·        Thursday, 30 April 2009

Viana -> Logrono = 7K (610K to go!)


The walk into Logrono charmed me.  The inviting, cottage-like, adobe houses crowd onto the very edge of the road.  Flowers spill out of window boxes, caged birds trill, cats wander in and out and doors are open.  People sit on benches and watch the pilgrims pass by.   The smell of soup wafts out on the spring breeze.  I slow my pace, taking it all in.


I can’t help but think of the poem, The House by the Side of the Road.  (Mother used to quote bits of it as she went about her work around the house. – the third stanza is most familiar to me.)

The House By the Side of the Road

Let me live in a house by the side of the road,
Where the race of men go by -
The men who are good and the men who are bad,
As good and as bad as I.
I would not sit in the scorner's seat,
Or hurl the cynic's ban;
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

I see from my house by the side of the road,
By the side of the highway of life,
The men who press with the ardor of hope,
The men who are faint with the strife.
But I turn not away from their smiles nor their tears -
Both parts of an infinite plan;
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

I know there are brook-gladdened meadows ahead
And mountains of wearisome height;
And the road passes on through the long afternoon
And stretches away to the night.
But still I rejoice when the travelers rejoice,
And weep with the strangers that moan,
Nor live in my house by the side of the road
Like a man who dwells alone.

Let me live in my house by the side of the road
Where the race of men go by -
They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong,
Wise, foolish - so am I.
Then why should I sit in the scorner's seat
Or hurl the cynic's ban?
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.


I stop at an open door and gaze in.  The two women inside gesture and invite me in.  They offer coffee and sweets.  This is what they do.  They invite pilgrims in.  This is their daily offering, making strangers feel welcome, helping pilgrims who travel a long and sometimes lonely road to Santiago far away.


And it is not just people along the way who reach out to pilgrims.  Each day, my friend Judy, back in the USA, e-mails a daily uplifting thought to me.  Her sweet offerings are wonderful fuel for my thoughts as I walk along each day.  I look forward to these thoughts.


It’s good to remember that I walk with Love (God) along the way (see below).  These thoughts frame my experience and make it richer.


This thought is from the second verse of the CS Hymn 139: 

Who walks with Love along the way?

Shall talk with Love and Love obey;

God's healing truth is free to all,

Our Father answers every call;

‘Tis He dispels the clouds of gray

That all may walk with Love today.


We are in Rioja now – the wine producing region of Spain.  About 135,000 people live here.  It seems large after all the tiny villages we have been walking through.  We cross the Ebro River and find the bustling downtown area.  Rese and I sit in an outdoor café and eat tortilla.  I flirt with a bright-eyed 2-year old boy whose family smiles at us.  He laughs when I share my quacking duck with him.


It rains on us in Logrono.  Hard rain.  Fortunately it is worst after we are already safe in our beds, but I did have to navigate my way home from dinner in the showers. 


I was lucky enough to have an invitation to join the TV documentary film crew for dinner.  The meal was truly gourmet event with the food prepared by the men in an elite gastronomical society.  These men have met each Thursday for about 50 years. 


The food was wonderful and I enjoyed a departure from the more Spartan life of a pilgrim.  I felt like Cinderella as I scurried back to my albergue to beat the curfew – they lock the doors at about 2130 each night.  Pilgrims who miss curfew are just out of luck. 


I made it home and dreamed sweet dreams of rich, elegant food – not what pilgrims usually get to dine on.  



·        Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Los Arcos -> Viana = 19.5K (617.8K to go!)


I start my day feeding ducks outside the albergue.  They seem to enjoy the cookies I share with them.


I continue to walk with Rese, though we spend the first few hours walking alone and later join forces again when we meet at a cemetery.  We both take photos.  Carved into the archway is this: “I was what you are.  You will be what I am.”


From Sansol there is quite a panoramic view of Torres del Rio where there is an interesting octagonal church which is associated with the 12th Century Knights Templar. 


We walk through a gorge which the guidebook calls: “Mule Killer Gulch” (Barranco Mataburros)- not exactly an optimistic name and as one might expect, the walk is quite challenging.


Logrono is only about 9K further (hidden by an odd mountain described as “flan-shaped”) but we elect to stop for the day in Viana, the last town in Navarre.  It is a gem of stately old architecture.  We wander around taking photos and watching people.  I introduce Rese to Chocolate con churros.  (An addiction for many people!)


I especially like the albergue’s courtyard with the panoramic views.  I spend time there writing in my journal and soaking up the sun.


