Monday, November 4, 2013

Day 5

Monday, May 6

Awakened early by other pilgrims unzipping sleeping bags, stuffing backpacks, rustling their clothes, moaning and stretching sore muscles, I'm on the Camino a little after 6:00 am. I'm still adjusting to sleeping in a room with lots of strangers, but my new routine of 1/2 sleeping pill and Mac's awesome earplugs after my evening dinner's 1/2 bottle of red wine does the trick. Don't dream much, but get enough sleep, since I'm usually in bed by 9:30 pm.

Loving my morning readings: Jesus Calling by Sarah Young (my 4th? year of reading, but always on target) and The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a' Kempis (friends back home are reading along, which ties my heart to theirs). JC's contemporary language reads easily and directly to my heart, while IC's 14th-century language attunes my heart to the medieval road I travel. God's language is truly timeless.

Basking in brisk sunlight, hunger makes me stop at about 10:30 at a bar (aka cafe) for a cafe con leche (ubiquitous Spanish cappucino)  and a bocadillo (dry baguette with meat, cheese) which has some spicy, greasy red sausage reminiscent of chorizo -- yum!

Reenergized physically, I soon spy an ancient church off the road and feel compelled to go see it up close. And personal. As I walk closer, I see it resides in a grove of olive trees, and its open door invites me inside. Completely alone, I slowly breathe in the smell of centuries blended with more recent handwritten notes, pictures, and rocks worshipfully placed on the altars before the hanging cross.

I sit on the cool stone bench along a wall, turn on my iPhone and allow Susan Boyle's "Amazing Grace"to engulf me as it rebounds from the beamed ceiling and hallowed walls. I recall JC's words this morning: "Come into my Presence with thanksgiving, for thankfulness opens the doors to My treasures."

Reenergized spiritually, I continue on my journey. At the first albergue I reach in Estella, who greets me but Phillipe France, a dear older gentleman I met a day or two earlier. He wants me to stay, but I am learning to trust my gut, and even though that place is fine, it isn't right. I walk all through town (pretty big at pop 13,000) to a youth hostel, but don't even go inside, as it isn't right either. Walk even further to a bedroom community and arrive at San Cipriano de Ayegui, an albergue that is literally part of the local sports hall, with a neighboring canteen serving dinner and breakfast, and this is it!

Share dinner with Irina Russia, a young woman in her late 20's bicycling her Way from Pamplona to Santiago. Eat an incredible "mixed ensalada" with lettuce, onion, shredded carrot, corn, tomato, and tuna with balsamic vinegar -- and that's just the first course of my Pilgrim's menu. Ahhh, I'm home for the night.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Day 4

Sunday, May 5

Norm and Marge Minnesota leave town with me, then I walk alone the rest of the day. Glorious sunshine! The cool breeze picks up appropriately as I pass over Alto de Perdon, wrought iron pilgrims pushing into the wind beside me.
I debate off and on all morning about whether to make my first detour, a choice to add 2.8 km to the day's walk to see Eunate, a unique Knights Templar church. It's not the extra time or kilometers that keep me indecisive, it's just that I cannot seem to choose between the two. Usually I make decisions easily, but this one is elusive. There is not a right or wrong. There is no one else to consider. Mushroom risotto and a citron Fanta lunch in Uterga refresh me, but give me no clear direction. Finally, walking into Muruzabal, the village where I must decide, I beg God to tell me what to do. Frustration pricks tears into my eyes, and I cannot understand why this is so terribly difficult. I draw closer to the very crossroads where I must either continue straight or turn left. I force myself to keep walking at my usual pace, refusing to slow and stop and ponder and think and deliberate, asking instead for God to lead me. At the very second my right foot steps into the road, angelic voices burst into song. Blindly, I realize it is Sunday and the church  at the corner is in service. As the choir sings praises to God, my soul joins in, and my foot veers left toward Eunate, circling the singing church with joy.

God is indeed with me, leading my baby steps toward him, and I vow to not stress again over any decision on the Camino. I relinquish not only control, but my natural desire to know my direction ahead of time. I will go each day wherever I feel led, and keep going until God leads me to stop. There is no downside to faith.

