In exactly 12 days, I will get on a plane, fly to Paris, then take a train that will bring me to St. Jean Pied de Port where I will begin a 550 mile pilgrimage that will take me through the Pyrenees, through Galicia and into Santiago, Spain.
I began preparing for this trip in January 2012. I have walked for almost a year and a half up and down hills and stairs, (we have a lot of those in Seattle), climbing Rattle Snake last summer and exploring Seattle. In the process I lost 50 pounds, worked intensively with a sports trainer, who having walked the 550 miles of El Camino, knows firsthand the challenges my body will face and has helped me to strengthen my body so it can perform optimally. I have read Marcia Shaver's The Artist's Journey and every night Hart read me a chapter from Hape Kerkeling's Ich bin dann mal weg, plus lots of other information that the internet supplies.
This is a huge leap of faith for me first, because I will go alone. I will not be part of a group. (Hart will stay here and man the fort.) Second, because as you all know, I am self-employed and earn my daily bread teaching voice. I decided to make this my birthday present to me. I will leave the beginning of May, returning late June. (I am hopeful that I will complete the journey in a little less than two months.)
I have been incredibly blessed and supported by so many of you. You have gifted me a massage prior to my leaving to prepare my body, a beautiful stone that says follow your heart, my walking poles, an energy session, my tiny little flashlight, my head light, the soap I will use on the trip, the products to care for my skin, the wisdom of your experiences on El Camino, and financial support.
But most of all, I am writing to ask that you surround me with love and light, that you hold me in your heart and walk with me every step of the way. I am so blessed to have such loving family and friends in my life-your support is the tailwind that will nourish and strengthen me on this wondrous journey.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for the gift you are in my life.
You are the best birthday present I could ever ask for.
From my heart to yours,
I left at 8:00 a.m. and arrived at 5:30. I did The Napoleon Way instead of the Landstrasse. (That's a 1,280 m / 4,200 ft climb - see below) It was hard! The first 8 kilometers were brutal. The four miles coming downhill at the end pure agony because the hill was really steep, but I managed to stay upright.
Elevation Map for Day One!
I am feeling tired but great!
The Pyrenees were magnificent. It was drizzling when I left St. Jean Pied de Port this morning. But after an hour it stopped and it was cloudy the rest of the time.
The albergue is fabulous! Really modern and very clean with great beds. I am in a room with two sets of bunk beds and we have wifi. The beds are numbered and I have a bottom bunk. I paid 10 euros for the night. I am really impressed.
That's all for now,
It is morning in Pamplona, Spain and I am in an internet cafe sending you this email. The sun is shining and it is about 60° F (16° C). I have made it through the first three stages. It has been difficult, glorious, miraculous.
The miracles started when I had a concert of Brahms music with Hart on Sunday the 5th of May. As I began singing my first song and looked out into the audience, there where my children, Geoff and Rochelle who had come from Vancouver, B. C. to see me off on my journey. I almost had to stop singing, but I managed to be professional and keep my cool.
The miracles continued when I arrived at the airport with my walking poles attached to my backpack. As I went through security, the guy at the machine took one look at my backpack before feeding it to the machine and said "Oh, oh, we have some ski poles here." The woman who was the supervisor came over looked at them and said, "Those are not ski poles, they´re walking poles"at which point I chimed in, "Yes, that´s right and I will be using those to walk 500 miles to Santiago Spain on my pilgrimage." She looked at me and opened her arms and hugged me and said to the guy at the machine, "send that backpack through." Once through another man on the other side who heard the conversation came over and told me he would carry my backpack and the container holding my shoes and jacket to a place where I could sit and put myself together. All this time, my children, Geoff and Rochelle and Hart are watching this because they stayed in front of the security area until I left. When I told the woman who passed me through that those people back there waving frantically were my husband and daughter and son-in-law, she said, "Your daughter is beautiful." Of course, I already know that!
I waved goodbye to Hart, Schelle and Geoff and went on to get on the train. As the doors were about to close, a couple rushed in and then we were off to get to the gate. The woman turned to me, seeing me with my backpack and said "Are you coming or going?" To which I replied "I´m on my way to Paris and then on to St. Jean Pied de Port to begin my Camino de Santiago journey" to which she replied, "We have done it and it´s wonderful. We´re on our way to Paris as well to vacation, but we plan to do El Camino again." We went to our gate and her husband got me water and we chatted until we got on the plane. They were four seats in front of me on the same side and we chatted off and on throughout the trip.
I had an uneventful, gentle trip and arrived in Paris at DeGaulle Airport, took the train into Paris and stayed at a beautiful hotel right in the city that I highly recomend to anyone going to Paris. It is the Hotel Grandes Ecole. Then my sister Maritza´s friend Cathy Wallace met me in the evening and took me to a lovely creperie for dinner. We strolled through Paris in the evening, and the next day she brought me to the train station in Montparnasse to catch my train to St. Jean Pied de Port. Cathy was one of those angels who surrounded me with love and saw me off at the train station--once again waving me on as I embarked on my journey.
The train took me to Bayonne and from there I was to take a bus to St. Jean. The bus was full of pilgrims and who would sit next to me but a woman named Madeline from Ponce, Puerto Rico. We spoke Spanish all the way into St. Jean, where we arrived at 10:30 p.m. I had reserved a hotel--The Pyrenees Hotel and had a wonderful night in a fabulous hotel.
Friday morning I was up at 5:30 and got myself ready to begin walking. I left the hotel around 7:00, walked to the place where I would have to register and have my book stamped and by 8:00 I was walking. I had been told to take the easier route which follows the highway, but when I got to the place where I was register, the woman registering me said, "Oh you must go through the Pyrenees, it is so beautiful and mystical and you will not be sorry." So I did and I am so glad I did. It was raining when I started walking and I had my rain pants and jacket on and was well prepared. Later in the day it stopped raining but remained overcast, which was wonderful because it did not get too hot. It was a magical walk, but certainly not for the faint-hearted. The last four miles coming into Roncesvalle are very steep and rocky. But I made it!
Elevation Map of Day One
Friday evening, I stayed in the Albergue in Roncesvalle and it is a beautiful albergue, very modern, with wifi, 2 bunkbeds to a compartment, very clean, comfortable mattress and I slept well. But lo and behold! The two women in the opposite bunkbeds, from Seoul, Korea, were up at 5:00 and out the door at 6:00 so it was a very short night.
Saturday morning I left Roncesvalle and walked to Zubiri. That too was a very challenging day because the arrival into Zuribi was almost as difficult as the descent into Roncesvalle the day before.
I stayed in a small Albergue where when I arrived finding a place to eat was impossible as everything was closed. The hospitalier at the Albergue, Peter, called his significant other and she cooked for me a beautiful lentil soup and a rice dish with mushrooms, peas, herbs and I don´t know what, and brought it to me freshly made and hot. Can you believe it? It was delicious and wonderful. Peter is from Holland and is a fabulous aquarelle painter and his significant other is from the middle east. A beautiful woman who when I left, hugged and kissed me with tears in her eyes and said, "Please, let us not lose touch with each other."
Sunday morning I was off to Pamplona. It was the gentlest trip yet. I left around 9:00 a.m. because in this Albergue one can stay until 9:00. I think it is because it is small-2 sections with 10 beds in each section. The beds were great and they even provided a blanket if one needed one. I arrived in Pamplona at the Albergue Municipal de Jesus y Maria. But not before getting lost and going to the Albergue Paderborn, where a beautiful German woman welcomed me but could not lodge me because they were full. She called the Albergue Municipal and because they all know each, she told them they needed to hold a room for me, even though one is not allowed to reserve in the albergues. The German woman, and of course we spoke German together wanted so much to have me stay at her Albergue--when I left to get to the Albergue Municipal, she kissed me and hugged me and said to me, "Visit me in Paderborn." So wherever I land, I am being received and enveloped in love and kindness and I can´t believe how beautiful people have been.
