WHERE THE RUBBER MEETS THE CAMINO

Sahagun, September 16, 2021

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.

Outside of Moratinos

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.

A chicken hamburguesa

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.

Buen Camino

I AM A NOVELTY

Calzadilla de la Cuaza, September 12, 2001

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.

Bon Chemin

Buen Camino

THE CHURCH IN HONTANAS

Hontanas, 9 September 2021

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

Buen Camino

A PILGRIM’S BLESSING

Hornillos, 8 September 2021

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.

Buen Camino

HOW WEIRD IS THIS?

Ok the weirdest thing just happened to me. If you recall I had a great lunch at this restaurant by the river. When I found out they open at 7:00 for dinner I decided to go back the next day for dinner. Bonus…they have paella on the menu.

So I go a little early and find a table outside and order a Red Martini (martini rojo), that’s Martini Red vermouth.

I’m sipping my drink, enjoying the people watching, and anticipating my paella. All of a sudden this older woman (I found out later she’s 85) asks if she can sit with me. In my pathetic Spanish I understand that she’s waiting for a friend who is late.

So we start chatting and my Spanish is so bad I ask if she speaks French or English so she starts speaking to me in French. We talk for awhile and soon another Spanish lady sits at the table next to me and my Spanish lady and she start talking.

Pretty soon she’s saying to me she told the other lady that she’s waiting for a friend but she’s speaking French with me until her friend shows. So my lady and I keep talking. I find out her name is Danielle and she is delighted to know my daughter’s name is Danielle. Then I tell her how Lucien/Lucienne is a family name in my family. In the meantime my paella has arrived.

Finally her friend arrives…and takes the chair opposite my lady at my table and the two start talking. I’m wondering if I’ll be having my dinner with two guests.

Eventually they both get up and thank me for allowing my lady to sit with me until her friend showed up and off they walk to find another table.

And now one at a time people are asking for an extra chair. So I’m sitting alone in my one chair. Another lady just came up to me, looked at my paella and said something in Spanish. I had to tell her I didn’t speak Spanish but the paella was bueno. She said “bueno” and got a chair from another table to join the ever expanding crowd at the table next to me.

Can anything else happen?

Oh yeah it just got a little more weird and this was of my own doing. The table next to me had 5 people sitting there and one chair had a lady’s purse sitting on it. Then there was the lady who commented on the paella sitting facing the street between that table and mine. I thought she was with the other people and when I realized she was alone I asked if she wanted to sit at my table.

She spoke no English and I didn’t have the Spanish to keep up with her. I did catch that she had 5 sons and 8 grandchildren and she pointed out to me at least 3 times that we were two women alone or possibly two single women. And she followed that up with pointing to herself and saying “solo” then pointing at me and saying “solo”. Plus she asked me 4 times if I had a hotel and said something that I didn’t really understand but the gestures and inflection seemed to indicate that I should avoid strange men which I heartily agreed with.

Finally I asked for the bill and told the waiter to put her drink on my tab. I tried to express to her that I had a pleasant time talking and I wished her a good night. As I walked away I saw the waiter and he gave me a big 👍

I may have been anticipating a quiet dinner but I’ll certainly say I had an interesting one.

ANOTHER BROKEN POT

Burgos, 7 September 2021

I like visiting museums, mostly art museums. My favorite is to see an exhibit by one artist or of one genre of art. In this way I learn about that artist or style of art.

This morning I went to the museum of Burgos which is all about the history of Burgos. I had low expectations but the entrance fee was only a euro. Pretty soon I entered what I think of as “the broken pots” room. How many shards of pottery can one room contain and why am I looking at them? I wasn’t terribly excited by it but then a small thought crept into my brain and changed everything.

Suddenly I was struck by how intricate the pottery was and how. It changed as time passed. The pottery was plain and rough but soon lines and grooves appeared around the pottery, and drawings began to show up. I never really looked at these things before. I started to ask myself, “Who first decided to take a stick and make a pattern of lines on this bowl?” Who was the first person to say, “I’m think I’ll draw a little bird on this. I think that would be real pretty. And maybe I could put some more birds on these bowls to match.” And how long was it before someone said, “Hey so and so drew a bird on their pottery”. I wasn’t looking at bits of pottery anymore, I was looking at someone’s creation in clay.

It spoke to me of humanity’s desire to be creative. We are each of us looking to put our own little mark on something. And it’s not just about a bird on pottery…it’s a descant added on to a song, a particular turn of phrase that speaks volumes, looking at a molecule and asking, “What happens if I do this?” It’s a bit of computer code or a silly joke. We all want to add something to this life. More importantly we all have something to add to this life. And…it all adds something to life.

The “what” that gets added isn’t as important is the “who” who added it. Don’t be afraid to add your piece of creativity. The world needs you.

Buen Camino

BURGOS

Burgos, 6 September 2021

How does one describe a good day? I think it’s easy to describe it from the inside out.

  • I successfully taped my foot and it feels better.
  • I had a lovely breakfast of cafe con leche and a pastry made with a flakey crust and dark chocolate on the bottom.
  • I found a laundromat and washed my clothes and found my way back to my hotel WITHOUT GPS.
  • I went to the Cathédrale de Santa Maria in Burgos, downloaded the app and had a wonderful audio guided tour.
  • I wandered around the neighborhood and found a posh looking restaurant that was opening in just 30 minutes so I returned to my room for a little extra cash and found my way back WITHOUT GPS.
  • I had a table overlooking a little park along the river and lunch was amazing. White asparagus with a cream sauce and a small lettuce salad, the most tender beef stew with extra crispy fries, and 2 glasses of red wine. Now I know why people in Spain put so much emphasis on the siesta time.
Santa Maria
Best meal so far

All of that sounds great, but it really doesn’t capture how I feel outside in.

Inside I feel strong, accomplished, healthy, satisfied, well fed, and peacefully happy. Taking delight in the day is as much a part of the camino as overcoming obstacles, carrying on when the hill seems too steep, and asking for help when you have no strength left inside.

The outside is just stuff. The inside is the gift the camino gives.

Oh…I forgot…I had ice cream 🍦 too 😋

Buen Camino

BE KIND TO YOURSELF

Santo Domingo de la Calzada 3 September 2021

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

So I have a prayer for this camino…

Help me to acknowledge my weakness with grace.

Buen Camino

WHAT’S THE DATE AGAIN?

August 31, 2021 Navarette

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.

Buen Camino

ALONE WITH MY THOUGHTS IN BILBAO

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?

Buen Camino

Grilled octopus on egg salad and a croquetta with ham
Olive oil on toasted bread with a tomato sauce and ham. The wine is TXAKOLI (cha-coe-lee) wine from the Basque region.