Walking, no, strutting toward Eunate, I let the tears flow down my dusty cheeks. Tears of frustration turn into tears of love and joy and faith and gratitude. Water into wine. Arriving an hour later at the  Iglesia de Santa Maria de Eunate, a 12th-century Romanesque church, I gratefully remove my backpack, then my boots, then my socks, and walk around the cobblestone path beneath the surrounding arches, letting the ancient stones massage my tired feet. After entering the silent sanctuary, I sit and pray with eyes wide open, soaking in the rustic splendor. But only for a minute or two, as a large, silent nun enters and gestures to me to leave, as she locks the door behind me. Smiling, I leave not only a few euro, but my heart in the basket by the door.
God's perfect timing often depends on our quick, non-thinking following of his nudge. I want to live like this daily, willing to turn mid-step in response to an idea from him. I don't want to miss even two minutes of a special blessing!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Day 3

Saturday, May 4

A cool and drizzly morning turns into sunshine so slowly I barely notice. Norm and I trek together for hours as old friends, cussing and discussing interspersed with comfortable silence. I stop a pilgrim and ask him to take our picture, proof of a newborn eternal friendship.
Entering Pamplona, the city known for its "running of the bulls" festival, we turn down a crowded street and encounter a throng of late-middle-aged people (not your usual flash mob types) singing Basque folk songs. Couldn't understand a word, but felt their patriotism and heartbeats in the songs, and am grateful that we humans can have group identity within a culture that bonds us to each other beyond  mere geographic chance.
Norm's wife is meeting him in Pamplona, so he prearranged their hotel accommodations. I glance toward the first albergue, then decide I will splurge and stay at the hotel also, dreaming of a long, hot shower. Turns out it is Pinchos Week in Pamplona (another random gift from God)! Pinchos is the Basque word for tapas, and it's kinda like Restaurant Week in the States: all the bars compete for the title of best pinchos. After showers, we visit 3 of last year's winning bars, washing down their amazing concoctions with local beers.

Back to the hotel for Norm to meet up with his wife, and I take my second long, hot shower and wash my clothes. Seeing all of the dirt and caked mud and small stones and grass and stuff coming off of myself and my clothes as it settles into the white caulked tile floor of the gloriously large and clean shower make me realize just how dirty I have become. My guilt over the mess I leave for the maid service (I try to clean up, but it's still quite evident a homeless person has been here) make me think of my dirty heart. It's so easy to rationalize: I'm not an evil person, I'm not mean-spirited, I do good deeds. I don't seem too bad when I compare myself with other dirty people. But when I enter the presence of God, like this modern immaculate hotel, my filth and stench is revealed for what it is: real and deep-seated. I thank God for chipping through the protective coating of my heart to reveal to me my need for him. It's a relief to know I stink and God still loves me. I pray for forgiveness and vow to quit comparing myself to others, but to compare myself only to God and true holiness.

Then, I meet up with Mr. and Mrs. Minnesota and we go hit a few more bars.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Day 2

Friday, May 3

Lights and classical music turn on at 6:00 am, and we pilgrims are out the door soon after, with no breakfast available in the small town.

Cold and wet again, I stop after three hours to relax and warm up with a glorious cup of cafe con leche (aka Cappuccino). Although I'm not usually a big coffee drinker, I believe I will appreciate coffee greatly on this journey. I keep on walking through lush green fields and muddy trails, listening to the occasional cow bells (and horse bells) clanging gently.

As there are a fair number of other pilgrims on the trail, I learn surprisingly quickly how competitive I must be. Why my instinct requires that I be in the lead, walk faster, stop less, I have no idea. It's high time I squelch this self-judgmental attitude and attempt to find satisfaction in my own pace, whatever that may be. Who cares if it's erratic? Who cares if I want to stop and take pictures here and there, and the same pilgrims pass me whom I passed awhile earlier? Who cares if I want to sit my butt on a wet stump and catch my breath? Who cares if I speed downhill and drag uphill? I need to learn to be content in all things, especially in myself. My limitations provide room for growth, and my successes provide ways to praise. All is good.

I realize that I judge others too. One man has his backpack on a roller cart he's rigged from walking sticks and who knows what else. Most have backpacks bigger than mine, and some handle them with ease, while others keep shifting them up and down, side to side. Some have only a tiny daypack, and send their gear with a transport service. Some have ponchos, some have rain jackets, some laugh and talk loudly, some smoke cigarettes as they walk. Why should their choices affect me at all? The answer is that they don't, and I shouldn't criticize them or make assumptions, even in my mind. Live and let live. We all have our own journey to make and do it as we should -- that's it.

