October 4 – 6: Rabanal del Camino to Villafranca del Bierzo

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San Nicholas Real Monastery

October 4: Rabanal del Camino- 13 miles, 5 hours

I prayed, practiced positive thinking and E.F.T. (the psychological form of acupuncture) and even had a long talk with my right knee, but she was stubborn. She had no intention of healing until she was ready. And, in 10 days as quickly as it happened, my knee miraculously healed.

I am so happy today that I think even the scruffy brush we are walking through is beautiful. In the quiet of the morning, I find myself  hypnotized by the mosaic patterns on the hard ground made by the grids of the many boot soles that have passed here before me (over 300,000 completed the Camino in 2017). I look up to notice that the earth is such a beautiful copper color it looks as if it’s been painted. It’s a fairly flat path today, so I amuse myself by wondering what is behind the ancient stone buildings (some thousands of years old), with majestic wooden doors. Are the homes beautiful and modern inside? Or, does the outside reflect the inside?

Hotel Rural Casa Indie’s front door opens to a courtyard and all the rooms encircle it. The room’s French doors and beamed ceilings give the rustic feel we expected, but the old wooden floor planks are so uneven that a trip to the bathroom in the dark will be an adventure.

Before dinner, we head to the church for Vespers led by the Benedictine monks in Latin. It is beautiful in its simplicity. The original stone on the barrel vaulted ceilings and the walls peeks out from ancient paint. When the lights are turned off, the crucifix on the wall behind the altar, lit from above, has an even more dramatic presence. One of the monks walk around the pews and blesses us all with holy water. Afterwards, we greet one of the monks who speaks English and he is so pleased to hear that we enjoyed the experience.

October 5: Molinaseca: 16 miles, 8 hours

What a lovely way to start the day; first watching the sun rise as we are walking, then being serenaded by a young pilgrim, who has carried his guitar with him every step of the way.

We’re on dirt roads most of the day, which narrow and widen as we walk. My favorite are the narrowest parts, when only one person can barely fit and the trees envelop you.

The closer we get to Alto Altar, the highest point of our entire journey (4550 feet) and Cruz de Farro, the more emotional I become. The plain metal cross stands on a mountain of stones like a beacon to pilgrims. Two days ago, I could barely walk from my bed to the bathroom and now I am almost there, ready to fulfill one of the highlights of our journey. We’ve brought two rocks from home and wrote the names of two special people who are very dear to us. We find just the right spot, wipe our tears off them, say a prayer, then nestle them in amoung the many other rocks. The ancient legend is that by leaving the stones behind, you are turning over your burdens to God.

The steep inclines and descents seem as if they will never end. Between the loose rock and shale, horse and cow manure and chestnuts in shells that resemble Nerf balls (except that these are covered in needles), you have no choice but to stay focused. I while away the time by thinking of the salad I am hoping to find for lunch. We turn the corner and come upon the cafe where we had the best salad of our 2016 trip. The husband and wife owners are so pleased we have returned and tell us we have made their day.

We quickly settle in at Hostal el Palacio so we can sit outside and have a glass of wine with a view of the river, the bridge and the mountains. The lovely old stone building houses rooms that are a combination of old world and modern.

We take a walk around town and agree that the town looks like a movie set; the old stone buildings and street lights are all from a time gone by. Four teenage girls sitting on a bench with their iPhones and the Mercedes that cruises by look totally out of place.

Villafranca del Bierzo: 19 miles, 8 hours

It’s better that I didn’t realize beforehand that this would be our longest walk of the Camino. Luckily, it’s in the 70’s (great walking weather) and the path starts out fairly flat. A walk through a neighborhood of mansions is particularly entertaining.

It seems as if we are walking up and down through vineyards for miles and miles. All of a sudden, dark clouds sweep over us, the wind picks up and it starts to rain. We already have our rain gear on, so there’s nothing else to do but take turns singing Broadway show tunes to pass the time on this unending path.

Villafranca del Bierzo (population 3500) traces its origins back to the year 791. The village flourished during the Middle Ages as an important resting spot before the mountains of Galicia for pilgrims on the Camino and still provides that same service all these years later.

Of all the days, we need to walk through the entire town to get to where we are staying tonight: the San Nicholas Real Monastery. The sheer magnitude of the building is overwhelming. Built in the 17th century in the Baroque style, the courtyard and cloisters would be lovely to visit on a nicer day. Our room is small and all white with some basic wooden furniture, but it’s clean and the window shutters open to reveal a view of the town.

As we head up to our room, we are surprised to see our friend from Arizona. We catch up and promise to keep in touch, hoping we can plan to meet up again.

After such a long day, we agree that we will stay put tonight. We are the only ones in the dining room and admire the frescoes on the wall and the vaulted ceilings. Enjoying dinner in our private dining room to the sound of a Gregorian chant playing softly in the background, this may not be the best menu del dia we’ve ever had, but tonight it sure seems like it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Finding Your Funny    

Photo Find Funny

Somewhere between sorrow and euphoria, there is an emotional part of us that tends to lie dormant. We forget to give it a proper workout, so it languishes there patiently awaiting its turn. It’s our funny gene. We all have one; some are geared to an audience (the stand-up comic variety) and some are for private use only (the proper giggle type).

Whether we laugh out loud or chuckle to ourselves, we should all work to flex our happy muscles. In the course of a day, there are probably more than a few instances where the personal interpretation of our experiences will fall short of our expectations. That’s where the funny gene comes in. Once we unleash it, it overrides the negativity and the anxiousness of the moment, much like that ocean wave that knocks you down and spins you around until you get all that saltwater up your nose and sand inside your bathing suit. I got carried away, but you get the idea. Basically, it lightens our outlook and gives us an internal “thumbs-up.”

Are you ready to get started? OK, think of the last time you scolded yourself for something that happened to you. Rather than playing it over and over again in your head, find the humor in it (it’s there somewhere, just look for it). Now replay it and yuk it up a bit; that’s it! It’s not that difficult; a few minutes of soul searching can make all the difference.

I discovered this phenomenon quite by accident when my attempts at being graceful always seemed to be thwarted by an unwelcome visit from the awkward fairy:

– When all eyes were on me, as I walked proudly through a seated crowd at a business luncheon, only to find out that a huge cloth napkin was still dangling from my belt.

– When, at a chance meeting with 2 CEOs, the mint I was sucking on fell out of my mouth and they both politely dove down to pick it up, thinking it was my tooth.

– When a planned dramatic entrance down our family home’s staircase one date night fortunately only led to 2 bloody knees and a bruised ego.

– When my date gallantly opened my car door on prom night, then accidently shut it on my fingers resulting in me washing the blood off my white gown, drying it under the ladies room hand dryer and wearing 2 white gloves stuffed with tissues on my one hand (in a tribute to Michael Jackson) to stop the bleeding.

Science has already proven that laughter can make us look and feel younger, cure illnesses and extend our lives. Take it from 95-year-old Carl Reiner and his 2 nonagenarian pals, Norman Lear and Mel Brooks. Together, they have been laughing for over 279 years and are still writing, producing and acting. Carl Reiner says he starts each day glancing at the obituaries. If he doesn’t see his name, he has breakfast.

Don’t take yourself so seriously; remember you are laughing with yourself, not at yourself. It’s time to reboot! The last thing you want is a flabby laugh physique due to inactivity. So, drop and give me 50… chortles or cackles, your choice.