Leon and On

24 Sept 2017Santinabez, Spain

Lest anyone who is following my schedule should be feeling impressed with my progress, I don’t think I mentioned that I decided to credit myself with the solitude of desert walks I completed throughout my training in the neighborhood around Pipe Creek (in 80 to 90 degree weather) + time walked in Big Bend over the many vacations we have spent camping and hiking there. Setting that against the need to walk the section of the Camino that is called the Meseta – it is flat…much like getting up and taking a walk from El Paso to Amarillo, I hopped on my second bus for a ride through it and arrived in Leon (from Burgos.) It put me ahead of schedule but meant that I finally decided to cancel my Parador and dinner date with Cory. Since she was not able to come before the 26th, I recognized that there is just not enough Leon to really fill that length of time (almost 6 days) in any circumstance.

Old against the new: Roman walls and new urban construction


Jacque napping in front of the Parador

Entrance to the Parador…from garden under work-over


Against that rationalization, yesterday was one of the most joyful along this entire adventure. My walk was just a simple wonder for me. I was rising in the face of all my greatest fears of being lost and I boldly chose to do an “alternate route” that would keep me off the edge of the highway, and move me out through what I realized 1/3 of the way along that I was continuing on the fringe of Meseta-like land, and I was walking as if I was on my Bumpgate Road practice walk…without the fences and longhorns. I was completely at home in my world.

Actually a bit like looking out the window in Bakersfield to the Mtns


My pack got dropped off for transport at the Parador (something of me got to stay for a while in the luxury of the Parador) and I lurked outside the main entrance where peregrinos passed on the route out of town. When I realized there was a little cafe across the plaza where I could get my “git-er-dun” cup of Cafe con Leche, I headed over and waited out the glimmer of safety most of us find in first light when we don’t have to wear headlamps to walk. As I went back to latch onto the hem of a group headed in my direction, I remembered Anne’s directive that if all else failed, follow Germans as they are hardwired for good gps sense. As I followed one couple, we came to the point where one eats some protein-carb item (ham/cheese/bread sandwich or potato/egg frittata like thing called a tortilla). Mine is always the tortilla as it requires the least amount of chewing. And it goes well with the 2d café con lèche. Unfailingly served with a large hunk of baguette.

Unfailing support…and not who is supporting the mapping of Leon


In order to be in the shade, I had taken a space next to someone who was also in search of the alternate and while not being German, he was close enough for me. He was Belgian. We pondered a plan and the bar owner came over and gave us a printed map and flier from his good friend’s albergue in the place we were headed. Confidence enshrouded us both.

We headed out and covered 11k and a vast number of important and unimportant issues, surprisingly finding ourselves at yet another bar, just in time for lunch. From there it was a breeze. He decided to walk on and I signed in to my reserved space at Albergue de Jesus.

You just never know what it will be…only 4 women tonight


 I arranged my bunk, washed my clothes and body in the same shower (take all your clothes off, soap up and as you rinse off, add a little extra shampoo to the clothes you are standing on and it causes washing action. Step up and down on them a few extra times and then rinse everything well). I walked some more steps and met a couple of friends at their albergue where the evening meal would be held.

Pool and all – in the middle of nowhere


 We also walked around town….all 30 buildings, not including the church. Storks nests sat on top of the pillars on the bell tower. 

Bell tower and storks nests


 Supper was good, sunset was great and they bought me an extra beer to celebrate the 500,000th step I had taken as Henry and I crossed the street to head into the wilderness trail cum Pipe Creek.

This is, for me thus far, not mystical or magical. It has been hard work and steady improvement in attitude and outcomes. What I realized on this day however was that it was most definitely a journey and a recognition of the beauty of walking and seeing the place and hearing the sounds and moving forward…chirping birds, crunching stones and gravel, another peregrino about to pass you, signaled by his/her approaching shadow and the sound of the click of walking sticks. Knowing for the most part that your pack would be faithfully delivered ahead of you for Jaco-Trans small fee of $5 and expert delivery skills and you would get the bed you had called ahead for and reserved in your best effort at speaking Spanish on the phone and understanding the return fire, unhesitating rapid-fire commentary from the guy at the other end (It closes out with me spelling my name in the Spanish – just K-I-M) – all this gives me a warm wash of feel-good.  