A little before noon, I run into Norm Minnesota again, so we walk into Zubiri to eat lunch together, and continue on, chatting together about our expectations for the Camino, our fears, our freshman feelings, all afternoon to Larrasoana (27.4 km). The albergue is full, the next pension is compleato also, and yet we find one last pension that rents us a room with four actual twin beds in it! No more scrambling down gracelessly from the top bunk without a ladder! We meet Lena Ireland and Egge Netherlands, our roommates for the night. I share dinner at Perutxena Taberna (Basque) with Norm, Egge, Erik Netherlands, and Philippe France, while carrying on heated discussions on such vital topics as fluoride in water, living in Russia, and Texas music. Filling ourselves with pasta, beef stew, the omnipresent pan (bread), two bottles of wine, and boisterous conversation, the day winds down with a perfectly communal ending.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Day 1

Thursday, May 2

After breakfast and a packed lunch (an entire French baguette with eggs, ham, cheese and basil), I headed out into the cool, light rain. I'm glad I took pictures of Saint James' Gate yesterday, as I was so excited this morning, I blew right through it without noticing!

Excitedly, the Napoleon Pass is open as I leave, so I took the high road over the Pyrenees. There was light rain the first 2 1/2 hours or so, and I wore all the gear I had. As I followed the path steadily into the mountains, the town receded below me, the clouds came within reach, and the temperature got colder. I quickly realized I had forgotten to pack any gloves (or was it a decision made in the warmth of a Texas Spring?), but God blessed me with no frostbite.

As I walked, I passed other pilgrims, some of whom in turn would pass me as the path steepened and I slowed. I saw enormous slugs patiently working their way across the path, relishing the moisture, and I felt a kindred spirit in them, calling them my brothers wet and slow, but happily living the life they were created to live. I reiterated to myself that this walk was not a race, not a competition, and that speed was irrelevant; it was my perpetual movement forward that mattered. I realized that's a hard lesson for me to learn, so I prayed for the other pilgrims as we smiled and nodded at each other, mostly too shy to utter the words "Buen Camino."

One of these pilgrims was another lone woman, about my age, but sturdier and stronger than I. As I reached a recognizable milestone, a shrine and statue of Mary and the baby Jesus on the boulders, I meandered over to see the statue closer, and offer my prayer of thankfulness for safety so far. I came across this woman huddled beside a huge rock, shaking from cold and fear. I approached and asked if she was okay; she said no. I then asked if I could pray for her; she misunderstood and replied she had been praying. I laid my frozen hand on her wet poncho-covered head and prayed for God's courage, wisdom and peace to fill her. Her name was Jean Ireland, and she was experiencing a panic attack due to the heights. She arose unsteadily, and we walked on together, now and then in slight conversation, walking within sight of each other, always in awareness of our connection. It was quite foggy and drizzly, sleeting occasionally with a mixture of snow. The path itself became more rugged, due to leftover snow cover, runoff, and mud. 

At some point, a new pilgrim joined me, Norm Minnesota, and we talked easily about the Camino, the weather, family, and the trail before us. We arrived at a rough spot covered with snow, patches of earth showing through here and there. We had to decide which way to turn, but the way ahead and the way to the right were both blocked off by yellow caution tape stretched tree to tree, post to post, warning us to not go that route. The problem was, there was no path to the left, and we were definitely not turning around and going back. Norm, Jean and I decided to try one path, only to end up circling right back to our beginning. We watched a group of about eight pilgrims decide to go another route, only to see and hear them sliding down a steep hill into mud and snow. It turns out Norm had a handheld GPS device, and he used it to find a road that we hoped would lead us in the right direction. We three ventured past the warning tape, and before too long, we could tell that we were on a real road, and followed it. After about two hours, Norm realized he had lost his GPS device! It had fallen out of his pocket into the snow somewhere. He turned back to search, and Jean and I went on to Roncevalles, another few hours away.

 That night, after my first pilgrim's mass, in my bunk in a cavernous medieval building resonating with the backdrop of murmurs, laughter and classical music, I saw many miracles of the day. Not the least was that God sent me to help Jean, and he sent Norm to help us both.

Thus is the Way: God blessing every pilgrim through strangers that He intentionally weaves into our journey.

Monday, August 26, 2013

1 Day BC (Before Camino)

Wednesday, May 1 2013

Arriving by taxi to the small village of Saint Jean Pied de Port (St. John's Pass) on the French side of the Pyrenees mountains, I walk through town savoring the history literally seeping through its pores. I eventually end up at the pilgrim's office and receive my very first credential stamp in my peregrino's passport, a real scallop shell, a map showing elevations for the Camino, and last but not least, encouragement. The Napoleon Pass was closed yesterday and today due to snow int he mountains, but there are high hopes that tomorrow it may open, as today's weather in town is gorgeously sunny and bright. All in God's hands.