The Albergue Municipal is huge! I think 250 bunk beds so that means 500 people in two huge rooms, one on one floor, the other the second floor. We are all men and women together. In the Roncesvalle Albergue, we had sections for women and sectons for men and sections for married couples. We also had a woman´s bathroom. In Zubari we were mixed, but it was smaller, although in my section of 10 there were 8 men and another woman and myself. The other woman was Lauren and she came from Wisconsin.
Anyway, in Pamplona, in this huge Albergue on one side of me was a married couple from Seoul, Korea and on the other side a guy from Holland who lives in Spain in the south, and a German med student from Munich. I had been experiencing pain in my lower right side and wondered if I´d done something to my hip during those two back to back downhill difficult treks. The German med student asked me where the pain was, he felt it and asked if I was feeling any pain down my leg to which I said no. And he told me I could take some Ibuprofen for inflammation and that I would be fine. Isn´t that amazing? Even getting a diagnosis from my next bunkmate. Of course, this morning he got up stripped naked with his thingy right in my face because the spaces are so comprimed. That´s the European way and besides he had a gorgeous body so I wasn´t too discomfitted.
That brings me to right now. I will walk 5 kilometers to Cizur Menor, stay in the Albergue Maribel Roncal and have a rest day. Tomorrow I will walk from Cizur Menor to Puente la Reina, another challenging day because there is quite a difficult uphill climb and another steep downhill trek to get to Puente la Reina. I know I will be fine because you are all holding me in light and love. Thank you for your support. I feel it every step I take.
Much, much love,
It is 8:45 Tuesday evening my time in Estella, Spain and I wasn't planning on writing the next epistle, but there is a computer here in the Albergue Oncenida and it is free.
My last epistle was composed at an internet cafe in Pamplona and that was not so inexpensive. So I'm taking my chance.
Today has been a rainy, stormy day and the temperature right now is 8° C (46° F), so it isn't so warm. But I will return to Pamplona which is where I left you.
After writing you, I went to a Pilgrim Shop that was right around the corner from where I stayed at the Albergue Municipal. It was a darling shop with everything anyone might need on El Camino. I met the man who owned the store, a very handsome Hungarian man in his late thirties. I went in to buy a small backpack because when I have a rest day, which I was having that day, I wanted something small to carry whatever I wanted with me since I had sent my backpack on to Cizur Menor, a suburb of Pamplona where I would walk and spend the night. We started chatting and I asked him how he came to the idea of having a Pilgrim shop. He said his wife did the pilgrimage 3 years ago and when she returned to Hungary, she said to him that she wanted him to give up his profession as a business man, she wanted them to sell their home, their car, everything they owned and take that money and move to Spain and find a space to create a Pilgrim Store where people on El Camino who needed something while on the way could stop and buy it there. She said she had needed something and there was no place that could fill her need because everything for the pilgrim has to be so light weight.
He did as she said and three years later, they were serving pilgrims with three stores in different places in Spain. I told him that first, I thought he was an amazing man for listening to his wife. I said, when I tell my husband he has to do something, he does the exact opposite.(smile). He said his life has changed entirely. He feels his life now has a purpose and serving others brings him incredible joy.
So I left the store with a darling backpack that weighs maybe 1 oz. and is perfect for running around the city and it cost me 3 euros. It even says El Camino de Santiago on it.
Then I started walking to Cizur Menor, a suburb of Pamplona about 6 kilometers away from the center where I was. Pamplona is a beautiful city. Lush, green, reminding me of Seattle, except it is much flatter. It has lots of parks and trees and I really enjoyed walking through it. At one point, I lost my Camino signs, and an older man saw me standing and hesitating and he came to me and said "Are you looking for the way to El Camino?" He showed me where to go and then took my hand in his and said "It´s wonderful that you are walking with God, but remember that God allows mischief, so be attentive." I smiled and thanked him because I knew he was very serious.
I arrived in Cizur Menor and found my Albergue--Maribel Roncal. It was absolutely beautiful with 5 different rooms and incredible gardens where all the pilgrims where sunning themselves and drying their clothes. (All the albergues have washing machines and some have dryers). The very first thing one does when one arrives after a long walk is to shower and wash your clothes because we all have only two sets of clothing.
I went to check in and I said to the woman, "This is paradise," to which she replied "The only thing missing is Adam and believe me the serpent is not welcome here." The protocol is that the first thing you do is show your pilgrim pass and have it stamped, because it is the only way you have entree to the albergues. She stamped my pass and then looked at me and said, "I know nothing about muscles so I can´t help with muscle issues, but I know about feet and blisters and if you need any help, I can help you." Well, I had developed a couple of blisters and was having some trouble with my feet. So I said to her that indeed I needed her help. She told me to take my shower and come back and bring my boots and she would take care of me. After I showered, I returned and there she was with a bag somewhat like the doctors who did house calls used to have in the olden days. She took my foot on her lap, looked at it and said "hmm" and told me I was tying my boots incorrectly. She disinfected my foot, took a syringe and drew the water from the blisters and then bandaged me up. She then proceeded to look at my boots and told me they were wet inside from the sweat. She pulled out the soles--I didn´t even know that was possible. She then determined that my soles were size 42, pulled out of her bag two long things that looked like sanitary pads and put them over my soles, folded them under and said, "these will keep your feet dry as you walk." She told me to get some newspaper from a place where she kept it, to scrunch it up and put it in my boots so they could dry, because if I didn´t do that they would rot before I reached Santiago. She also advised me to stop every 2 hours, take my boots off, take my socks off and air them, and massange my feet. She even showed me how I should massage them. When she was done I asked what do I owe you and she said, "absolutely nothing," I am here to serve you.
I know by the end of this trip, I´m going to sound like a broken record, but that is another miracle. What I am starting to understand is that when we are in the moment, when we create the space to slow down, we are able to notice the miracles. They are happening all the time, but we are so busy that we miss them. This was made very clear to me the Monday morning when I left Cizur Manor headed for Puente La Reina and saw a young Korean woman walking very slowly and limping. As I got closer I could hear her moaning every step she took. I walked up to her and said, "Are you in pain?" She just nodded and grimmaced because she couldn´t even talk. I said to her, "perhaps you should consider stopping in the next town and spending the night there rather than going to Puente La Reina." She shook her head indicating no, she definitely was not going to stop. I thought what can I do to help her and then remembered my mentor Leigh Dean telling me that this journey was not about my taking on other people´s burdens, but to simply receive and have a joyous experience because this journey was my gift and others gifts to me. Just as I was thinking that a wonderful Canadian man whom I had met before caught up with us. He went up to her and said, "I will carry your backpack for you if you let me." Mind you this man had a bad knee that he was wrestling with, in his mid-fifties, with his own backpack and he offers to carry hers as well. I thought I would cry, just experiencing his generosity and his kindness.
Again, she shook her head and said no. So my Canadian friend and I continued on our way and I turned to this man and said, "Thank you for this very valuable lesson. I am just learning what it means to open oneself and be vulnerable and be willing to ask for help and receive." And he said to me, "it would have been a gift for me to have carried her backpack." Even more, we both understood that perhaps this is why she is on this journey. Whether she completes it or not, her lessons will not be insignificant.
I arrived in Puente La Reina around 5:00, showered and went down to the bar to get something to eat, which by the way has also been an experience of the power of words. Here, we go to a bar to get breakfast, to eat tapas, etc. A bar is synonymous with a cafe. I thought of my fundamentalist association with the word bar and how differently that word plays out in Spain. Anyway, I met up with the man from Switzerland who had helped me when I was in pain with my right hip that the German doctor diagnosed. I also ran into a woman from Norway who invited me to go to mass with her that evening at 8;00. I said yes, and went into one of the most exquisite Baroque churches I have ever been in. It took my breath away. The service was beautiful and I was so glad I was there.