The routine is pretty secure, less frantic and the absence of Anne’s snoring has not yet been replaced with anything nearly as strong, loud and unrelenting. There is a heavy Spanish guy who followed me in however tonight so the challenge might be on to replace her honors. Fortunately he is 4 beds away from me.

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A little time off

21 Sept, 2017BOOK: Presumed Innocent. By Scott Turow…Detective story of the mindless ilk…not all that exciting, but fills in to move me from fatigue to sleep

SONG: There are several and they will be included in another post before I leave Leon. They relate to incidents and people of interest, in places that blur together too much to try and separate them…so I linked them to my music for another post. 

THOUGHT: I think I ‘get’ what walking meditation is…and I am growing to really love it.

Anne on her Way


Softest welcoming light as we head up the mountain


Part of the mystique of the Camino before I started (and probably the same for others who are between the idea of their Camino and the reality of it) was the notion of deeply interactive conversations about spirituality and humanity and that sort of thing. Then there came the reality.

Arriving and getting started at the beginning in St Jean, was a multilevel lesson in chaotic thought. Getting priorities in place was difficult. My underpants were at an equal level of importance with what I was carrying in my lunch bag. Hopefully not a mismatched connection at the physical level. 

 Where it all went was obvious…somewhere hanging off my body, but it needed to obviously (or not), be on the right place on the body. Access to each thing became the focus, as in, what might I need most. Rain gear always won since wet everything was fairly high on the catastrophe scale. Snack and water access came next…camelback wins such high applause and gratitude for Tony and his pre-trip input. And so on down the line. Because of the fatigue at the end of the day, the anxiety was higher in the beginning as to what needed to be done and in what order in the midst of the fatigue fog. At this point in time, I’m happy to report that there is more of the automatic part going on. My two surviving brain cells that still fire regularly, are often missing by suppertime. Time and practice have lead me to the point-checks that are becoming instincts I can trust. Several items have been left behind in the process and while it lightened my pack, it was not voluntary.

The ideas about sitting down and writing at the end of the day and taking pictures along the way proved to be just that…good ideas. While walking promotes ideas in the beginning of the day, it crushes them out of existence as the hours go on in the initial segment of getting adjusted. Because I have stopped to take a few days off the path and rest in Leon, I have got time to both think and write and sleep in a place where there is just one bed and it is for me…and the bathroom is not shared with anyone!!

So, here are some moments that have filtered through, starting with a summary of how a normal walk-day goes.

Staying in the Albergues is a time constrained thing. 12 and 2pm for checking in. You have to be out at the latest by 8am and in some places, 7:45am. Quiet time is from 10pm to 6am (snoring apparently not factored in as noise)

0 DARK THIRTY: Quiet time ends at 6am, when either a few individuals brave it and turn on their headlamps or the Hospitalera flips on the main switch and fluorescence bathes the room. Occasionally there is music to inspire the waking process. In one place it was Gregorian Chant and in another it was Spanish ‘step-it-up’ dance music. 

 Coffee was served in the first Albergues before we left, but that was short lived and now I need to walk to first coffee. I usually have a bite of something with protein to kick my start.

During this brief period between 6am and 7:45, one must:

  Stuff everything into the appropriate places

  Lean out the door or window to verify chill factor or rain conditions just to make sure the stuff process was going to relate to those first steps out the door

Compete for toilet and sink space – whether or not you are having a bad-hair day is totally irrelevant  

  Perform foot rituals (more sacred than all else) Occasionally care requires requesting someone else’s assistance in covering the unreachable open places. Knee bracing is also included in this step.

Beloved socks; outer set


  

You might want to add a little paper tape to that

Next is finding the boots and your sticks then donning the boots and tying them reverentially to the hoped for perfect tension. 


With all this in order, it is time to step out the door and into the day, ferreal!


For the next 4 to 6 hours, the rhythm is generally: Walk; Pass; Be Passed – all the while wishing the passee, Buen Camino. At about 2 hr intervals there are stop points, and the first is generally Stand-Up-Spoon Spanish coffee with milk. I eat the version of the camino tortilla that has potatoes, eggs and bread.