I walk across the cobblestone road back to L'Esprit du Chemin (the Spirit of the Way), my first ambergue. I am welcomed into a perfectly charming medieval building run by perfectly charming hospitaleros (ex-pilgrim volunteers from all over the world who work at an ambergue for two weeks or so).

L'Esprit du Chemin built a modern egg house out of chicken wire, which contains little plastic eggs holding notes written by pilgrims before they begin their pilgrimage. I sit in the garden and write my prayer: 

My Father, 
Please bless me on this journey to knowing you better and loving you more. 
All I am is yours. 
All I breathe is thankfulness. 

I fold the pink paper up, put it in an egg, and pop it through the grate, feeling intensely ready.

At about 7:30 the dinner bell is rung (literally), and the Camino magic begins. We 18 pilgrims are led into an L-shaped garden area enclosed with plastic sheeting to keep out the wind, snow and rain, but allowing in the sun and nature. Two long tables fill up a bit chaotically, as we strangers arrange ourselves on benches and random chairs, squeezing in close to each other, with the hospitaleros at the heads of the tables. They share several traditions with us, beginning with an aperitif from Navarre (how can dinner go wrong starting off with alcohol?). 

Next are introductions all around, made even more interesting by the fact that about 1/4 don't speak English, which thankfully is the most commonly shared language tonight. I learn quickly that hospitaleros are almost always multi-lingual, which amazes and humbles me. My English is fairly decent since I used to teach it, my Spanish is somewhat passable since I like all foods and things Mexican, but my French, German, and Italian are limited to "Please" and "I'm sorry", and my Basque, Hungarian, Dutch and almost all other languages is flat out non-existent. We Americans are spoiled, and it can be rather embarrassing. 

Lastly before dinner, we share a moment of silence. Although the Camino originally was traveled for spiritual and religious reasons, and still often is, there are many who travel for other reasons; out of respect for many beliefs, Quiet rules for a few minutes.

Then joyful Mayhem takes over as food is passed around family style, half of which is unidentifiable to me, but tastes wonderful. Thankfully there is only one other American, a woman named Curry from Florida - I come to Europe partly to experience other peoples and other cultures, and I would be sorely disappointed if this were the Appalachian Trail, filled with Americans. One couple shares that after she completed the Camino 2 years ago, she met him while in Santiago, and they are now bicycling it together on their honeymoon. Some are married couples with friends, some are a group of single friends, some are solo like me. One 75-year-old man biked the Camino 14 years earlier, and is now walking the Camino in memory of his recently-departed wife. James Holland sits across from me, a handsome young man of 24, and tells me his multiple sclerosis is getting worse and he walks now to understand his future, or lack thereof. Leo Germany is the hospitalero to my left, and he shares that he walked 4 years ago and connected with a young woman (Leo is about mid-60's) who kept in touch with him; when she was baptized last year, she asked Leo to be her godfather. What an honor! Leo also teaches me a valuable trick for the Camino. We each have only one small glass in front of us, and after I fill my glass, I offer water to Leo for his glass, not knowing that wine flows as freely as water on the Camino. He laughs and tells me several years ago he "quit the water" and drinks only wine at dinner. After my initial glass of water, I share the wine pitcher with Leo, and will follow his advice every single day afterward.

Love that.

Love this!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Day by Day...

I really did come home from my Camino in Spain! Then I went to Italy. Came home, and then went to Montana. Came home, and am committing to actually doing some productive things like working and writing. Even though I am going to Colorado next week. :)

After a bit of self-debating, I decided to turn my daily Camino journal into a book in which I write my detailed story, including everything while it is still fresh in my mind and heart. That way, when I am old(er) and my memory or heart may be fading, I can gain refreshment from my own words. And if anyone else wants that much info, that will be icing on the cake.

I decided that my blog will be my forum for telling one incident, anecdote or experience of each day on the Camino: a glimpse into the journey, hopefully inspiring and/or entertaining, but not overwhelming. I will also include some pictures, as I am a visual person and you may be too.

Disclaimer: all names of pilgrims are first names only, may be accurate and may be already confusedly inaccurate. Their surname is their country of origin, if I know it. I did this in my journal to help me remember them specifically. We often never introduced ourselves, and I rarely knew anyone's last name. Anonymity is given both out of necessity and respect.