This morning, Tuesday, it was rainy and cold and a lovely young woman from Ireland said "I really wish I didn´t have to walk today." She was couragous enough to express what we were all feeling. But we all got dressed and left the albergue because you are only allowed to spend one night in an albergue in any town. If you decide to stay longer, you have to find a hotel. The only exception at the albergue is if you are sick and have a doctor´s note.
Walking was hard. I put on my rain pants and top over my clothes so I was able to stay dry. But walking wasn´t fun. The paths are very stony and when it rains one has to slow down because the rocks are slippery and going downhill can be dangerous. But I got through my day and am here at the Albergue Oncenida and guess what--I have my own private room. A room with bunkbeds and other pilgrims is 10 euros a night, this single room is 13.50. However, not all the albergues provide that service. Every day I walk I feel my body getting stronger. I am making friends with the slugs on the path. But the paths are breathtaking. Even with the rain, the rape fields are like sunlight. The poppeys in deep red, the purples, the yellows shower me with their beauty. I walk alone during the day. I meet people and say hello, or speak to people in the evenings when I am in the albergue, but from the time I leave in the morning, I am by myself and I cannot tell you how joyful I am walking with me. I don´t listen to music, just let the birds serenade me. I had no idea I could be so happy walking the country side. It is magical.
One final thing. I write these epistles to share the journey with you, however I am not responding to individual emails. First, I don't have access to a computer very often. This really is an exception at an albergue and therefore the reason I had planned to write on my rest day and find an internet cafe. And second, I need fingers like a three year old to write on my iPhone. It really stresses me out and this trip is not about being stressed. But please contine to respond. I get your emails and what I do is read them before I go to bed. They are my bedtime stories.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for your emails. They give me energy and I sleep wonderfully.
From my heart to yours,
I am in Belorado. It is cold and rainy here, but I have a wonderful room all to myself--even though I am sharing a bathroom with others. Thank you Beth.
The last time I spoke with you I had found a free computer in Estella where I could write without any time constraints. Today I am in an internet cafe and am watching the minutes ticking by as I write. I don´t promise to be brief because so much has happened since we communicated last.
I left Estella and headed to Los Arcos. On the way there, I stopped at a bar to get something to eat and met a woman from North Carolina who was traveling the Camino with her niece who is now 21. They started last year and went from St. Jean to Pamplona. This year they started in Pamplona and want to get to Burgos. The woman said it had been a wonderful experience and that her niece had matured so much because of the experience. She went on to tell me that it really irks her that people are in such a hurry to get from place to place that they don´t take time to really enjoy their surroundings and be present. One of my intentions on this journey is to let go of judging others and the way they do things. So I simply said to her that I felt everyone is doing this Camino in a way that works for them. I left and continued on to Los Arcos.
As I was arriving in Los Arcos I was met by a small herd of goats grazing on the side of the road. They stopped what they were doing, all came in mass to smell me and welcome me to Los Arcos. I guess I passed muster because they returned to their grazing and I walked on through to Los Arcos. Los Arcos was a ghost town when I arrived. Not a person, not a dog, not a cat, absolutely nothing in sight. All the windows were shuttered and I thought, wow, everyone is having their siesta en masse. It was around 3:30 in the afternoon when I arrived. I learned from another couple who had arrived around 11:00 a.m. that their experience was similar to mine--not a soul in sight. I stayed at an albergue called La Casa de Abuela--Grandmother´s house. It was a wonderful place to stay. I was up in the garret at the very top in a lovely room that reminded me of a set for the first act of La Boheme when Mimi meets Rodolfo. I could look out the windows and see down into the town. It was charming! That evening the owner told me that in 2007 his wife said to him, "we have to buy my grandmother´s house and turn it into an albergue for pilgrims." He said he thought she had lost her mind. The house is very old, has 5 stories and needed an incredible amount of work to make it livable for anyone. They bought the house, spent 3 years renovating it and opened it to pilgrims in 2010. He said to me that that decision has saved them because with the downturn in the economy, they have a secure future serving the pilgrims. Another example of the vision of a wife and a husband being willing to listen to her.
The following morning I left Los Arcos and was getting onto the Camino when I ran into the woman from North Carolina. She was going in another direction and when she saw where I was going, she said, "Oh I guess I´m going the wrong way." We started walking and she was faster than I was so she got quite far ahead. I watched her put some distance between us. Well, I came to a fork where the yellow arrow indicated that I should go right and saw she had gone straight ahead. She was too far ahead for me to call her and tell her that she needed to turn. I turned and went on the next destination. I arrived in Viana and went to my albergue and there was this young woman almost in tears asking the woman at the albergue if she had someone named ....... because she couldn´t find her aunt. I said to her, I saw your aunt going straight ahead and missing the turn off for Viana. The story had many twists and turns, including calling the police to try to locate her aunt and her aunt going to the police in Longrono and the police calling all over trying to locate the niece. They finally found each other although the niece spent the night in Viana and the aunt in Longrono. But I mainly tell this story to say that we all have our blind spots and this aunt who was so indignant that people were too busy hurrying to pay attention, had her own experience not paying attention.
From Viana I went to Navarrete and when I arrived in Navarette at the albergue where I was staying, the man there had downloaded my picture from the internet and wanted me to sign it so he could frame it and put it up in the albergue. I asked him how he knew who I was and he said the woman in the albergue in Viana, who I had helped with the young woman because she spoke no Spanish and the woman spoke no English, had called him and told him I was a singer etc. and that he must treat me very well.
I left Navarrete and went to Najera. On the way there I stopped at a rest stop to take off my boots and air my feet and I met a lovely young couple who were traveling the camino with their dog, Kira. I told them that growing up we had a dog named Kiro, although we spelled it Quiro. Kira is a beautiful German shepherd and it was lovely to see her walk, then stop and wait for them to catch up, then walk again, stop and so on. They said that she was part of their family and they wanted to do the walk as a family. They also said that it was complicatedd because there were places where they could not take the dog, so they would sleep outside. They had to plan for her food as well as theirs. But they were so glad they were doing it together. I was deeply touched by that because I am sure that Kira will also be transformed for having had the experience of walking El Camino. And seeing young people who have their priorities in the right place gives me such hope for the future of our planet.
Yesterday morning I left Najera and walked to Santo Domingo. (Of course, that's right next door to Puerto Rico).
On the way to Santo Domingo I ran into the horse ladies. These are two women--one from Australia, one from Ireland--who live in France and decided to do El Camino on horseback. I stopped and chatted with them and said, "You know, you are celebrities. Wherever we stop, we speak of the horse ladies. We are holding you in light and love as you journey." One of them said to me, "Please hold our horses in light and love as well. They are having their own issues." I was standing about 2 arms length from the horses, who were standing side by side facing me. I started to sing My Heart is filled with love for you to the horses. When I finished, Blue stepped forward and came up to me and kissed me on the mouth. Her owner started to cry and said, "This is extraordinary. Blue is very shy and he has difficulty dealing with strangers. Nickel is usually the one who steps out and meets people." What was interesting was that Nickel stayed behind and let Blue have his moment without trying to hog the show. So they too, are learning how to be in the world differently. What she didn´t know was that this was extraordinary for me too because Hart will tell you, horses and I don´t generally mix. When I would sing Aida in Rome, Caracalla and Radames would enter in the triumphal march on a chariot led by horses, I would move as far as I could from where those horses were. We were not friends. Can you believe it? I was kissed by a horse on El Camino! My prince is back in Seattle and will probably be very glad I will have many days to wash my mouth before he kisses me again.
