September 28 – 30: Leòn

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September 28

We walk into town together and our Arizona pilgrim friend bids us farewell as he heads to his albergue.

We stayed at Hostal Aldo Cosco Antiqua in 2016 and I remember the wooden beams on the room’s ceiling, the windows that open to overlook a cobblestone street and the lower level’s glass topped flooring with a view to the old city’s stone beginnings.

Before we can decide where to dine, we receive a text from a pilgrim couple from Delaware that we had met early on. They’ve also just arrived and we plan to meet for dinner.

Tonight the city’s cobblestone streets are packed with young and old revelers. A line snakes down the block to get into the cathedral for a free organ concert, a band plays electric violin and bagpipe music from a stage and there is a feeling of such gaiety in the air.

September 29

My sister, a nurse, and JC*, who we all thought should have gone to medical school, agree with the manager of our Burgos hotel who took one look at me and had diagnosed me as having tendinitis. A few minutes later, Google has provided me with a definition and YouTube has taught me some Pilates movements especially for knee issues; fingers crossed that this is the key.

Today, the city is celebrating La Leyenda de los Cien Doncellas (The Legend of the 100 Maidens), which explains the procession of women dressed in beautiful medieval garb. The Arab dancing, sword battle re-enactment and medieval music complete with bagpipes helps to recount the story of the time when Spain was under Muslim rule. A despot seized control of Spain and in exchange for less tyranny, demanded that 100 women be added to his harem. The women revolted and with the help of the army led by the apostle Santiago, Spain was freed.

In the midst of the vibrant music and the throngs of jubilant merrymakers, the Arizona pilgrim we met on arrival comes to mind. I sensed a sadness about him. Is he all alone tonight? I call out his name under my breath and scour the streets, hoping that if he is out there and could use a friend that we will somehow run into him.

September 30

The celebration continues with the Fiesta de San Froilàn  (St. Froilàn). Colorful banners line the plaza, as donkeys lead colorfully decorated carts down the square. Every street is crowded, either with shoppers eyeing the merchandise for sale under the many tents or with the customers overflowing out of every bar and cafe into the street.

It appears that no one has stayed home today. The sight  of generations of family members enjoying each other’s company is heartwarming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page

 

 

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September 25 – 28: Burgos

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Cathedral de Santa Maria XIII

September 25

We bus here in two hours and settle into Hotel Monjes Magnos. It’s clean, simple, all white and we have a private room. I send Mr. Wiz* out to explore and see where we’ll dine tonight and I take a rest.

Speaking of food, this seems to be the major past time of Spaniards. Breakfast is light; a cafe con leche (espresso with hot milk) and bread or a sweet roll. During late morning, there may be time for another cafe and a sweet roll. Many towns and businesses still close in the afternoon for a siesta and a big meal is enjoyed. Then, everyone is back on the streets again and you may need either another cafe and a sweet or a wine and tapas to hold you until dinner, which begins after eight in the evening.

Burgos is a big city, sometimes referrred to as the Gothic capital of Spain. Thank goodness I’ve been here before and have seen all the sights, especially the Catedral de Santa Maria XIII, one of the most beautiful and largest of Spain’s many cathedrals. Mr. Wiz revisits all his favorite architectural spots, sends me photos all afternoon and I feel as if I am there with him.

September 26

It’s really something when you notice the abuelas (grandmothers) are all out walking you, but I find my way to a bench and enjoy the beautiful weather, while Mr.Wiz is out and about.

I’m in ear shot of three pilgrims; the woman is from England and men are from Sweden and Korea, but they are speaking English. They seem to be delighting in each other’s company, as they share some wine, tapas and their life stories. As they walk away, I can still hear them talking and laughing. They stop to take a photo together and then, spontaneously, continue their walk with their arms around each other. I fumble for my phone, but the photo op has passed. No matter; I don’t think I will ever forget that image. It personifies what the Camino is all about.