My knee is still troubling me.  My CS friends (Judy and Deanie) kindly shared these helpful thoughts (Truths to cling to) with me (thank goodness for e-mail).  I mentally worked with these thoughts today as I walked:


You live in the Spirit.  You love in the Spirit.  You walk in the Spirit.


Heb 4:12

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.


S&H  423:8

The Christian Scientist, understanding scientifically that all is Mind, commences with mental causation, the truth of being, to destroy the error. This corrective is an alternative, reaching to every part of the human system. According to Scripture, it searches "the joints and marrow," and it restores the harmony of man.


Pan 13:18-21

Sooner or later all shall know Him, recognize the great truth that Spirit is infinite, and find life in Him in whom we do "live, and move, and have our being" — life in Life, all in All.  


“I Refused to Put Pain in my Backpack” (The title of a CS article by Katie S. Brown)!  I like this idea. I must be careful about the ideas I allow into my own thoughts, just as I am careful about what I put in my backpack.



·        Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Villamayor de Monjardin -> Los Arcos = 11.9K (635.8K to go!)


The guidebooks says carry plenty of water for this stretch of the road.  . The elevation charts indicate a significant descent too. 


The reality is, the path is not such a challenge.  This kind of thing is not unusual in life is it?  We hear rumors and have expectations, we anticipate and fret and then it is all for naught.


Rese and I continued to walk together and share stories.  We also sang and laughed a lot.  Her travel plans allow her to take a leisurely approach to her nightly destination.  She basically travels from one village to the next.  My schedule is more limited, but I am taking it a bit easy (my knee) for a few days.  It is lovely to have a companionable person to share the adventure with for a while.


People say, on the Camino, you are never alone.  It is true, you can always walk with someone, if you choose to, and you can also walk alone if you wish.  At day’s end there are other pilgrims at the albergues so finding a companion is feasible.


We walk through wheat fields and asparagus crops and hills covered with conifers.  It is lovely.


The municipal albergue in Los Arcos is large and efficient.  It is just past the old town, near the river. 


We spend some lazy, quiet afternoon hours soaking up the spring sun and resting our weary bodies in the lovely Plaza Mayor.  The church dominates the plaza.  It is a Romanesque style and there is a Gothic tower and cloister.   


A French woman drives into the plaza with her team and sporting dog.  I take photos and chat with her.   I enjoy contact with the horses and the dog – I miss my own sweet dog.


We dine at a local restaurant where my main course on the pilgrim menu is translated as “Pig Face”.  My dining companions laugh and after my meal is delivered they concur that perhaps it is not the face, but something considerable lower on the pig’s body.


·        Monday, 27 April 2009  

Estella -> Villamayor de Monjardin = 8K (647.7K to go!)

The sun (literally) shines down on me as I start my walk from Estella this morning. The rain is gone and everything is fresh and green in the crisp morning air.

I spend some time looking around before I leave town. Guidebooks call Estella "the Toledo of the north" because of the wealth of monuments the city has. The king of Navarre once had his palace here - it is said to be one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture on the Iberian peninsula.

Estella is the last city in the Navarre region. The Rioja region is ahead and Logrono is the next city on the pilgrim route. The terrain and character of the experience will change in the days ahead.

Before I actually leave town I meet some of the US film crew and other team members who are here in Spain filming a documentary of the Way of Saint James, el Camino. Theresa, the senior producer, rounds the corner and we recognize one another from our previous meeting a few months ago at the Gathering of American Pilgrims in Albuquerque, NM. There is hugging and conversation. Soon I find myself agreeing to be tailed by a film crew and to participate in an interview.

I limp along (the knee still hurts) beside another pilgrim (a sweet young Scotsman in full kilt) and the film crew follows behind.

A few kilometers up the road we arrive at the famed wine fountain at Irache (sponsored by the Bodegas Irache). We stop and sip red wine from the fountain.

The film crew sets up by the Visigothic Monastery of Santa Maria la Real and films an interview with me. I share my prayer ribbons which friends have given me to take to Santiago. I also have the opportunity to discuss my personal motivations for walking the Way of St James. I speak of my gratitude for a full rich life (despite the challenges of cancer, loss of a son, etc). I share stories about my parents with them. I even sang a little song ("I'm a pilgrim, I'm a stranger, I can tarry, I can tarry but a day...")

While I was signing the release forms, one of the team members thrust a cell phone on me and asked me to contact them later in the week for possible follow-up.