 Next stop is boot removal time and wound inspection, coupled with a meal or substantial snack.  

And the last segment leads, for most, to the day’s stop point. Albergue beds fill up quickly and reserving space is done much more often. (A day ahead usually you know more about how much you will be able to do.) At this point, I send my pack ahead on the first class transport and if I get to it and still have energy later in the day, I pick it up, throw it on my back and head to a next place. Failing to have a reservation and arriving to a full house, means you HAVE to walk on, sometimes another 10k. At that point, most exhausted pilgrims taxi on to the next place.

Once you have that assigned bed and your pilgrim passport stamped, you remove the boots and put them in the boot/stick place; fall onto the bed (or climb up onto it if you got the short straw and the bunk on top is yours. 

Chilly day


Warm day


 This is only a brief lull however, because there is the washing of the socks and underwear – drying time always precarious, but if they are still wet in the am, they are pinned to the outside of the pack.  

Showering is dependent on a few factors, but if your companion says you need one, you need one. Sniffing your own armpits is not a qualifying standard.

You may arrive around 3 or 4pm but that is dead on into the Spanish tradition for Siesta. Everything in the village is closed and nothing reopens until 7pm. I snack-plan around this factor. 

Only 200 population and we won’t see them til 7

 Dinner with the pilgrims always has some form of communality, even when there is not a common dinner in the Albergue. 

One of the first communal suppers at Orrison


 For me participation is either WITH the firing of the 2 brain cells because the walk just wasn’t as bad as I might have expected…or it is a nutritional barrier I have to push my way through just to get to my bed where I can sleep. As I have continued to get a rhythm in my walking, the end of day has become a happier place.

If I am on the upper bunk, I do strategic planning for the 2 pee times I will need to be ready for…and that includes getting up and down the ladder and remembering where the bathroom is…occasionally it is a flight down stairs…and that is pretty sucky.

As I climb into my sleep sac and open my book, I pray fervently to the snoring god that he has chosen another dorm to go to. Input my titanium ear plugs in and sleep comes on in. 

So re: those real conversations that open themselves to sharing, happen less for me on the actual walking path because I am so very slow and most people want their hustle. Language also limits much of the conversation. Some days, I hear a lot of English, but on others, it is a mix of lots of others and so Buen Camino suffices. There are times like I found today, when the conversation clicks quickly into the wonderful realm of soul sharing and I expect that will happen more often as the settling in has opened me up as well. But then, I am in the midst of time off. We will see how it goes as I get back on Tuesday. 
  

Puenta la Reina to Viana

As Anne planned for travel back to Barcelona, I had a mid level panic attack, realizing that she has just got such a strong sense of direction and precision, and she was leaving me to my own personal…can’t-find-my-way-out-of-the-paper-bag sense of reality. She knew when we left (at 7:50 and the best guess from me was 8ish.) I was going to be one my own. No one would be waiting to tell me that the unmarked turn was supposed to be left when my thought would revert immediately to needing to go right.  I imagined me wandering off to remote places heretofore unheard of and circling sites that meant little or nothing to anyone. She sat with me after supper and helped me go through a mapping and scheduling. In turn I gave her words to use in Spanish…she has zero language awareness. 

I went to bed slightly nauseous and got up with an emerging migraine. I wondered if I would have to stay another night in this formidable hostel. Instead I hugged her goodbye and asked a Belgian woman if she would mind walking with me for just an hour to make sure I wasn’t going to collapse. The meds kicked in and at the end of the hour I was walking amiably and thinking that it might just keep going…without catastrophe and disaster at every turn


And so it has. Deanna hugged me at my stop and went on to hers. I had a truly wonderful day today that culminated in me covering 16miles in 8hours for an edge-tipping 40,700 steps – all by myself. Tomorrow I will do a short day – 18k and a stop in a nice small city. Anne is rejoining me Thursday for a few more days. I will be so happy to have her blue shirt and beige pants and hat in front of me. We will laugh at things and have a great time finding food and shelter like every elder should do every once in a while.


The Casa Magica in Villatuerte, just south of Estella was my stop point. Cannot arrive in an urban setting at the end of a day. Brain dead and unable to remember my own name let alone where to turn. The private Auberge is as magical as an albergue could be and the Paella dinner was delicious.