I am learning so much about myself. For those of you who believe in the yin/yang concept, the polarity in the body, I would like to share what is going with my body. I have always had health issues on the left side of my body, which is the feminine side of the body. I have always been incredibly strong with my right side, which is my masculine side. I move in the world with my masculine side--Hart even calls me his little general. Well, on this trip, my right side is giving me lots of trouble. My right foot deveoped a blister, my right knee has been causing me a lot of pain and it came to me that my right side is very rigid, set, inflexible, controlling and that this journey is challenging my right side to let go of control, to be in the moment and to relax. I am learning that I experience pain when I am holding on tight, when I am not flexible. What is interesting is that my left side, which I have normally seen as my weak side, is suddenly showing up in exquisite ways and is taking care of my right side. My left foot doesn´t look like it´s walked a day. I feel the lightness, the flexibility of my left side. I am learning to redefine strength and weakness. It is amazing the difference in the sides of my body and how they are taking on and experiencing this journey. I am talking to my right side and telling it it´s okay to let go, that it will be safe, that letting go is good. On the occasions when I´m able to do it with conviction, the pain in my right side subsides. What a concept!
I am also learning how to pack my bag so when I arrive at a place of destination I can access what I need to have a shower, take off my dirty clothes and wash them. It is wonderfully freeing to see how simply one can live and be in joy. I walk alone every day, meet people during dinner or at breakfast, but having this time for myself, learning who I am, allowing thoughts to come up unbidden and having no distractions to push them away is both scary and liberating. I feel completely naked and yet feel so joyful and alive. The people I am meeting are taking such good care of me.
Yesterday I met an Italian man (there are very few Italians on the trail) and when I got to my albergue, which of course have no elevators and after a long day it´s agonizing to carry your backpack up 4 or 5 flights of stairs, he took my backpack and walked around until he found where my bed was. So many people are helping me carry my cross. The young couple with the dog, when they left the rest stop, gave me their cell phone number and said, "Senora, wherevery you are on the Camino, if you need help, please, please call us. We are Spaniards and we know our country and we will be there for you." I was in tears.
Today, my knee was giving me lots of grief. Michael, an Irishman about 40 walked with me at my very slow pace for about 3 kilometers. And as I walked alone, young people who saw me struggling would stop, slow down and say, I will walk with you if you need me. It´s magical to know, really know, that if we are open to receiving, we are never, ever left comfortless.
And so, I continue to be blessed and fed and am so thankful for all of you who are the wings that help me wander as I wonder in wonder. Until next time.
From my heart to yours,
Today is Saturday May 25th 2013 and I am in Castrojeriz. It is sunny and beautiful even though it is still quite cold. This morning when I left Hornillos it was about 30 degrees farenheit and my hands were frozen as I held my poles even though I was wearing gloves.
So much has happened since we last spoke. But I want to go back to when I left Seattle. On the way to the airport I suddenly gasped and said,"Oh I forgot my sunglasses." My daughter Rochelle said "Here you can take mine." Well hers are a bright canary yellow. Those of you who know me know that I don´t own anything, and I mean nothing, in yellow. So I took her sunglasses because it was a little like being a bride--something borrowed, something blue, and I certainly had things that I was taking that had very sentimental meaning. (I will speak about one of those things later.)
Anyway, I took her yellow glasses and had my picture taken at the airport as I was leaving wearing Rochelle's yellow sunglasses. She posted it on Facebook, so you may go into Facebook if you want to see what I look like with yellow sunglasses (see photo to the right).
It has turned out that I am known as "the girl with the yellow sunglasses." Guys comment that they are really cool sunglasses. Women say, with your electric blue coat, your red gloves and those yellow sunglasses you are so colorful! I guess I am channeling my daughter on El Camino because heavens knows, I am very conservative when it comes to dressing. Even as a 3 year old Rochelle would dress herself with a pink pokadot top and orange stripped pants. This was way before those colors together became fashionable. I would despair, but I let her be. She´s still doing it, but I no longer despair.
The other morning as I came down to breakfast, someone asked me if I was a cyclist because I was wearing one of those Nike tops that are supposed to keep the water off your skin and keep you dry. I had to laugh because I can´t even ride a bike. Growing up my grandmother wouldn't let us girls ride bikes because she was afraid that if we had an accident on our bikes we might break our hymen (is that the correct word?) and then we would not be virgins anymore. Can you believe it? But it made my day to have someone ask me if I was an athlete. My body is really getting toned with all this walking. There are many bicyclists on El Camino and there is a group of four that when they pass me they say "Hola, Morena," or "Adios Morena." Morena is an endearing word in Spanish that means dark one.
El Camino is a journey full of paradoxes. The darkness walks side by side with the light. Lest you be under the impression that it has been paradise for me, I want to share an experience that gave me pause, but that showed me that whatever circumstances I find myself in, I will be taken care of.
I had stopped at a town along the way to eat something and was leaving around 2;30 in the afternoon. I got a little lost leaving the town and saw an old woman hanging clothes from her second floor patio and said to her "Senora, can you tell me if I am going in ther right direction for El Camino?" She said, "give me a moment and I will come down and show you where you need to go." She finished haning up her clothes and then came down and walked with me to where I would take the path out of the village to be on my way. Just as I was getting ready to get on the path, a young couple came along. They seemed to be speaking Czek and spoke no Spanish. They spoke some English and wanted to know where they could find a Super Market. The old lady didn´t speak English so I stopped and served as translator and she told them where they could find a store. I went on my way-
I had been walking about 45 minutes and was deep in the woods--I had to go about 9 kilometers to get to the town where I was to stay. Suddenly I saw this man walking towards me. He was sort of ambling along, did not have a backpack or anything. Just seemed to be strolling. I had a very bad feeling because we just don´t exprience people coming on the path in the opposite directions. When we do, it is usually very close to town and they are either walking their dogs or jogging and when they pass us, they will say "Buen Camino." This man (he was in his late 20s early 30s) did not make any eye contact, did not say anything and just walked past me in the other direction. I started praying and said, "God, surround me with light and let me be okay." I kept walking and about 10 minutes later the young couple came walking past, they said "Buen Camino and continued on in front of me. About 10 minutes later the man who had passed me was behind me and then caught up with me and walked a little ahead of me. I slowed down to keep him in front of me and he continued very slowly. We went like this for about 15 minutes and then lo and behold we came upon the young couple who had stopped on the road to our left and were eating some of the food they had purchased. The man in front of me started walking very fast and soon he was not to be seen. I continued on my way and by the time I reached the town the young couple had caught up with me and passed me into town. I don't know if they were sent to be my guardians, but I can tell you that I have not seen them since and pilgrims are always running into each other. So I felt God's protection that day and I also wear a very old cross that my Seattle sister Dianne gave me to wear on my juorney. I feel that cross is my shield and protects me. Several women have been robbed and have had traumatic experiences along the way.
And talking about that cross, last night at dinner a man sat at my table and said "so you´re the nun." I was taken aback, because I have never been described that way. Apparently, there's a nun on El Camino and when he saw my cross, he decided that I must be the nun.
It has been unbearably cold and many people came unprepared. On our way to Najera we experienced a hailstorm that was quite dramatic! Everything is green because of the amount of rain, so it is incredibly beautiful. Going through wine country is breathtaking. Now that we are out of Navarra and into Burgos country on the way to Leon the terrain is very different.
Going through the meseta was amazing. It is an ocean of green on either side with this small road in-between and the green and the sky create a horizon with nothing else for miles. You have to be sure and pee and not drink too much water, because there is no place to stop and pee. I felt like I was in the middle of this vast world with nothing else as far as the eye can see.
Burgos is a beautiful, big, sprawling city. I spent an extra day there so I could do some sight seeing. I visited the Cathedral, which is absolutely beautiful.
