Monday, March 31, 2014

Stories I could tell you.........okay I will!

So, the time has come to tell a few Camino stories.  Like the one about the girl, sound asleep, who fell out of her top bunk in the middle of the night.  She's walking the Camino with her mom, and scared her half to death.  She had her arms inside her sleeping bag and couldn't break her fall, so was knocked out when she hit the floor.  She said her mothers face was the loveliest thing she'd ever seen when it was the first thing she saw when she opened her eyes.

Or there is the story about a gang of trekkers on the first leg of the Camino Frances out of St. Jean Pied  de Port.  They were stopped by a French Farmer, 20km "off Camino". He gave them a ride in the back of his manure spreader.

There are people like this man named David, outside of Astorgia, who got 5 years has lived on the Camino, with the goal of serving pilgrims.   He has food, a fire. A place for rest and conversation, out on the edge of the meseta.

Dave and I met a couple, flush with love, in Leon.  They'd walked,nay, 'floated' over 40km together that day, to reach the city.  They met on the road, weeks before and have been together ever since.  He's from Europe; she's North American.

One of the stories to consider are the 'behind the scenes supporting cast' type.  All those who make it their vocation to support pilgrims. Hospetalerios are typically volunteers, who staff the aubergues we stay at.  Many have been pilgrims, and take on the chores of cleaning, registration, and taking care of basic needs which arise.  Most have stories, advice, insight:  all are there because they value the spiritusl work of pilgrimage.  We met one man this morning at the hostal/hotel we were at, preparing to head out to his stint volunteering.  His job is to support pilgrims, and he began with us by tying a bootlace.

Then there are all those who set up shop so that pilgrims will have places to buy groceries, a meal, basic supplies, often in remote areas.  Some have chosen to make caring for pilgrims a well considered vocation, investing time and money to build attractive, functional spaces for meals, washrooms, laundry, sleeping.
We have had lovely meals and clean sheets given to us, the loan of warm gloves one cold morning (we mailed them back!),  and people who reached out with care and interest to tired, footsore people at the end of a long day.  Just the other day, as I offered to help prepare for dinner in the lovely homey spot we landed after a soaking wet day, I was smilingly told "you have done your work today already (walking): now it is my time to work. You go relax."

Ah yes, and then there is the story of a man in a big yellow poncho, known for having "emergency chocolate" in his pack, which he shares at moments which require some extra help.    The other day a young fella from Ireland was laughing as he recalled being given chocolate on one difficult day.

There are a lot of special people out here on the road!

Buen Camino!   Karen.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Tough days

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times....After two weeks of really exceptional spring weather, we woke this morning to snow on the ground and rooftops.  Our arrival on the meseta was met with gusts of wind,  followed  by grey sky and rain.   Blisters have gone past the point of "grin and bear it" for Karen.  She, along with a marathon runner from Atlanta,  limped in for a Doctors consultation and some rest days are bringing healing.  Dave continued walking  full days and experienced one day of rain, gale and misery,  followed by a morning in wind.  Knees are sore.    Yesterday Karen rode in a luggage transfer van, then a bus to meet Dave, and met one of our compadres on the bus, heading off for a rest.   After a night in a refugio with coughing bunkmates and one poor girl with stomach flu retching down the hall on a regular basis all night, we now have bus tickets in hand for Leon.  It is the time of the Camino when all of our various ailments have reached the point where we can no longer deny that something must be done.

Dave now.  Karen's feet kept her resting and seeking medical attention, so we agreed for some "solitude time" and I kept walking.  The first day (the last day of our good weather) was great!  Nice scenery -- I was walking through a valley -- birds, and the good kind of solitude in which you feel one with the universe.  Refugio that night was in a place that had opened only the day before!

The next day was different.  The first task was to climb out of the valley -- a bit of a grunt -- and then straight down another steep hill onto the plain.  I thought the clouds didn't really look like rain, but then it started and continued for the rest of my walk.  I had planned a rest in the next town -- but everything was closed.  And the next.  And there wasn't really another next -- not for 18 km.  So I plowed ahead through the rain and the wind, needing to keep walking just to keep warm, no shelter, no places to rest, and really, not another soul on the trail.  When I went through one town, it was completely deserted except for one stray dog and an old man leaning against a ruined barn as I left (there is a sadness here in the smaller towns, maybe like the sadness in small Canadian towns.  Ruins behind doors onto the street, "for sale" signs weathering on the broken windows, empty cafes...)