Vegetarian Paella and wine of course


Made it easily through Estella and my plan had been to stop halfway to Los Arcos, but my energy was great at that mid-point so I picked up my pack and stepped my way into Los Arcos. I got a bed easily and had met Dan and Dee who really did make the miles pass quickly. 


Leaving Los Arcos this morning was less energetic and the day became hot very quickly. I got to stop by 1pm and it was a very good decision as the temps climbed thru the afternoon. The stop point was Vianna and the hostel was comfortable and modern. My walk-mate for this was Rebecca from Vermont and she was a complete delight. We did our showers and rested for a bit before we walked into town center…up a hill!…

Anticipating the parade


Don’t know who is who but they were the prelude to the festival


While preparations were being made for a highly anticipated bull fight that neither of us could contemplate, the town’s pre-game entertainment was wonderful. Everyone was dressed for it, eating and playing in the plaza. A huge parade…almost all of the 1400 towns people were in attendance. I was to honor Our Lady of the Snow…google that if you are so inclined.

Zubiri to Puente de la Reina

12 September 2017BOOK: finished Cohelo’s and am on to Rory Stewart’s book The Places In Between. This guy walked across Afghanistan and Pakistan just finding out what people thought.
SONG: Life Is A Highway, by the Cars

Leaving Roncesvalles for Zubiri was a hot pursuit of one of those exclamation point adventure days, The only scenery was rock formations directly under your boot’s next step (and the gullies and ridges all full of loose rocks that all were signed with whatever symbol represents “peril” and I can’t find an emoji for that.)  Anne was an ever-present lead person who took her small feet into just the right places, outpaced me significantly but waited for me to re-appear on her horizon when she actually lost sight of me for any significant period.

Zubiri at last


At our lunch stop, I had to remove the boots and a sharp piece of an ingrown toenail.  Strangely, these things are not mutually exclusive…a tortilla and toe bandage are equally sacred events and can be easily accomplished in the same place with no eye-rolling or ewwww factor at all.


The bed-bunk areas in this ancient cathedral building, were vast and the bright blue metal was a decorative effect in contrast to the ancient beams.

 The mix of men and women was sort of the first-come first-serve variety and seeing young and old guys was limited to the bed space. Bathrooms were separate…in this case. One night it was a random sight of teeth-brushing humans in a very diverse range of sizes and shapes. The US could check this out when wondering about shared bathrooms and the possibilities that really do exist in the world…without fear or contention.

One other strain of reflection was in how people fall from wakeful-ness to sleep….how they move through the middle space. On a cursory study of a very limited population (from 6 to 80 mixed populations, I feel that in the majority of transitions, women have a trailing sigh as they fall into sleep. There is the marked difference for men…they seem to fall into a very relaxed fart that trails and flutters softly into their sleep sacks. I will not extend this into a deeper study, but it is interesting and made last night when I was in a room of just 5 and all of them, women, a sort of sacred sigh experience.  There are no photos of this.

 We hiked on into Pamplona and got a sort of hotel-ish room.  Anne gave me a head start to sleep so I could beat her snoring.  This is strategic planning at its best.  And the next morning we became the Badasses on the Bus!  It was so easy. We arrived in Puente la Reina in 30minutes rather than the 5 hrs we would have taken walking.  My foot was delighted.  So was I and Anne was totally on board for this one.

Badasses on the Bus

First Day Out

4 Sept 2017St Jean Pieds de Port to Orrison then Roncesvalles

BOOK: The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho – One of the stories written by the man who’s first book introduced me to spirituality of the Way.

SONG: “give me sunshine on a cloudy day”…riff from My Girl…

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: An exclamation point on your map, in red with a circle around it, is a SERIOUS warning. Never blow off a sign like this. Set your whole soul in order and tell your feet not to whine! (Clarification of the thought in the segment of Orrisson to Roncesvalles – we took the first stage in 2 segments)

St Jean de Pied de Port is the place where pilgrims converge to take the most well know path to Santiago – The Camino Frances. It fills up and they seep out at different rates and in clusters. I spent 2 days there since it was a meet up point for a friend-of-a-friend to join me for a few days together. We had a day to walk around and get oriented, think about our packs and routes. This morning we had an early breakfast and headed off for the first leg – the most difficult part of the entire Camino Frances. The ascent is sharp and pretty unforgiving. The descent is even reported to be more ruthless.  