I also visited the Monastery of Las Huelgas.
But my highlight was eating at a restaurant whose owner is a woman from Venezuela. She has a piano in her restaurant and I got to play and sing for her and we had a wonderful time together.
Leaving Burgos, I ran into a Polish couple and when I told them that my husband was born in Silesia the woman lit up and said, "we are from Silesia." It´s really a small world.
There is so much more to tell, but I will wait until next time because this internet cafe is expensive. One euro for 15 minutes, and I have been at it much longer than that.
Thank you all for your emails, for your prayers, for your love and for being a part of my journey.
It is Saturday, June 1st, I am two days into my fourth week on El Camino de Santiago and I am in Leon, just beyond the halfway point to Santiago!!!
The weather is sunny and about 68° F (20° C). It is finally warming up and I am keeping my fingers crossed that as I go towards Galicia it will not be too rainy. Everyone is telling me I am going into beautiful country, the most beautiful part of El Camino.
The last time we spoke I think it was from Castrojeriz. After I left Castrojeriz, I had to go over a mountain and that meant going up, up, and then straight down. They haven't yet built a tunnel for the pilgrims to go through the mountain.
In any case, going up is never a problem. I paced myself and using my poles started climbing and was able to get to the top without stopping once, and was never out of breath. The road was paved and people were complaining that walking on a paved road was really hard. Being a city girl, tar and concrete are not intimidating for me, that´s where I am at home.
Going down, however, was a different experience. I started descending very slowly and my right knee was excruciatingly painful. I thought, this is going to take a very long time. Five minutes into my descent a man came along and said,
"if you go backwards, especially since this is paved and you don't have to worry about stones and too much unevenness, it will be easier on the knees and you won't feel any pain in your knees."
So I turned around, faced the mountain, and started my descent backwards. Sure enough, the pain in my right knee was gone. I had been at this very slowly for about 5 minutes when along came the Polish couple I had met earlier on my journey from Silesia where Hart was born. They came right at me, the wife said "give us your poles," the husband took one and the wife took one and then they locked elbows with me on either side, me facing the mountain and they facing downhill and they said "Let's go." I stepped backwards and I have to tell you, I have never back peddled so fast in my life. Before I knew it, we were at the bottom of the mountain and I was pain free. They then gave me back my poles and continued on their way and I on mine.
Later, as I reflected on this experience, I thought that it was very generous of them to offer to walk me down that mountain because had I stumbled or fallen, I would have brought them down with me. They are a couple in their late 60's or early 70's. I also thought that this was another opportunity for me to trust, to let them be my eyes and to follow even if I couldn't see where it was taking me. It was also another opportunity for me to practice receiving unconditionally and to go with the flow. It was an amazing experience.
I arrived at a tiny little town and found this incredible jewel of a church. It was a very small church from the 10th century, in Gothic and Roman architectural style. The caretakers were husband and wife and the husband said that a sarcophagus (I can't tell if I'm spelling it right because this is a Spanish computer and every word in English is underlined in red), was found under the church and that the bones dated back to the Visigoths.
Anyway, it was so beautiful and peaceful in this little tiny cathedral that I decided I would sing in front of a beautiful tryptic and I sang "Yo Maestra," the song that I want my dear friend Madelyn to sing at my memorial service. It is in Spanish and it says something like, "because in my voice there are echoes of lullabyes, because my palms carry the validation of the cross, the Divine Master ripened the seed in me. When my pencil trembles in my hand and I reach the end of my days, I will lie in the shade of the walnut tree and be redeemed."
Here's a lovely video / recording of Yo Maestra:
Porque en mi voz hay ecos de canciones de cuna
El Divino Maestro maduró la semilla
Porque tengo en mis plantas la señal del abrojo
Desde leja nos puertos hacia extraños ocasos
Cuando mi lapíz tiemble
Because in my voice, there are echoes of lullabies,
The Divine Master has ripened the seed in me.
Because I have the sign of thistle in my garden,
From distant ports to strange sunsets
When my pencil trembles,
The accoustics were unbelievable and I thought, to sing in this place is one of the blessings my pilgrimage is gifting me.
Some cities are more welcoming than others. There are places where I feel that people find us a nuisance and an interruption in their daily lives, while other places make us feel that we are loved and appreciated. Carrion was one of those towns where we were welcomed very lovingly. All the eating places served food all day so the pilgrims could eat whenever they arrived. We all stagger in at different times.
I went to a Mass in the evening and after the Mass, the priest asked all the pilgrims to come to the front. There were about 50 of us and one of the nuns called out countries starting with Spain and asked us to raise our hand when our country was called. She went through all the European countries, and then asked us to call out our country if it wasn´t named. Of course Puerto Rico was not one of them, so I very proudly raised my hand and said Puerto Rico, someone else raised their hand and asid Thailand, Korea, etc. When everyone had been identified by country, the priest asked us to come up and one by one, he put his hands on our heads, blessed us and wished us a Buen Camino, then the nun gave us a paper star and we all did this until the 50th person had been blessed and then the nuns sang a song for the pilgrims and we left. It was very moving, especially because many pilgrims did not speak Spanish. But that did not matter. The spirit was so wonderful, we all understood heart to heart.
I am getting very good using my poles. Duh! I guess after practicing daily for 3 weeks that should be no surprise. It really is like having four legs and the knees are very thankful. It takes a lot of strain off the knees. I am also reading maps and finding my way using the four directions of the earth, N, S, E, W. Hart will tell you that I am a turn right, left, straight ahead kinda gal and when someone would say, it's on the northwest corner of the street, my eyes would glaze over. So I am developing some navigational skills, which I suppose is a good thing. Let´s see how long that lasts once I am back.
I continue to meet amazing people along the way. I am finding that taking time to speak with the locals when I go in a bar to get a hot chocolate or something to eat, provides a different kind of nourishment that is priceless.
I stopped at a bar and asked if I could have an omelet because the breakfasts here are just bread, jam and butter and coffee and I need protein in order to get through the trek. The cook made me a cheese omelet and I thanked him for going to the trouble to make it up for me and I said that I couldn´t have made it any better. This opened up a chance for us to speak and he said that The Camino has changed and it really saddens him. He said young people do it because they are unemployed and it is a cheap way to spend time because they spend very little staying in Albergues and there is always a peregrino menu that is very inexpensive and they can survive with bread, cheese and one peregrino meal a day. He said that the Martin Sheen movie, The Way, has brought awareness to people who are lonely and looking for a way to meet people and it is not always about having a transformative experience. We had a situation where a German man came up to a woman who was traveling alone, showed her a broken credit card and said he was in dire need of 300 euros to be able to get back home. She gave him some money and then we later heard he did this to other people as well. So he was using The Camino to live off others. We have to be aware that this is life and the good walks together with the bad.
I was in a store yesterday where an 80 year old woman came in to buy something and sang for me a beautiful song that she was singing in Mass because it was May 31st and there was a special song that is sung to the Virgin Mary on May 31st. So I stood as she held my hand and sang to me. Afterwards, we hugged and kissed and she wished me a wonderful Camino.
Yesterday, as I walked from Casada de los Hermanillos to Mansilla, I walked the Roman road that has been the pilgrim's camino for over 2,000 years. I walked all alone with no one in front or behind me that I could see and I thought, how many feet have trod this path, how many stories these stones have heard and it was very humbling.
One mundane story: I have been trying to stay warm because it has been unseasonably cold. The Spaniards are saying that they have not experienced weather like this in 80 years. So I decided that since I was in Leon, I would find a comparable REI store and buy one long sleeved warm t-shirt because I only had one to walk in and one which wasn´t quite so adequate to sleep in. Sometimes the albergues are freezing and I have had to sleep in the top that I will walk in the next day. So I found a store specifically catering to mountaineers and having things comparable to REI. I complain that REI is so expensive. But I bought a light merino wool long sleeved crew neck top and I paid 76.50 euros which is over 100.00 dollars. I will never complain about REI again.