I laughed out loud just thinking about me having a cell phone on me! Anyone that knows me is aware of how resistant I am to having a cell phone in my life! While many pilgrims do carry cell phones, I am not among them. In fact, I am a bit of a Luddite about telephones in general. Even in the USA I avoid answering phones. I know my spouse will laugh loud and long when he hears I now have a cell phone (and charger) on my pilgrimage of gratitude!

With the diversion created by the film crew behind me, I begin my walk. A look at my plans confirmed that my delayed start would mean a change in my destination for the night. The stretch between Villamayor and Los Arcos is devoid of places to stop and no water is available for about 12K immediately following the steep climb up to Villamayor. And my leg was still aching.

I walked through a beautiful oak forest with a fairytale view of castle-topped Monjardin in the distance. I stopped to look at the 13th century fuente de los Moros below the ruins of the Roman-based Castillo de Deyo. I played with an adorable kitten as I rested in a small village square.

After the long climb up to Villamayor, I decided to stop at the parochial albergue rather than the Dutch-run facility further up the hill. The albergue was pretty basic (mattresses on the floor) and ran on donations.

I met a delightful American woman there (Rese) and spent a wonderful evening sharing stories over dinner at the small local bar. Later we met another American, from San Francisco.  We shared our evening meal in the tiny local bar.


At dinner we were offered the local digestive as a gift at the close of our pilgrim meal.  Orujo is the name of this drink.  It is green, there are herbs in it and it is quite strong.  It has a deceptive effect on me. 


Finding our way back to the albergue, we giggled like school girls.  


Lesson learned on this day: don’t drink the green stuff!


All in all though, it was a fine end to a lovely day.


·        Sunday, 26 April 2009

Puente la Reina -> Estella = 22.4K (656.6K to go!)

I slog through thick mud as I climb up a steep hill, only to face another muddy challenge.

As I walk, I make mental lists of all the things I am grateful for. I sing all the inspiring Christian Science hymns and reflect on all the healing truths I've learned.

The rain is intermittent, the day is cold. And my knee aches. I struggle to keep up with my delightful walking companions.

I remain cheerful and pleasant. I absorb the beautiful countryside around me and stay engaged, but it is a struggle today.

This is a character-building experience. A spiritual being having a very physical experience.

I walk on the dirt path past vineyards, olive trees, and fresh green grains springing up to the sky. There are fields of asparagus. I pass through the medieval village of Ciruqui. The name makes me laugh a nervous laugh - in Basque it means "nest of vipers". The paths are actually covered with large black slugs and many snails. I am grateful to find no real vipers along the path.

I continue soldiering on past cypress trees that flank a 2,000 year old Roman bridge. I recall reading a horror-story extracted from an old pilgrims guide that tells of some French pilgrims who met their death and lost their horses in a violent incident when some wicked Navarese men tricked them. Blood and gore - not a happy tale.

Later in the day, I give my 2 young friends "permission" to simply move on. I walk on alone. I walk very slowly down the steps, over the wooden bridge and down the long last slope into Estella. My knee hurts. I weep a bit. I feel old and broken.

At the albergue in Estella, I am grateful to find a bed and I am grateful to find a pair of English-speaking angels who share a pilgrim meal with me. My spirits lift over a meal and conversation. The 3 of us share common histories of military careers and working with students (13-18) in leadership and development programs. We sip wine and I almost forget my aching knee.

The sun comes out on the walk back to the albergue.

I am grateful that tomorrow will be another day.




·        Saturday, 25 April 2009

Cizur Menor -> Puente la Reina = 20.4K (679.9K to go!)

I am a jackrabbit today. I lope up the ascent quickly. It is a thrill to climb and the rhythm of my own pace feels good. My walking companions are far behind me as I stand at the peak of Alto de Perdon and take in the spectacular view.

The weather has changed. True to the forecast the day is overcast and cold. Rain threatens. At the peak, the wind is strong. The dark sky provides drama and suits the huge metal pilgrim sculpture that dominates this space. The piece consists of enormous silhouettes of pilgrims parading across the mountaintop, heading westward to Santiago.

I zip up my fleece and pull my silk socks over my hands (in lieu of gloves). I attempt to take a photo, but once again my camera batteries are depleted. So much for collecting photographic reminders of my travels today.

I began the walk down the other side of the mountain. Today is the day I discover that walking down a steep slope can be more challenging than the exhilarating climb up to the eak. My left knee begins to speak to me as I walk beside a delightful French-speaking Canadian. I take smaller steps and try to walk off the sensation.