September 27

The first thing I see this morning when I wake up is Mr. Wiz’s backpack on the chair, packed up and all ready to go. Our plan was to walk to Estella today, but my knee is still acting up, so it looks as if we’ll be here another night. He can sense that I am upset and reminds me that what matters is that we are together and we are on our own Camino.

It’s been five days and I’ve taken all the medication from the clinic. We stop at a pharmacy and I’m told that, not only can I continue taking the meds, I can also increase the dosage and take it in the afternoon. This is quite encouraging.

We’ve been staying close to the hotel each evening, but tonight I’m feeeling a bit better, so we decide to venture slowly into old town. We are so surprised to come across our pilgrim friends from Switzerland, Russia and Taiwan. They were our laundry buddies and we joke that dirty laundry will always remind us of each other.

We stop for some wine, then continue on to dinner, this time making sure to swap contact information before we say goodbye again. It’s our last evening with our Russian friend. We hug as if we’d known each other for years, as she whispers in my ear “…If we lived closer, I think we would be good friends…”

September 28

We can’t stop apologizing to each other today. Mr. Wiz is sorry that he did not think to buy the bus tickets to Leòn ahead of time and I’m sorry that I forgot to remind him. The 10:30am bus is sold out (completo) so we have no choice but to wait until 5:20pm to leave.

With Mr. Wiz carrying both backpacks and me hobbling beside him, there’s not much for us to do. Fortunately, it’s another beautiful day, so we find a bench in the park near the cathedral and headquarter there. I have time to reflect and remember an article I once read that said when you experience conflict, you need to face it, head straight towards it and flow with it, rather than against it. I decide to try that tactic. The time seems to go by quickly, as we plan out our day: share an apple at 1pm and have a beer at 4pm.

At the bus station, we meet a pilgrim from Arizona, who also missed out on a ticket for the earlier bus. He had been experiencing ankle issues and said that when he had taken a few days off, he felt lonely and a bit depressed. I feel grateful that I have a partner to share my ups and downs with.

 

* Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters”on the “About” page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

September 14 – 17: St. Jean Pied de Port, France to Zubieri, Spain

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Main street – St. Jean Pied de Port, France

September 14: St. Jean Pied de Port, France

This ancient capital of the Basque region nestled in the Pyrenees is a welcoming place to start, The storybook village is crowded with pilgrims from all over the world, excited to begin their adventure.

We stay at the Beilari, one of the many albergues in town, except that this one comes with a recommendation. Albergues are hostels run exclusively for pilgrims, who show their pilgrim passport and receive a stamp (a lovely souvenir by the end of the trip).

All 22 guests are greeted warmly, settle in and later we all congregate around the long, wood dining tables. Our host serves us a glass of port and asks us to introduce ourselves, say where we live and why we are doing the Camino. We are from the U.S., France, Malta, Brazil and Australia and we immediately feel a deep connection to each other.

We set the table together as our host tells us that for this night only, we are a family and will share a home cooked meal together. Impressively, he repeats this all in English, French and Spanish and tells us that he plans to learn German during the off season.

We are told not to set alarms and the next morning awaken to the sounds of a Gregorian chant. After sharing breakfast, we head out together on our first day.

September 15: Orisson, France- 7 miles, 3 hours

It’s a strenous, uphill walk, so we plan to stop in the albergue in Orisson before continuing through the Pyrenees tomorrow.

We sit outside all afternoon, delighting in the travel stories from our newfound friends from the U.S., Switzerland and Australia, even though traveling through India on a motorcycle and hiking in Nepal are not on our bucket list.

Before dinner we are asked to, once again, introduce ourselves, which seems to give you as much insight into others as it does to yourself. I fall asleep wishing I could have given all 38 new members of my new one night family a group hug.

September 16:  Roncesvalles, Spain- 9 miles, 5 hours

This is so much better than our 2016 experience; it’s not raining, the trail is better and the rooms at the monestery have been renovated.