I will stay in Leon today and tomorrow and resume walking Monday morning June 3rd.
I will visit the Cathedral and tomorrow I will go to Mass and have a rest day. Your emails continue to be the wings that spur me on as I wander in wonder.
Thank you, thank you for your love and support,
Today is Tuesday, June 4th and I am in the town of Hospital de Obrigos in the reception area of the Albergue Verde on a beautiful, balmy, sunny day looking out into a lovely garden.
I have the benefit of free internet access on the albergue laptop. It takes getting used to and let me tell you, working with a Spanish keyboard is a challenge without dealing with the different feel of this keyboard and no mouse.
In any case, I'm seizing the moment and taking the opportunity to write about my time in León. I arrived in León on Saturday, June 1st. I went directly to my hostel--Hostal Londres--Londres being the Spanish word for London. I had a wonderful room with a private bathroom which had a tub about two-thirds the size of a regular tub, but just perfect for me to sit in. The room looked like it was decorated from a Laura Ashley catalog which my sister Maritza would have loved.
It was perfect and I was booked for two nights so that I could arrive Saturday, rest the rest of the day, and have Sunday to see León.
León,which in English means Lion, is a stunningly, beautiful city. It wears its name with majesty, dignity and aplomb.
It accepts and owns its reputation as King of the Jungle with pride without appearing arrogant. It stands tall with its luxuriant mane blowing in the wind saying this is who I am.
I say this as I compare my experience in León with my experience in Burgos.
Burgos seemed to me a city still working to find its identity, a city of merchants secure in their small cliques. I went to 6 different banks in Burgos, starting with the large Banco de Espana and tried to change dollars and everywhere I was asked if I had an account there and when I said no, they would not serve me. I finally found a bank that said they would only change $300.00. In León on Monday morning as I was leaving town around 8:15 a.m., I saw a bank that was open. It wasnt a large name brand bank and I went in, asked if I could change dollars and they didn't bat an eyelash and I made the transaction.
Saturday evening, I attended vespers at the Convent of the Benedictine Nuns and it was very moving. The chapel was lovely Gothic and Romanesque style. They had a lovely organ and the nuns sang with verve and gusto, a very different experience than listening to the Benedictine nuns in Lacey, Washington where I go for a yearly silent retreat or the vesper service I attended in a city that I can't remember.
There were 5 of us in attendance and I thought, these nuns do this service whether there is anyone there or not. They are doing it for God. And it reminded me of the many beautiful trees and flowers I have encountered on my journey. They display their beauty because that is what they do. It doesn't matter if anyone comes by to acknowledge them.
Sunday, June 2nd, was an amazing day!!! It was the Feast of Corpus Christi and the city was arrayed in splendor for its celebration. Corpus Christi is the celebration of the body and blood of Christ and the host (the communion wafer) is carried in procession throughout the city. The bishop was at the cathedral for mass. He admonished those in attendance, (the place was packed that this was a very solemn service with deep, serious significance and it was not to be treated as a party. Yeah--right! That's like telling a full church on Easter Sunday that this is a service of the serious significance of an empty tomb.
The Cathedral in León is magnificent. Unlike the Cathedral in Burgos, which was built and added to by every noble family that wanted to have its name eternalized for posterity, and is really a patchwork quilt without any direction, every nobleman trying to outdo each other by building a ridiculously ornate chapel, the Cathedral in León is a magnificent example of a unified vision wih impeccable symmetry and balance. The nave is exquisite. The stained glass breathtaking.
The bishop presided, the organ music was glorious, the choir wonderful and the hymn singing vibrantly alive, making for a very uplifting service. It was communion sunday and about 100 little girls and boys made their first communion. Many of you know that I was raised Seventh-Day Adventist, which was okay with me except when I would see little girls making their first communion and I so wanted to wear a white dress and a veil, and little mary jane white patent leather shoes with lace, ruffly socks. The little girls here do not wear veils, and unlike the Catholic girls in my neighborhood who did their first communion in short dresses, all these little girls had on long, puffy dresses down to the ground so you could not see their feet. Let me tell you, they swept that city clean with their dresses. The little boys were darling too in their black suits with white shirts.
After the service, hundreds of people gathered in front of the cathedral for the procession carrying the host, the bishop and clergy in front, nuns, communion children and at least 3 or 4 bands with the band members in uniform playing beautiful music. The host was carried on this large altar covered with flowers.
You all know that I am not a picture taker, but I wish I could have taken a picture of this scene. The entire city was alive.
After the crowd had left on its procession, I ran into a couple from Australia who had been really helpful to me on the journey. Early on the journey I had been walking and my knee had been hurting me and I was hobbling along very slowly and came across them sitting on a bench resting. The husband said to me, "here, take this ointment and put it on your knee. I think it will help." It turned out to be Voltaren, which Geoff and Rochelle bring me from Canada. You can imagine how I was feeling, because rght then and there on the street, I pulled my pants down and slathered my knee and leg with Voltaren and after a bit, I felt so much better and got a second wind to keep on moving.
Well, this couple was in the cathedral square enjoying the celebration in Leon when we saw each other and the wife came over and said to me, "I have just had the most wonderful massage with a man named David. He has done the camino and does Reiki and he worked on my leg (she had been having issues as well) and gave me some arnica pellets to take and he is amazing." She said that David told her that The Camino has three stages. The stage from St. Jean Pied de Port to Burgos is the physical stage. It is during this stage that we get in touch with our bodies, where all the issues that need to be looked at, that need resolution show up and therefore the pain. I can tell you, there was not one person who I spoke with during that stage that wasn't dealing with something physical--blisters, shin splints, bad knees, losing toe nails, pain in their shoulders from their backpacks, etc. It was unbelievable. Young and old alike. No one got away scot free.
He said the stage from Burgos to León was the mental stage. The stage from Burgos to León is flat.
Elevation Maps from Burgos to León
(click to enlarge)
Flat road with nothing to see for miles. One walks and feels like one is standing still, going nowhere and as a result, the mind starts going into places that one hasn't gone to before. For me, it was the realization that no matter how far I would walk, there I would be. I was the destination because there was no other destination except myself. I don't know if I am being clear, but it was amazing. One day I walked 17 kilometers without seeing a village, a tree; just road meeting the sky. You have no point of reference.
The third stage is the stage from León to Santiago. He said this is the spiritual stage. And let me tell you, one starts to climb and climb and climb. Of course, what goes up, must come down. But, it really is climbing Jacob's ladder. I am just entering that experience. I'll keep you posted.
Elevation Maps for León to Santiago
(click to enlarge)
I spent the afternoon in León with two new friends from Tucson, Arizona and my wonderful early friend Misha from Basel, Switzerland, who gave me a pill when I first started having issues with my knee. By the way, my knee is getting better every day. I feel my body healing in many different ways.
That was my time in León. It didn't hurt that the weather was glorious and everything sparkles in the sun.
I left León Monday morning after spending a little time with the owner of the Londres Hostel. A very dignified, gracious man, he said to me, "I'm tired". He then went on to say that he has dedicated 40 years of his life welcoming pilgrims and now he is tired of backpacks, changing linen and being on call 24 hours a day. He is ready to pass on the banner. I thanked him for my beautiful clean room, for the integrity of his work on behalf of so many before me, and I left León, that beautiful Lion with a heart overflowing, giving thanks for this splendid experience.
From my heart to yours,
I am in Galicia!!
So much has happened since we last spoke. But before I get into how I got here physically, I want to speak about some of the things that have been taking place internally as I have been walking the spiritual part of my journey. I promise to tell you about places and people and terrain the next time I speak with you.