We stopped at a bar to sip cafe con leche and to warm up. My leg really began to talk then, so I rested for a while. As I waited, my Spanish walking companions of the day before arrived. Their pace is more leisurely and my knee could use a rest so, I elected to move forward with them. During the next 10K I was forced to stop at a pharmacy to purchase a knee bandage.

I went from rabbit to turtle. Is this what it is like to be old?

We walked on and went through the small town of Obanos, where the Navarre and Aragon camino routes merge. We continued on to the town of Puente la Reina (literally queen's bridge). The rain began to fall. My knee ached. I was grateful to stop at the albergue and call it a day.

We ate the pilgrim's menu at a local bar (asparagus, veal cutlets, chocolate mousse, wine, and bread) and watched a party of youngsters at the next table. The adults were seated at a separate table and the enthusiastic children (ages 3-10) were rambunctious and rowdy. The adults seemed oblivious of their behavior and the children reveled in their activities. I found it refreshing to be among people who seem to allow children to simply be children. There were no threats or dirty looks from cross parents as there most likely would be among a group of people from the USA.

The rainy day wound down with me accomplishing the mundane daily chores of pilgrim life: showering, laundry, errands (an ATM and batteries). This albergue is large - about 75 beds, but divided into small rooms with about 6-10 per room. (FYI: one of my roommates is a horseman - his gear smelled of horse lineament and sweat. I would like to have seen his horse.)

I fall asleep despite the snoring and the musty smells of wet laundry. Rain splashes on the window and matches my mood - will my knee recover overnight?



·        Friday, 24 April 2009

Trinidad de Arre -> Cizur Menor = 8K (702.7K to go!)

So many observations I want to share, but by days-end the words and images escape me. Yes, I should stop and write throughout the day. But stopping means losing flow. I strive to stay in the moment, live in the now...so my journal suffers. I report rather than paint with words nor do I explore (on paper) the rich ideas that fill my head each day. My journals are without the inspiration and the enlightenment, but the experience is not.

Just like at home, on this pilgrimage, I rise early each day and prepare to walk. At home though, I simply get up, stretch, pull on my dog-walking clothes and sneak out the door before sunrise. Watching sunrise with my sweetie-dog, the lovely Miss Zia is a fine start to any day (I miss her AND I miss the beloved-spouse, who snores away as I am off dog-walking each morning.)

Here in Spain, in the dark albergue,I am among the first to rise. In the dark quietly grab my things and head for the common area where I can pack. Other pilgrims are less discrete and do their packing on their bunk, among those who are still trying to sleep. They rustle plastic bags and use headlights. They seem oblivious to how disturbing they are.

Everyone must be out of the albergue by 0800, but at 0600, most pilgrims are still trying to catch another 40 winks before a long day of walking.

By 0700, I have devoured a few breakfast cookies and sipped a cafe con leche from the machine at the albergue. I hit the streets and follow the yellow arrows. I fall into step with 2 young Spanish women (Bella and Lucia work at McDonald's in Barcelona and are on a 2 week break). They are witty and full of fun. I enjoy practicing my Spanish and they also enjoy practicing their English skills. We giggle and laugh as we walk along.

The first hour or so we walk through three villages (about 5K) without ever leaving the urban area. Beautiful Pamplona has absorbed them as it grew. The old city walls and parkland that marked the entrance to the city look wonderful in the early morning sun. We stop for photo opps and look like tourists rather than pilgrims.

We enter Pamplona proper just as the business day starts: butano trucks roar by, construction workers are hard at work, bread is being delivered to local bars, workers smoke and hurry off to their offices - the narrow streets are busy and crowded.

We stop for breakfast at a busy bar. As we take off our packs and prepare to order we hear greetings from several familiar pilgrims who were sipping coffee already, pilgrims we had met in Roncesvalles, just a few days ago. Funny how we all found the same bar. We pose for photos and swap stories and eat wonderful pastries. All the pilgrims seem to have business: sightseeing, making various purchases, finding Internet centers and visiting the pharmacy to get blister treatments.

Blisters. Yes, the cast of characters at the bar included many blister-suffering pilgrims (my friend Mikey, the young Danish woman, included). So we make plans to meet later in the day at an albergue down the road in Cizur Menor. We will cook a communal meal there and deal with our feet.

Our decision to stop at Cizur Menor will also allow us to avoid walking up the steep climb up to Alto de Perdon under the blazing, mid-day sun (about 80 degrees F and no shade). The walk down the other side would also be grueling. By staying in Cizur Menor, we can begin our ascent in the cool morning hours. The forecast for Saturday is for overcast skies and maybe a little rain.