By the time I got to Fromista, my knees were sore, my boots full of water, my bones chilled.  Hoping to meet Karen -- and needing some real sleep -- I booked a hotel room.  But Karen was staying back where I began the day.

Karen now:  I had seen the doctor and gone to get my "wound dressing" by the nurse.  She made sure the dressing was big enough there was no way to put my boots back on.  In sandles, on a wet wet wet day, it was back to my bunk to a warm sleeping bag (heat is never on in the daytime or through the night at a refugio) to read my kindle book and visit with new friends, also reduced to feet up and off the floor status.

Dave:   As the day wore on, friends came into Fromista.  One was ready to give up (he is now in Leon, where we are headed).  One Korean who has been struggling on a sprained ankle is also headed for medical attention in Leon, afraid that he is doing serious damage.  One friend that I thought I would never see on the trail, he seemed so strong, is now holding tight in this town waiting for bleeding feet to heal.

So... Monday was a tough day!   I seem to be one of the lucky ones, because my feet are okay and my aches and pains seem mostly to clear up by morning.  But there are a lot of walking wounded out here -- or NOT walking wounded.  To cap it all, last night in our room two of the four of us were coughing and hacking, and one from the room next door spent most of the night being violently ill.  I can imagine worse places to be sick than a cold refugio, packed tight with people I barely know -- but there aren't many.  Tough days.

No matter what your endeavor, there are tough days.  No matter what your job, no matter how much you love it, there are days when you will wish for something, anything, else.  Every season, every relationship, every task, has its share of tough days.

Today the sky is sparkling blue -- at least for now.  There is snow on the ground, but it feels like a perfect day to walk.  But we won't be walking.  We also are headed for Leon for rest and recuperation.     Perhaps this is the time when we will also begin to process all that has happened so far,  take account,  and prepare for what comes next.

What do we do with tough days?  Give up?  Tough it out?  Look for something to fix?  Any might be possible.  Knowing that tough times are bound to come helps me to get through the ordinary ones.  But it is important to know when to stop, and when to fix, and when (and how) to be kind and gentle to ourselves.    Grace is often something we know best in times like these.  When we will accept the care,  compassion,  and time we need to be well.

So we, and most of our friends, will keep walking.  But not today.  Today we will rest and heal, and give thanks that this, too, is part of a Camino pilgrimage.  Rest.  Grace.  Sunshine on snowy rooftops.  And a warm spot to enjoy another cafe con leche.....

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Beautiful, Beautiful, Burgos.

Images from a lovely rest day in Burgos, where Christopher Columbus spoke with royalty....right down from where we stayed!

Fellow pilgrims, with whom we've shared some miles.   Images ate mostly from Burgos cathedral, which is a spectacular jewel if a building..

Ride a bike to Burgos? it seemed like a way to have an easy day....

Okay, you tell me.  What is wrong with the idea of a 54km bike ride in the spring when you haven't been on a bike for any appreciable length if time since last September.

Exactly.  You've got it.  And yes...that's right, too.  In fact...there are many reasons to suggest.....

We leapt at the chance to ride bikes for a day, be free of our packs, and complete two long days of walking into Burgos,  in one day on a bike.  What we didn't consider was our lack of bike riding muscles, the terrain if the Camino, and, how nice it is to sit down sometimes.

Well,in case you are wondering, we did it!  54 km.  On. The. Camino.  Trail.  We stuck to the trail, which meant two really difficult rocky steep technical rides down AFTER getting the bikes up the steep, rocky. Technical hills up.

At Atepeurca was the worst.  This is the location of a significant archeological site for ancient human remains.  We are glad ours didn't join those....
There was a lot if pavement riding, also, which was mostly enjoyable.  Our lack of preparation upped the challenge.

