a lady from Dallas and a man from France (named Michel) who spoke no English. So I got to play translator. Sometimes it’s easy to just translate instead of having to contribute to the conversation when one is tired.
…or does it? I took a picture of myself this morning and sent it off to my family and a few friends with the caption “Today I begin my camino.” Before I sent it I sensed that there was something wrong with what I’d written. I began my camino two years ago. To “begin” today begs the question, Did I “finish” my camino?
I have read countless memoirs and listened to hundreds of podcasts in the last two years and it seems the consensus is that one is never “finished” with the camino. In fact I have come to see that unknowingly I began my camino at my birth and thought of it as simply “living my life”.
Here I am on the train to St. Jean Pied de Port. It’s been a long day but it’s really just the latest leg of my Camino. And I’m not alone
The train is full people and the overhead shelf is packed with backpacks, water bottles, hats, and more. Everything needed to climb the Pyrenees, cross the meseta, and walk into Santiago de Compostela. Even more we bring our minds, hearts, bodies, and souls. We tenderly bring those last things and ask that they be shaped by this part of the Camino.
You all know that yesterday was a difficult day. After a good meal with fellow pilgrims and a good night’s sleep I started out feeling pretty good. We had breakfast together and with a cafe au lait under my belt I was prepared to conquer the day.
I started strong then at about 1/10 a mile I realized I had left my trekking poles behind. So I got to add a few extra steps to my day. I was doing very well as the climbs are more of a gentle slope and there are a few flat parts and even a few down hills. Then I stopped about 1 km before the summit of the Pyrenees. At this point there is a little food truck where I stopped to get a hard boiled egg and a water. After that stop I had a tough climb. It wasn’t so much the climb itself as it was the head wind blowing me backwards.
Then…according to the hand drawn map on the side of the food truck (I’m pretty sure this is copyright free) I was supposed to have 5 km of flat land and then 5 km downhill into Ronceveaux (French) or Roncesvalles (Spanish). For a flat land there were a lot of climbs.
Then I hit my first real challenge. One km uphill with a strong headwind. It didn’t get any better after that. Five km that was supposed to be flat turned out to have several climbs. When I finally got to the descent into Roncesvalles I forgot to take the longer but better paved road. It was brutal. If I ever walk the camino Frances I hope I never make that mistake again.
By the time I dragged myself into town I had to laugh at the hotel reception. He explained that I would need to use my room key to enter the hotel after 11:00 pm. NO PROBLEMO! I went to my room, got cleaned up, did some laundry, got a 🍷 from the bar, and ate the rest of my sandwich from lunch.
Yesterday was my first day walking. I did the upward climb from st. Jean Pied de Port. I don’t know the exact elevation but you can see from this map it’s nearly straight up. Only 5 miles but very hard especially when one has not trained.
At one point a woman I was walking with dropped her bottle and water spilled all over the road. I shared mine with her but then later on I ran out and a young man shared his with me.
I didn’t hike with what I called “the walking wounded” two years ago. We were more like “the crawling breathless”. And yet we stuck together and encouraged each other on until finally we rounded a corner and there was the Auberge Orisson.
There were people there waiting to serve us. They showed us to our rooms, gave us our tokens for the shower, and when we ordered food they brought it to us at the beautiful veranda overlooking the valley. We were truly welcomed and made to feel comfortable.
Another interesting note to the day…as I was leaving St. Jean Pied de Port I met 4 Americans starting out on the camino.
Me: Are you American?
Me: Where are you from
One of them: Ohio
Me: Me too. Which town?
One of them: Dayton
Me: No way! I’m from Dayton
It turns out we all live with 20 miles of each other. Two were from Dayton and the other two were from Montana and Colorado.
So I was going to wax on about whether I’m starting my camino or just continuing my camino from two years ago or whether my Camino started at birth. Then I thought…who gives a tahoodle about that?
I had a difficult time getting out of the US and my time in England with my friend Viv was cut short as was my time in Paris with my cousin Henriette.
Right now after a 5 1/2 train ride I have arrived in St. Jean Pied de Port in France. Tomorrow I will begin walking the Camino Frances. To carry the last sentiment forward…I am grateful.
I have a bed in a gîte in a room I share with 6 other people and yet it seems private. We are all women (although it is made clear this is a mixed dormitory) and it seems very cozy.
I am in/near French Basque country. Basque food is amazing! Bonus… I found the basque restaurant Glen and I ate in two years ago. I had an amazing lamb stew with little fried potatoes that seem like puffed up pillows. I must learn how to make them. Or return often to eat them 😉
The basque cake is similar to the Santiago cake. It’s made with almond flour and has an almond cream filling instead of the Santiago cake’s lemon/orange zest flavoring. I must learn how to make this.
Bref…(that means “to get to the point” because sometimes only the French will do for me)…I am having a very visceral AND spiritual time returning to my past in my present and thoroughly enjoying it.
Yes there is chaos in the world. However on the whole I believe that that chaos is only a small part of the world and we allow it to be amplified. That’s not to downplay the chaos, but rather to say, look again…see the good in the world. And rejoice in it.