So my Friday went by walking through the lovely, ancient streets of Pamplona, the city made famous by Hemmingway in his tales about the running of the bulls. Being in Pamplona brought back many happy memories for me - my family and I have been among the revelers at San Fermin several times. I can close my eyes and almost conjure up the smell of the bulls and the image of them safe in their enclave at the start of the run where they are deposited the night before each run.

The albergue in Cizur Menor is a delight. The garden, about 2 acres of grass, has a large pond with many large turtles and fish. There are lilacs, tulips, iris, a riot of spring plants sending out delicious perfume. Cats (cagey creatures, but curious) eye us. A dozen pilgrims soak up the sun, read, talk and soak their tired feet.

The hospitalero is busy doing magic on the blisters of one pilgrim after another. She might as well open a clinic. The line of limping patients is long. (One customer is the sweet German physician, Hanns, whom I met on Day I - the man who abandoned his leather boots on the mountaintop).

Later several of us gather in the communal kitchen and prepare a pleasant, simple meal. We sit talking as the sun sets and then, like chickens, we find our roost for the night. (In this albergue, the roosters roost in one room and the hens are in another.)

I can smell the sweet scent of lilacs as I drift off to sleep. All is well with the world.



·        Thursday, 23 April 2009

Zubiri -> Trinidad de Arre = 17K (703K to go!)

I cross over the Zabaldika bridge and see the 16th Century monastery perched on the riverbanks in Trinidad de Arre and I know I want to linger here. My walking companions decide to continue on to Pamplona, so we part company. I check into the lovely albergue (the monastery serves as a pilgrim place!)and spend some delightful hours in the flower-carpeted courtyard before I call it a night.

Of course I have a list of tasks to accomplish before I can catch some much needed sleep. After a long day of walking in the hot sun I need to buy batteries for the camera, find a phone card, buy some snacks for the next days walk, find Internet, wash out my clothes, shower and find a meal. The simple life is not always simple.

I am worn out. The walk from Zubiri was lovely, but more demanding than I expected. The elevation maps indicated a fairly flat walk, but the terrain was hilly. The mild humor among the pilgrims was "aren't you glad we are walking on flat terrain today?!" There were valleys, mud, streams to ford, a long detour up a mountain in the blazing sun. But the villages I pass through are beautiful. Spring flowers decorate the land and old Roman bridges and other architectural elements make a picturesque panorama, enhanced by the prolific sheep, goats, horses, cats and dogs. (FYI: One French pilgrim was bitten by a dog as he walked through the forest - the same dog had befriended me, even licked my hand.)

The village of Larrasoana has lovley ruins - a monastery and hospital. I see a pilgrim lingering in the shade, reading and resting in this lovely place. People are fishing. I cross the Puente de los Bandidos (bridge of the bandits) where pilgrims used to fear they would be robbed. These days it is merely a beautiful site on an ancient path.

I stop at a small bar to breakfast on toast and cafe con leche. Outside the door, among the pilgrim backpacks stacked along the wall, is an adorable little puppy. I play with the little guy and soon the owner arrives and I learn the dog's tale.

This little guy had been wrapped up in a plastic bag and thrown in a dumpster to die. The good pilgrim discovered him and rescued the little brown dog.

This is all good and well, but having a dog on the Camino raises significant problems. Dogs are not allowed in most accommodations on the pilgrim path. This particular pilgrim is walking home from Santiago, retracing his long journey east and north along the Camino after initially walking all the way to Santiago. Since he took on the pup, he sleeps outdoors or relies on the kindness of strangers to meet the needs created by the rescued dog.

Following breakfast I put on my pack and walk alone. Pilgrims frequently walk alone for long stretches of the day and intermittently join others to walk and talk for a bit. It is a lovely mix of time alone and camaraderie. "Spaces in our togetherness" as Kahlil Gibrahn words it.

As I walk along the river today, a Knight Templar with the red cross emblazoned on his garb appears astride a horse. These men patrol the area, making sure pilgrims are safe. I also met with a pair of Guardia Civil on motorcycles patrolling another stretch of the Way.

I hope to see the young women I had met (Mikey, from Denmark)on the bus to Roncesvalles. I have not seen her since early today when she stopped along the path to rest her bruised and aching toes. She has already developed some serious blisters. I wonder if the Guardia Civil or the Knight Templar may have come to her aid.

Day is done. And I am comfortable in my digs for the night. My lovely accomodations in this hostoric monastery cost only 6 Euros and the pilgrim dinner is 7.5 Euros.