Overall, we are glad we did it.  Next time....we'd stick to the road more, skipping the bad uphill sections.  There were two long downhills through pine woods which were loads of fun.

We'll sit down again sometime... Maybe.

Wednesday: storks, and wonderful hosts

 Leaving town Wednesday, we passed a lot of storks nests.

At lunch we enjoyed a small square, the company of other pilgrims, and reading the history of the place.

 Heinrich and Sophia, from Capetown, now living in the UK, and Brenda and Gill from Ontario were companions that day.

 More storks nests on tower of church in Belorado where we enjoyed a meal.
 New friends, Tim from down under and Brenda and Gill from Ontario.
Wonderful hosts at Waslala guest house in Belorado.  A home where we found rest, renewal, and caritas, lived.

Tuesday means a hop, skip, and some fowl stories...

On Tuesday we were up bright and early, waiting at a bus stop.  We decided to hop across Logrono, which is a city with lots of walking to do, but isn't on our list of "must see".  Our connections meant bypassing Navarette and arrival in Najera about 8:35 am.  Two long days of walking miles passed in a little over half an hour (how humbling!), which helps us build in necessary time for rest days into our schedule.

We had breakfast in Najera, then started walking uphill, out of town.  Our way took us into the wind,across farming country.

At our first rest stop (coffee and bathrooms) we ran into our Camino friend Fred, who we had met first in Roncesvalles .  Later on that day, as we arrived in Santo Domingo de La Calzada, we found James, from Montreal, then the amazing Simone, from England.  She is a powerhouse, covering more territory every day than most.
Our destination was Santo Domingo de LA Calzada.  For a story about a miracle involving chickens and Santo Domingo, read this link:

The cathedral is very beautiful.
Like all medieval church buildings, the story of faith found in the Bible, and the story of faith lived by ordinary people through the ages, is told in the architecture. Many people could not read, nor did they have access to printed versions of Scripture. So the stories were told in carvings, artwork,stained glass and in the awe and majesty of the building itself.
The story of faith told in this building includes a rooster and hen who remind us of the great faith of many who have walked the pilgrimage before us.

PS....sometimes my technology does not do what I wanted to do. Please forgive all editing issues.blessings on all Karen

Friday, March 21, 2014

If it is Monday this must be Viana

 On  Monday we left Los Arcos for Viana.  On our way we visited Torres Del Rio, with it'd lovely hexagonal church.  Very small in size, but lovely.
 We had a long walk to Viana.  One of the churches there,next to the refugio, is in  ruins.  Its lovely 'bones'  show its beauty as and grace, nevertheless.

We went to an evening service at the church in the main square.  Its' claim to fame is that it is the burial place of Cesar Borgia.

At the end of the service (held in the sacristy, where music manuscripts and other elements are stored...a side chsoel to main church), the priest called all peregrinos forward.  He spoke with each one as and blessed each one.  Very touching.  Very kind.

This little 'direction' for pilgrims was translated into many languages.

The church in Viana town square.

Photos: Vistas of food, history, and scenery.

Well, here we are in Burgos, after 5 days on the Camino.  We had left Pamplona and walked the heights of Perdun, where we are told, from here on our souls will be healthy for the rest of the Camino.

Looking ahead from the heights towards Ultrega, where we spent a lovely evening at a private Auberge.  Amazing food cooked by grandma, included a plate of steamed new vegetables:  artichokes, asparagus, broad beans,  leeks, peas.

We left Ultrega and walked on a glorious spring day.

A sign read " Spain:the place with many empty houses and many people without houses.". The economic issues of this country have been challenging.  Many towns do have new developments, and few people living there.  In an attempt to boost the economy the government had created many building initiatives before the bubble burst.

Another bubble burst.  Blisters are treated by piercing with a needle and leaving thread in as a drain.  This was the first blister on this toe.  It now has a layer of old and new....part of the wear if walking with a pack every day.
Estella.  Such a lovely place.

Leaving Estella, passing by the wine fountain at Irsche.  An old tradition of providing care as and hospitality to pilgrims has become a wine and water fountain.  We passed at 8 am on a Sunday, and the fountain wasn't on yet.