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.
I was supposed to leave on my trip on Sunday and was unable to fly because my covid test results came after the 48 hour deadline. I ended up getting 2 covid tests and both are negative. I’m so grateful.
My flight to Washington DC was delayed 2 days in a row which meant that I wouldn’t make my connection to London. I got to spend extra time with my family especially a big cuddle time with our newest grandchild, Teddy. I’m so grateful.
I decided to fly to DC even though I would miss my connection. It’s taking an extra day but I got to spend last night in a very nice hotel. I am grateful.
I arrived at midnight and none of our flight’s baggage was coming up on the assigned carousel. I spent an hour trying to find my bag. Finally I saw my bag circling on a carousel that was supposed to have luggage from flights from Nashville and Charlotte. I have my suitcase. I am grateful.
I found a table in a sunny spot to have my breakfast. I am grateful.
I have a reservation on the shuttle to go to the airport at 2:00 pm and the hotel has told me I can stay in my room until 1:00 pm. It’s a nice room with a pretty view. I am grateful.
Today I’m hopeful that I will fly to England to visit a friend that I met on the camino two years ago. I’ll arrive 4 days late, but I will get to see her. I am grateful.
I have really been out of touch for several months now. The reason is because we have been doing a major renovation in our house. Our home isn’t huge (1700 sq ft) but no room will be untouched by this project. Like almost everything else in my life I try to view it through the lens of the camino. I thought this reno would be a journey. It wasn’t. So here are a few of the differences I noticed.
The camino is all about Walk, Wash, Eat, Sleep.
The renovation is all about Work, Wash, Eat, Sleep.
The camino is meant to be taken at your own pace.
A renovation is constantly constrained by shifting timelines.
On camino one’s mind is relaxed to allow thoughts and meditations to come and go.
A renovation wakes you in the middle of the night with a list of dozens of things that need tending to imminently.
These are just of few of the ways that a camino and a renovation differ. All in all I’d much rather walk the camino than do a renovation. Although I suppose there is one thing about doing a renovation that is better than walking a camino. On a camino you don’t get to use a nail gun 😮😁
OK, I have hotel & albergue reservations AND no reservations about the camino this year 😉
Last year at this time despite having had to cancel a trip to see Lady Gaga perform and a trip to Paris and England to visit my cousin and friend from the camino 2019, I was fully confident that this Covid crisis would be over in a few weeks and I would be traveling to Spain to walk the Camino on my own. As you all know from your own disappointments it was not to be.
So this past year became a different kind of camino. I kept the camino alive by cooking the dishes I so enjoyed eating in Spain. I found a good recipe for Santiago cake and to my delight it became a hit with my family and friends. I looked for recipes that mirrored the meals we most enjoyed on the camino…red peppers stuffed with cod, empanadas, tortilla (which is a potato/egg tart). We experimented with Spanish wines and remembered the good times we had at the end of the day sharing a glass with other pilgrims along the way. One thing I do recall about the meals in Spain is that I rarely found pepper on the table and I like a good sprinkling of black pepper on my food. However the pandemic afforded me an opportunity to solve that problem. When we did eat out this past year if I asked for pepper the server would frequently bring a dozen or so packets of pepper. Since I know that these must be thrown away if not used I simply took them home. Now I have my own small stash of pepper.
I listened to a lot of podcasts. I relished in Dave Whitson’s Camino Podcast and Dan Mullins’ My Camino – The Podcast. Dave talks to a lot of professionals who discuss topics like the history of the Camino Frances, the Biblical foundation for the stories of St. James, how to avoid blisters and all are generously sprinkled with with colorful stories experienced along the way. Dan interviews people from all over the world who have walked the camino and share their stories of the experience. I feel close to these people as their stories compare and contrast with my own. Dan also frequently speaks with restaurant and albergue proprietors who tell their stories of how covid has impacted their lives an d business. I feel comforted knowing that my exile from the Camino Frances is shared by those who live there. And I am reminded that that exile is only physical. It does not rob me of my memories and it does not prevent me from continuing a spiritual camino.
Finally I talk about the camino…a lot. OK, really a lot. Yes, people who know me well frequently roll their eyes as they indulge me in yet another comparison of life to the camino. I purchased a stack of cards with this blog address on it and I’m not shy about telling complete strangers about the camino and handing them a card. My husband would say I’m never shy about talking to strangers. A trip to the grocery is often extended by half an hour chatting with people I haven’t seen in a while and others I’ve never met before.
Many if not most stories of pilgrims include the question, “What did you do when you finished the camino?” And the answer is frequently, “Well you never really finish the Camino. It keeps going, doesn’t it?” Yes it does. The camino has become a part of me in the same way that I am a mother and grandmother (5 little ones now). And just as I yearn to be with them I also yearn to be on camino.
As I continue to prepare for this camino if you have questions please ask them. I may not have the definitive answer, or even the answer that fits best for you, but I can share my own experience.