The pilgrim meals usually consist of three course (salad, meat or fish, dessert, bread and bottle of wine...yes, a bottle!). In Spain, dinner is usually not available until after 9PM, but pilgrims receive their meals much earlier in most places. Staying in an albergue also means being locked in at 9 or 10 PM. Early to bed and early to rise is the rule of life on the Camino.

The monastery is lovely, tranquil. The people I have met here are delightful. One of them celebrated his 40th birthday today - his gift to himself was meeting a special challenge: he walked the 40 kilometers from Roncesvalles to Trinidad de Arre in one day. My legs ache just thinking of walking 40 kilometers in on day, especially over such rough terrain. Pilgrims gather to help celebrate the man's birthday and his achievement.

Faces are becoming familiar, friendships are developing. There is some lovely magic in the air.

I fall asleep breathing the sweet smell of flowers from the courtyard.

I am another day closer to Santiago de Compsotela. It still seems like a very long way to walk. I will do it, one step at a time.



·        Wednesday, 22 April 2009 (Earth Day)

Roncesvalles -> Zubiri = 21.5K (727.1K to go!)

I stood there staring at the abandoned leather boots hung on a tree branch adjacent to the rocky mountain path I had been walking on all morning. Why would anyone abandon such beautiful boots? I was forced out of my reverie by the sound of a team of energetic bikers pedaling up the steep slope behind me. I jumped out of their way and before I could regain my composure these hardy riders had disappeared down the trail.

This is my first day of walking and by midday, I already feel as if I have been on the Camino a long time. The learning curve is steep and the demands are challenging. But at that moment, I paused and scanned the horizon, taking in all the green beauty of the remote mountains, breathing in the scent of conifers and spring flowers and hearing the delightful sounds of sheep on the hillside. The bleating sheep and their tinkling bells never fail to soothe me.

Once again I was knocked out of my reverie, this time by someone calling to me. "Hey, are you "Ginn"? The one from the pilgrim forum?"

Here I am in an isolated mountaintop in a foreign country and someone recognizes me!

What a crazy life this pilgrim adventure is! "Yes, I'm Ginn," I answered as I turned to see just who was posing the question.

"I though so," said a young woman. "I heard you talking to someone earlier and you mentioned recruiting. I put two and two together and figured out it might be you."

I have been frequenting many Online pilgrim forums during my months of dreaming and preparing for my Camino. I guess it should be no surprise that someone on the Camino may intuit who I am.

I laughed and fell into step with this woman from Denmark. We immediately began an intense discussion centered on the boots I had been observing.

The boots were not the only abandoned property I had observed on the road so far. Many pilgrims over-estimate how much they are willing to carry and what they will actually need. The first few days of the trip become a time of serious purging. Pilgrims stop in villages, seek out the post office and reluctantly mail home unneeded possessions. Others simply leave them behind, like the pioneers of yore, leaving a trail of personal items behind them. Some stubborn pilgrims cling to their things, staggering under the excess weight and suffer from joint and foot problems as they make their way to Santiago. Letting go becomes a significant theme.

My own backpack is quite small. I have only a light-weight down sleeping bag, a pair of flip flops, a change of clothes, a change of smart-wool socks, a fleece, an excellent rain coat that covers my pack and a few toiletries and a battery operated camera (no charger needed). I did not even bring a towel - I plan to use my several bandannas to dry off post-shower. I do not have a guide book either - I will follow the arrows, use the Internet and consult others to make my decisions regarding the route and places to stay. I have little else really. My backpack itself is a 31Liter bag and weighs only about a pound. My pack and possessions weigh very little. I hardly feel it on my back.

My first day is proving to be quite a workout. I find myself saying a prayer of gratitude that I have a light load on my back. The day started early. Some pilgrims awoke at 0430! They rustled their bags as they packed and their headlights sometimes glared into my eyes. I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to get a little more sleep. It was too dark and foggy out to begin walking just yet. Most of the pilgrims waited till around 0600 to get out of bed.

By 0700 most of us were on the road. It was still dark and the fog was intense. I stopped to take the traditional photo marking the mileage from Roncesvalles to Santiago. About 5K down the road (about an hour's walk)I stopped for coffee con leche and toast. Spanish breakfast (desayuno) is light and it is sometimes hard to find a place open. First breakfast in Spain is usually around 0800 and second breakfast is served around 1000. I remember this from my days at Torrejon Air Base. I love having two breakfasts each day!