In January of 2012, I took a workshop entitled ¨The Science of Luck.¨ My big takeaway from this workshop was something the lecturer said about gold. He said that what makes gold the most precious metal and the reason it is the standard from which every other metal is measured, is the fact that gold has no resistance.
That means, he explained, that gold can be whatever we want it to be. It can be made into bars, it can be so thin you can use it on paper, etc. He said that because of its purity, having no properties in it that weaken it, it is the strongest metal on earth.
I decided after that workshop that I would become an alchemist and:
Create gold in my life by letting go of resistance!
They say, be careful what you ask for. El Camino has given me so many opportunities to practice. I have decided that, for me, El Camino has shown me that its power lies in the fact that it will be whatever we choose to make it.
For example, I met a man along the way who is an engineer and seems to be someone who sees the world in a particular way. We spent one day in a city together--he and his wife and I. During the course of the day, he fell three times.
Once, we were going to visit a castle and there was a roped off part with those brass poles and the thick red rope, letting us know we shouldn't cross over a certain area. He was walking and suddenly he fell pushing the poles and the rope, knocking them over. We realized there was a step there and the rope was to protect us from tripping backwards and falling. His response when he was up again, was that there should have been a warning letting us know that the step was there. We then went into the castle to see a lovely exhibition and he tripped over a bench that was placed somewhere and his response was "that bench should not be there."
It reminded me that El Camino is not about how we think things should be, but rather what is and how we respond to what is. I realized choice is so much more than picking from what we like or don't like. It is also about choosing from what is and finding ways to work with what is by either accepting it or changing it.
I sat at dinner across from a woman from Holland that I asked, "So why are you doing El Camino?" She looked at me and said "I really don´t know. This is my 4th time doing it and I'm miserable. I really don't want to do it, but it has become an addiction." I thanked her for being so candid and thought, wow! This is her camino. I have met people who think El Camino will bring magic into their lives--excitement, love, distraction, solutions to their problems. In this way, El Camino is gold because it is whatever we choose to make it.
Speaking about resistance and having opportunities to practice, I bought one of those microtowels at REI because it is light and is supposed to dry quickly. Well, the first time I used it, I was dismayed to experience that when I dried my arm, or a leg, it collected the water and then kept it so that when I dried the other arm, all the water was transferred to that limb. It was not very good. But I have been using it.
Sometime ago, I did my wash and here in Spain, we hang everything outside to dry. Somehow, when I picked up my wash, I left the towel behind. I got to the next village and went to shower and I had no towel.
(The drill of the day is that we get up early, start walking and when we get to our destination, the first thing we do is register, get our credential stamped and go and have a shower before eating or doing anything else).
I had no towel, therefore no bath. I went into the place where they served food and asked a lovely young woman if there was a store where I could buy a towel. She looked at me and said, "we have no stores in this town and there is no place to buy anything." I asked if perhaps I could buy a towel from the albergue and she said "we have no towels to sell you." I thanked her and I can say that I was not upset as I said, "well, I guess today is a bathless day and smiled." She shrugged her shoulders apologetically and I ordered some food. I thought, isn't it amazing. I have money and cannot buy a towel. I thought of my home and a closet full of towels. Suddenly, something as small as a towel was so important.
That evening feeling a bit self-conscious as I sat for dinner, I hoped I was not smelling up the place. I sat with a lovely Austrian couple and we ate together and somehow during the conversation I mentioned that I had lost my towel and hoped when I got to the next town I would be able to buy one.
The wife got up from the table, and came back a few moments later with a brand new towel, it looked like it was flannel and handed it to me and said, "This is your towel. We brought an extra one just in case, and now, I know it was meant for you." I offered to pay her for it and she said no, this is why they had carried an extra towel.
I took a bath that night and it dried me beautifully. I hung it over the foot of my bed and in the morning it was completely dry. It's a fabulous towel! I think European technology is leaving us behind. My REI towel didn't even come close to that towel. It doesn't weigh anything, it dries the body and it dries beautifully.
(click on Rochelle's photo to the right to see her wearing a chartreuse shirt AND the yellow sunglasses she gave me ;-)
On one of my elevation walks, I sent my backpack ahead in order to be gentle with my knees on the descent, which was a good thing because I inadvertently took the most difficult of the three paths (the top line below) and I climbed and climbed and climbed all alone because everyone else took the gentler path (the lower line). (I later learned that people avoid that path because it is not well marked).
Anyway, I had a water bottle with me and as I pulled out the water bottle to get a drink, I dropped it and it rolled down the mountain. I had no water and thought, "Well God, I guess, I will manage without." As I was coming down the mountain and joined the road I should have been on, I met three young women who stopped to speak with me and I said, "How much further to the bottom?" They said 2 and a half kilometers. I knew it would take me a good hour at least to get down because of my knees and I guess I made a face. One of the women said, "Are you okay?" I said that I dropped my water bottle and it rolled down the mountain and two and a half kilometers felt like a lifetime. She pulled out a water bottle, a most fancy one with a filter and said, "I have not used this and I have plenty of water, so you may have this and you can return it to me at the next place we stop."
This is the way I am experiencing El Camino as I practice not resisting and trying to just be with what is. It's not easy, but I have this Metta that my acupuncturist, Amy, gifted me for my trip and it says:
May I be well.
May I be free of greed, anger and confusion.
May I be and feel safe.
May I be at peace.
I am trying to practice that when I sit at a table all by myself and wait 45 minutes to be acknowledged or served, while couples and groups get taken care of. I read it to myself when I am walking and wonder if I have missed a turn.
And so the learning curve continues and goes deeper and deeper.
I met a man in the middle of nowhere who has a stand where he welcomes pilgrims and provides refreshments for them and people simply donate whatever they feel for coffee, water, juice, cookies, chocolate, bread. When he saw me coming he said, "Eres Cubana?" (Are you Cuban?) And I said, no, but Cubans and Puerto Ricans are cousins. We share so much culturally.
Anyway, he told me his story. Four years ago, he walked El Camino and returned and decided his work would be to create a refuge for pilgrims on their way far from villages and any place to rest. He has been doing this since 2009 and this is his life now. There are so many stories like this. A young man who did my wash and when I asked him what I owed him, he said "Nothing. I am a volunteer and it is my joy to serve the pilgrims in this way."
And as I climb, I think of my Seattle sister, Jean, who takes these trips to places where she climbs these mountains and I feel that I am standing on her shoulders and she helps me climb.
I will write about the places I've been since leaving León, in my next Epistle. I haven't written because internet connections are impossible in the small towns and I have been staying in small places. But today, I am staying in a place called Biduedo with no wifi. So I can't connect with Hart, but they have this one computer where one can connect with the internet and I am writing even though it's expensive. But what is expensive? One can have money and not be able to use it. No towels. So having money and being able to connect with you this way is wonderful.
I continue to give thanks for your amazing support and encouragement. There are days when all I can do is put one foot in front of the other and not think about distance or how much I miss my family and friends. But that, too, is part of the journey. I am learning to give thanks for all of it. Until soon,
From my heart to yours,
I am in Sarria.
It is almost 7:00 p.m. on a beautiful, sunny clear evening. Normally, I would be in my albergue or hostel getting ready for bed, but I have found an internet cafe and decided to take this opportunity to write since I don't know when I will have the opportunity to do so again.
The last time I wrote about my physical travels, I wrote about León. Leaving León took a long time because I had to go through the city to get on my way to Villar de Mazarife. I got to the next town where Hart warned me to pay attention to the left deviation at the bottom of the hill as I left town and then, I was on my way.
I arrived at Villar de Mazarife and as I entered town there was my albergue--El Albergue San Antonio.