I note that cows and sheep are the current wildlife species on the way up to Orrison (our 1st stage). While it is only 8K it is straight up. With full focus on my feet, I also saw some deer pellets so they are another nearby species but none of them appeared on my footpath. Mist shrouds the mountains for much of the morning and as it lifts it is just magical for the soul…less magical for the feet. As the climb got harder I had to wait, making stops to breathe again before I could look around. Few photos for this leg…breathing, again the more optimal choice.  Anne walks 3 steps to my one, but waits for me when I have dropped out of site for too long. There is no chance in this leg of missing the path. No left and right turns to lead me off on some wild hair adventure of my own. So day 1 has some sun.

The overnight stay at the hostel in Orisson was really beautiful and our family style dinner was filled with excitement in spite of the work of the day. The food for the famished was devoured with great joy and endless red wine. The chef took his bow and there was a round of everyone there taking a moment to share the why of their Way.  Basque cake for dessert was just beyond a loving delectable touch.

Family style

OK…now for the down and, literally, dirty. I am actually surprised that any photos get taken at all on this part. Breakfast is bread and coffee (story all along) but stops along the way or pre-prepared sandwiches make for eating on the first break…generally 2 hrs out. On this leg, there are no restaurants. All prepped up, we head out into rain…middle-weight rainfall. There is just a bit more up before the down begins. Actually, a BIT…a BIG BIT. Slogging along, Anne heads out and waits at given breaks…she seems to realize my potentials already. The rain gets more intense. There is no scenic route. There is a huge thick cloud overhanging our journey and the wetness of the cloud makes us unaware of whether it is officially raining or just “clouding” Either way it is just f’ing wet. My sheep-shot was coupled with a pee break.

Wildlife

The most wonder-making thing here…the miracle of the day…was our hitting the actual summit and finding a guy who had come in with a van and was selling eggs, hot coffee and bananas. I could have kissed him right on the lips. Instead I sucked all the food down and laughed until I cried. And then we went on in the shroud.

Arrival. 200 roommates and everyone in wet boots


As we entered Roncesvalles, the sides of the street became visible. It was not a problem finding the 200 bunk dorm and we had little pods of 4 bunks to a pod. 

Our little pods


 Nothing would bar any of us from sleep. The biggest question was…will my soaked, sopping wet boots dry out before morning? Spoiler alert…stuffing them with newspaper to absorb some of it, they were halfway dry by morning. So, with coffee and toast on board, we set out at 7:50. Anne is an engineer. Precision is her speciality.

From Meussac to Lourdes

3 Sept 2017

Lourdes, France: Pilgrimage made by Grandma here in 1947

BOOK: The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho, original author who introduced me to the Camino in the 1970’s. 

SONG: Galileo by the Indigo Girls (from Kirk’s suggestions)

The visit with the family in Meussac is finished and they took me to the train in the morning. I headed to Lourdes via Bordeaux and arrived at around 2pm giving me a chance to look around and see if I could find Grandma and get her to journey along with me. I hardly think she would have recognized the place. The number of visitors is in the thousands and they are in search of healing. I think when Gma was visiting she knew she had cancer and was in search of a miracle of her own. She brought a small rosary home as a gift for Phyllis and I am carrying it as my talisman. I took it to the Basilica and along the stones that surround the spring where Bernadette got her message from the Blessed Mother back in the 1500s…long after baby Jesus’ birth and death.

Beautiful tile reproduction of a photograph of Bernadette


The story was that Bernadette Soubirous, a young girl got spotted by Jesus’ mom, Mary. She was incognito as an “apparition,” commonly understood by practicing Catholics. Bernadette was invited to visit her and at that point all Bernadette knew was that this was a great woman. They chatted in this place just for bits and pieces. Mary told her to come back a few more times and she did. Bernadette’s willingness to show up and to listen, was just what Mary was looking for, so on the last visit, Mary let Bernadette in on the secret about who she really was and had a favor to ask. Mary wanted her to contact the local church and get them to build a church on the site. 