I walked with 3 other pilgrims (peregrinos) most of the day - a Spanish man and his wife from UK and a German man. They have walked the Camino before. I was glad to walk with veterans. I have much to learn.

Early in the day we slogged through some serious mud. The mud clings to our walking shoes, making our feet heavy and awkward. I feel like I am wearing clown shoes! You slide around and frequently get mired down.

Manolo, my Spanish walking companion, wandered into the woods and emerged with a gift for me, one I would treasure for the entire trip: a beechwood walking stick of my very own! I had intended to buy one, but had delayed making a decision on what kind and how many. I have never walked with a stick before, but it certainly became evident how useful a stick is when navigating through slimy mud and manure on a mountainside.

"Your stick is tall now," Manolo said, "But, when you reach Santiago, it will be much shorter!" We laughed.

We walked on, fording streams. My thoughts focused on walking, but occasionally images of Hemingway popped into my head. This is Hemingway country for sure (Burgete). I also thought of the tales of Charlemagne and of Roland, blowing his horn in the forest.

Pamela (Manolo's UK wife) and Joe (the German) and I sometimes sing. We are not good, but we are enthusiastic. We sing Rogers and Hammerstein songs. And of course we sang "Climb Every Mountain" from "Sound of Music"!

The villages in these mountains are picturesque - clean, quiet, with window boxes and shutters painted in bold reds and blues. There are flowers everywhere. There is a small, lovely charming black and white kitten hitching a ride in blue cart filled with golden hay.

The walking is sweet, but after hours of it, I grow tired. I am ready to stop when we arrive in Zubiri. I stay in a utilitarian municipal albergue (6 Euro for my bed and 11 Euro for a pilgrim meal). The bathrooms are in a separate building from the open-bay, unisex barracks (16-20 bunks per room) where we will sleep. The showers provide no privacy - 6 shower heads in the woman's shower area with the men's shower area adjacent. And there is really no where to hang clothes while one is showering. Logistical challenges.

Upon arrival I washed my mud splashed trousers and cleaned up my shoes. No washer or dryers here.

It is, however, very clean.

The albergue I stayed in last night in Roncesvalles is quite a contrast to this spartan place. The Roncesvalles albergue is run by a Dutch confraternity. It has a lovely ambiance (see the photo in my previous post) which they enhance by playing classical music to waken us in the morning. They provide clean pillows and offere us use of a washer and dryer. The showers are private and there is Internet. The facility is beautiful (in a historic building) with dramatic chandeliers hanging from the arches above. (6 Euros for bed and 9 Euros for a pilgrim meal).

In Zubiri, I meet another American, a woman from California. She is travelling with her twin 10 year-old boys. I try to imagine the logistics involved in this undertaking.

Among others staying in the albergue are a woman from Poland, a Scotsman, many Germans, some Japanese, some Koreans, several Danes and a bunch of Spanish men travelling by bike. Many people, and each here for reasons of their own. And so many of them already working on their feet - blisters from the day's walk!

The lights go out early in albergues. In fact, most of the weary pilgrims are in bed before sunset. I sleep well on my top bunk. There may be snoring, but I don't hear it tonight.



·        Tuesday, 21 April 2009

USA -> Roncesvalles = Lots of Kilometers!

I start this day on Monday, 20 April in Santa Fe, NM (USA), long before sunrise. At 0330 I climb into the car of a dear friend who volunteered to chauffeur me to the Albuquerque airport. I am already overstimulated; the result of a Sunday afternoon "Buen Camino" open house hosted by my sweet spouse who piled the table high with delicious Spanish tapas and fueled us all with powerful sangria. So I am loggy from lack of sleep and overstimulated from the delightful party.

This morning I am overdosing on caffeine as the car rockets down the mountain to the airport. I am as excited as a 6-year-old going to my very own birthday party!

My walking adventure in sunny Spain is about to begin. But first I must make it through the long travel day. My amazingly inexpensive flight to Madrid involves a trade off; I must change planes in Philadelphia and then catch an overnight flight to Madrid. Once there I will catch a bus to Pamplona and then catch another bus to Roncesvalles. I have many hours ahead - hours of practicing patience. I am eager to strap on my pack and let the walking begin.

My travels today bring pleasant conversations with interesting and generous people. A young woman gave me a couple magazines to read on the plane and in the course of conversation shared her story with me, a story that involves big decisions and courage. I listen happily, grateful for the diversions. I am so excited.