It’s a long, uphill climb, but the scenery is breathtaking and the only sound you can hear is the occasional cow bell. I have a sudden urge to run through the hills, twirling around and singing the words to “The Sound of Music”, but suddenly remember the Camino golden rule: never take an extra step that is not necessary.

There are two bunk beds to a cubicle and we are sharing it with a French couple that speak no English. My French friend and I soon find something we have in common; we both keep hitting our heads on the top bunk, laugh and high five each other.

We enjoy another home cooked dinner, then a big group of us gather to toast a U.S. couple celebrating their thirty-sixth wedding anniversary.

September 17: Zubieri- 14 miles, 6 hours

Of course, things could always be worse. Last time it rained, but today it’s hot and the shale, tree roots and loose rock make the path unrelentingly difficult as we trudge uphill and then descent, over and over again.

At our albergue Palo de Avellano, we meet an older couple who left from their front door in Germany and are now heading home.

Two Tylenol and one power nap later, I am ready for a glass of wine. At the bar, we are invited to join a woman from Holland sitting alone and then run into a couple from Texas.

At dinner, we’re seated next to five men from Denmark who met when they were six years old and travel together once a year. We laugh and talk, almost forgetting that it’s lights out at 10 pm.

Following the Yellow Brick Road; Why I Am Walking the Camino Again

Photo Following the Yellow Brick Road

The 2011 movie “The Way”, starring Martin Sheen, sparked a resurgence in the Camino. His son, Emilio Estevez, who also wrote, produced and directed it, has compared his story to “The Wizard of Oz.” Sheen is Dorothy, Oz is replaced by Santiago and the pilgrims that Sheen meets along the way seem to have something in common with the tin man, scarecrow and the cowardly lion. The yellow arrows that mark the way along the Camino are today’s yellow brick road.

Walking out of the theater that afternoon, I remember Mr. Wiz* vowing to walk the Camino someday. I thought nothing of it again, until 2016, when I accepted an invitation to join him on a 500 mile walk through Spain.

Then an unathletic version of myself, I was not about to miss out on an adventure. I started training and had found my sport; I could walk! Standing on that mountain as I tested out my first pair of hiking boots, I felt positively giddy. No matter that it was the 4-foot, plastic mountain in the center of the REI shoe department; I was hooked.

Following one of the ancient paths that pilgrims have traveled for thousands of years to the cathedral in Santiago, Spain where the remains of St. James are said to be buried, the Way of St. James evokes physical, spiritual and mystical qualities. As you walk each day, wishing each passerby “Buen Camino” (a good walk) can result in everything from a smile to hours of heartfelt conversation. Every 24 hours, relationships are made and lost, as people walk ahead and then catch up to each other (which usually results in lots of hugs and a celebratory glass of wine). A simple gesture, a chance encounter, a small town on such a large world stage; there is such beauty in the incongruity of it all.

Standing on line to receive our Compostela (the certificate of completion) at the end of the trip, a fellow pilgrim mentioned a national pilgrim organization. Members of our local chapter of the American Pilgrims on the Camino all seem to have that same sparkle in their eyes; they are interesting people of all ages that are united by a sense of adventure and purpose. And when family and friends have heard all your stories and seen your photos more than once, this is the group who is always anxiously willing to share it all again.

This band of spirited souls with a zest for life understood my newfound feelings. I now try to focus on the present, listen more and go with the flow. I have a newfound respect for the uncomplicated aspects of a simpler life. I seem to be more curious, inquisitive and adventurous. Solitude has become as important to me as socializing. Meeting other pilgrims and sharing our common bond has been invigorating.

So, accepting Mr. Wiz’s invitation once again, with my hair cut short, nail polish removed and no makeup packed, I will venture out with a couple of outfits in my backpack and see where life takes me this time. These are not requirements; you make your Camino your own. This is just my way of not letting a more complicated version of myself get in the way of the simple pleasures that the Camino is known to provide.

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.