Basilica built to respect the request for building a church…check – done

Wee tiny bit of the field left where Mary and Bernadette chatted


 There is a water-source/spring on site and Mary promised that she would bless the water with healing properties. The idea and the church came about and now there is a small town filled with souvenir shops, lots of hotels for visitors (handicap access in some areas) and the tiniest ever remnant of the grotto that surrounds the spring.

Spigots go out and deliver water which is collected in small vials and even gallon jugs by the faithful who would like the healing water.. Bathing and drinking are encouraged. The lines are very long.
There is a solemnity around the spring source that made me mindful of sites like Mecca…women are allowed here however. The stones are polished by the constant touching of faithful who pass their hands and special talismans over the surfaces. Candles abound in protected spaces and can be purchased for a little or a lot. There are fireworks at the end of the day, but I was not present for those. The only sense of spirituality that I felt was the connection with Gma and a chuckling conversation i imagined her having with me there about the unrecognizable quality of the shrine she would possibly have experienced if she had been standing next to me.

It seems that in most of the current things I have read that are the thoughts about the Camino from many of the walkers, that there is a shift among so many of us that is in search certainly for less religiosity and more spirituality.  I personally would take even the slightest shift we might be able to make for greater civility and respect.  It would be a pretty good reset at this point for me.

I found some essentials, 

Found a real Italian Gelato shop next door to the water bottle shop


ate supper near my pension 

Simple supper – really tasty


and looked forward to my train the next morning headed for St Jean and the beginning of my own Way, wondering a bit about how it would finally all take shape. It will unfold.

And PS/Bonus:  I found a Pilgrim office in a little corner of the town and was able to get my Credencial, so that my very first step into the Way for me is now actually Lourdes!  Grandma and I are headed out!!! Many kilometers to go 

It’s the real deal

Suspenseful Starts

30 Aug, 2017, Meussac France

Book: KILLING FLOOR by Lee Child. A perfectly distracting mystery in a group of stories about Jack Reacher.

Song: BESIDE YOU by VanMorrison and GALILEO by the Indigo Girls

Thought for the Day: I got a reminder from a friend – you are a badass but remember you are an old badass. I will let you know how that plays out  

So of course the adventure needed to start with a challenge! I made it thru 4 stops all the way to Bordeaux – my pack, not so much. I had a moment at the SA airport when the agent could not electronically check my bag. She got that “hmmmm???????” look – the one you never want to see in reference to something of yours. She came out with a handwritten card hanging off a fragile elastic with a carbon paper backing. She placed it on the bag and wished me a safe trip. 

The man in front of me had dropped off 8 bags, neatly and electronically checked in for quite a few extra dollars, placing an excess of 350 lbs of his life on the belt, headed safely for Doka. My tiny little unprotected nylon pack weighed in at 19lbs, was dwarfed alongside his possessions and very tentatively headed for France. I put on my “it will be fine” face and walked to my gate. In fact I felt I was in the grip of the impending-doom-sensations. Of course! 

Flimsy paper from yesteryear vs Kevlar-like material for current baggage tags

So on my arrival in Bordeaux, I was not allowed out of the baggage/customs level without my bag…I could not get back into the security area if I left. I had no way to reach Marie Helene and Jean Yves because of course we had not thought to exchange real phone numbers. MH still has a flip phone and never turns it on and neither one is that familiar with the use of texting. They both have flip phones and feel that iPhones are just too complicated. They had no idea what was happening and eventually after my being detained for more than an hour and a half, I was able to email one of their kids who then telephoned them and since they were only half way home from the airport, they turned around and came back. They got to take me home and I had filled out a lot of papers in French so that absolute confidence level was a bit lacking. American Airlines said they would call.

Picture should be posted on FB as Are You Old Enough To Remember This and only 20 people will respond, YES

And late the next day they did and the next day it arrived at the end of the day. So very happy that I had those days to be in one place, even tho this one was in a village so small, they are known as the old house up on the little lane next to the other place. My thanks to American with the sense that having something late is better than having nothing at all, especially when it is all your very most specialized stuff for walking 500 miles.  

Delivered to our door – kudos to American Airlines