I board the plane and the cheerful flight attendant laughs when I introduce her to my tiny travel companion (Ed, a small, yellow, duckie flashlight who quacks and almost always wins me a smile - he rides on the strap of my backpack and is one of the only really frivolous/impractical things I carry with me on this adventure.) The flight attendant reaches into her pocket and pulls out a small set of wings. She plants them on my lapel.

The flight is uneventful, but my seatmate is intriguing. We talk and laugh. We discuss books and life. She vows to mail me the book she is currently reading - a small gift in my mailbox when I return home in 40 days.

I arrive in Madrid early in the day. The airport is so familiar to me (we lived in Spain, years ago, for almost a decade). I hear the familiar sounds of Castillian-Spanish and sigh a happy sigh. There is a sense of coming home. I quickly find a taxi-cab and we wend our way through the morning commuters to the bus station on Avenieda de America. The taxi driver points out all the new buildings that have sprung up over the past 15 years.

At the bus station, I meet another kindred spirit. This lovely Spanish woman engages me in a long conversation about art, children, life, death...despite neither of us being fluent in the other's language.

Finally, at midday on Tuesday, I am on the bus enroute to Pamplona. I peer out the windows and view so many old familiar landmarks as the bus heads north. There are restaurants we once dined at, a glimpse of the now defunct Air Force Base at Torrejon de Ardoz, the familiar university town of Alcala de Henares, and the road to Zaragoza. So many memories of day trips with my family so many years ago. I am absorbed in this connection with the past. There is really a sense of coming home.

The bus ride is a delight, but frankly, I am hungry. Somehow all my travel connections have been tight and the opportunities to eat escaped me. So my first mission when I arrived in the handsome city of Pamplona was to seek out a bar for an order of tortilla espanol and a glass of Rioja wine.

When I return to the bus station, I see many people with backpacks and walking sticks. They may be pilgrims. I follow a pair of them to the ticket window and listen as they make their transaction. Sure enough, they are travelling to Roncesvalles.

Ticket in hand, I settle down in the bus station cafe and indulge in a wonderful cafe con leche and laugh a bit when I observe that the TV is airing an episode of National Geographic. Why do I laugh? Because the topic is bulls - and here I am in Pamplona, made famous by Hemingway for their San Fermin festivities: the running of the bulls!

It is time to boarrd the bus for Roncevalles. This is the last leg of my pre-liminary journey. Tomorrow, I will begin the walk, the long walk down the mountain and across northern Spain.

As the bus winds up the mountain road, I listen to the varied languages my fellow travels are speaking - there are about 15 pilgrims on the bus and I count about 8 different languages among them.

We begin to get acquainted. Fellow pilgrims seem to think I am French - this has happened several times during my travels today. When I announce that I am from the USA, people seem surprised. Almost without fail the conversation turns to our new President. Mr. Obama seems pretty popular among Europeans!

It is almost dark when we finally disembark in beautiful Roncesvalles and enter the registration office at the stately mountain albergue. The hospitaleros (attendents, frequently volunteers, who manage the pilgrim facilities along the Camino) are practised and quickly issue pilgrim passports and assign beds. They are efficient and kind as they spell out the schedule and the rules of the establishment. We have the opportunity to attend a pilgrim mass and then we share a meal together.

Among the new pilgrims are also pilgrims who have already walked the first leg of their Camino. They began at St Jean Pied de Port at 200 meters and climbed to 1,400 meters. The last 7 of the 27 kilometer walks was actually an almost vertical descent from 1,400 meters down to 950 meters! They also dealt with inclement weather - cold rain, mixed with snow, fog, slippery mud.

The new pilgrims are in awe of these more experienced pilgrims. The experienced pilgrims seem a bit shell-shocked actually. They are also very tired.

We climb into our bunk beds, much like tired children and despite a lot of snoring, most of us fall asleep quickly. It is Tuesday night, and between travel and time changes, I have been up and in constant motion since 0330 on Monday - way too many hours. Though I am fatigued, I am overstimulated. I find it hard to sleep. I am like a child on Christmas Eve. I snuggle into my sleeping bag and try to dream my way into sleep.

Tomorrow is the start of the real adventure. It all seems a bit surreal.








Our Peace Corps (Ukraine) adventures:

January 2005 - May 2007


Our AmeriCorps*VISTA  (Santa Fe, NM) adventures:

August 2007 – November 2008


My Santiago de Compostela Camino  (Spain) adventures:

20 April -1 June 2009


Blog: http://pilgrimageofgratitude-mycamino.blogspot.com


My Facebook Page & Picasa Albums:

Virginia J. Pulver




Life is good!