It was a beautiful day and those who had arrived were outside sunning themselves on the lawn or on chaise lounges. There were lots of German, French and Spanish people staying there. I had a lovely room to myself, although I had to share toilet and showers with others.
That evening, the meal was a communal meal. There were about 80 of us in the dining room and this wonderful man cooked for us. On my left was a young German woman, Ulrike, who had just started El Camino in León. On my right was a delightful Canadian man from Montreal. Across from me sat a couple from Holland and the young woman who I mentioned in my last Epistle who said she was addicted to El Camino.
We sat on three long tables and our first course was a delicious salad of fresh mixed greens with nuts seasoned with a wonderful balsamic vinegar dressing. The next course was a fabulous pumpkin soup with yummy home made bread. That was followed by a vegetarian paella which was delicious! We ended the meal with a chocolate crepe with strawberries. The meal was served with wine and water and there was coffee or tea after dinner for those who wanted it.
All 80 pilgrims were exquisitely fed. It was wonderful! The man who cooked it all is a physiotherapist and we were able to have a lovely conversation where he told me that if I run hot water on the nape of my neck when I bathe, it will help keep my blood pressure down. I just never know what information I am going to get that will be helpful in my healing process.
(According to this lovely article, Pepe Giner (see photo above) opened the hostel 'San Antonio de Padua' six years ago in honor of cancer survivors. You can read the wonderful article (in Spanish) here or copy and paste the text into Google translate. You'll get the gist of the article ;-)
As I sat there and looked at that room full of people, I couldn't help notice that I was the only person of color in that room. I thought about that and realized that I have not met one African American on El Camino. I met a very nice couple from Haiti, but no Black Americans. I found that an interesting observation.
I can't take you through every place I stayed, but want to speak about a couple of places that were fascinating for me. One was Ponferrada. That is where I visited the castle (see below) with the husband and wife I spoke about earlier.
It is a lovely city and the seat of the Knights Templar.
I was in a darling store and of course got into an animated conversation with the woman who was working the store. When I told her I was Puerto Rican, she lit up and said last year a Puerto Rican man came through the first week in July which is when the city has a medieval celebration.
Men in the city dress up as knights, wearing mail and carrying swords and they enter the city on horseback at night. The women are also dressed in medieval gowns and there is a meal in the castle and they celebrate the entire night. There is someone who is knighted and leads the procession each year. Being knighted is quite an honor.
Well, this Puerto Rican man was on El Camino and he couldn't stay up all night celebrating because he had to get up the next morning to continue his Camino--perhaps he had a time constraint--I don't know. In any case, he is returning this year specifically for the medieval celebration and he will be the one knighted. She said it has been quite a big deal preparing for his coming, getting him accommodations, getting his measurements for his clothes, he has been practicing riding a horse and she spoke with great excitement about his coming. We Puerto Ricans are getting around.
Speaking of riding a horse, I'm going to skip to my journey from La Portela de Valcarce to O'Cebreiro because on the way to O'Cebreiro, a man approached me and asked me if I wanted to ride a horse up to O'Cebreiro which is quite a climb (see below).
Here's an Elevation Map
(click to enlarge)
I was really tempted because once again, this would have been the experience of a life time. But never having ever been on a horse, I thought, I need to do this in a pasture, not climbing a steep hill. I am so glad I had the wisdom to say no.
I spoke with three women who rode the horse up and they said, the guide was amazing and the horses very experienced.
But first, they rode English saddle and the man kept telling them to hold their hands straight out ahead of them and to have very straight spines and be one with the horse. They said it was scary because sometimes the trail was so slender, you could literally see down the mountain and occasionally the horses stumbled. They said the horses worked so hard to keep them on the trail that when they arrived at the top, the horses were lathered in sweat. And these were women who had experience on horses, although they all rode Western Saddle. So I can say, this is one time I was open to being sensible.
I chose to stay there because of the name. La Puerta del Perdon means "The Door to Forgiveness". I really feel my life has been one of learning and practicing forgiveness and I said, that's where I am going to stay.
I arrived and went into this hotel and it took my breath away. It was beautiful. My room had a stone fireplace and a wooden floor with those wide planks they used in centuries gone by.
I went into the bathroom and there was a plaque on the wall that said "Quien ama la música, ama la vida." Translated it means "Whoever loves music, loves life."
Then, in my room there were these original parts of orchestral scores on the wall.
They were compositions by a man named Cristóbal Halffter.
I went downstairs for lunch and asked who Cristóbal Halffter was and was told he was the most important modern music composers of the 20th century. I had never heard of him.
When I spoke with Hart, Hart said, "Oh my goodness, you are staying in the Cristóbal Halffter room. He is very famous." Of course, my husband would know this. Anyway, I found out that Cristóbal Halffter owns this hotel. He lives in Villafranca.
(Read more about his connection with the owners and see a few more photos on this webpage.)
On the card for La Puerta del Perdon, on the back, it says,
"Everyone regardless of whether he is rich or poor,
deserves to be treated with love and respect and in beauty.
He who serves his fellow man, serves me."
I almost wept.
Because I was a hotel guest, I had first dibs on a table.
The maitre'd came and asked me if I minded if a gentleman who wanted to eat, but was not from the hotel, could join me at my table because all the other tables were taken. I said "Absolutely. This is not my table and all are welcomed to sit at the Welcome Table."
I sat and had lunch with a Spanish man from Valencia who was a psychologist. The food was magnificent. We spoke for about two hours and at the end he said, "I want to pay for your lunch because I have so enjoyed my meal with you and want to thank you for your generosity in being willing to share your table." I graciously accepted and thanked him for his generosity.
I had my wash done there and it was returned ironed and folded beautifully. Everything was done with such thoughtful intention and I only paid 40 Euros for the night. Another couple who stayed there said to me, "This is better than the Parador"--the very famous exclusive luxurious hotel in Santiago.
It is a chain of luxury hotels and there is also one in León.
I think the beauty expressed in the intention to create something beautiful for pilgrims--the philosophy that going first class is not about how much money we spend, but how thoughtfully and lovingly we create for others and serve, is so splendidly articulated. What a concept!
Yesterday, in Biduedo, I went to the dining room to have lunch and there was a darling young couple having lunch. I always look for people to sit with, so I smiled and said "may I join you?" They said "of course." It turned out they are from Santo Domingo in the Caribbean, not the Santo Domingo in Spain. I said "Oh, we're cousins because I'm from Puerto Rico." We started talking about food and the wife said she misses platanos (plaintain). The Spaniards call bananas "platanos". However, for us, platanos are something very different (see below in the middle).
We spoke about making "tostones" which are green plaintains that we fry until they are crisp (on the left above), and we spoke about "mofongos" (on the right above) which are plaintain dumplings. We had the best time and at the end, she gave me her name, phone number and address and said "if you are ever in Ponferrada, you will definitely stay with me." So now, I have homes where I can stay in Burgos and Ponferrada. It's wonderful!
I continue to learn to keep my heart open and not judge. Last evening, I ate with a step-mother and step-daughter from Atlanta, Georgia. They are absolutely delightful and I said what a blessing it was that they had such a loving relationship that they would do The Camino together. They had a friend who was traveling with them, a friend of the step-mother for over 25 years from Washington, D.C., and I watched this woman drink a full bottle of wine all by herself in about 2 hours. She was pretty plastered by the end of the meal.
There was a time when I would have been really upset and would have judged her very harshly. I realized last night that:
No matter what anyone does,
I can choose not to let that disturb my peace
and take me away from myself.
It was a giant step in my growth and letting others be where they are. When I left, I hugged the stepmother, step daughter and I hugged her, as well, and I could do it lovingly.
I had also stopped earlier in the day for lunch and had lunch with a man from Belgium named Rob, a Spanish woman named Marisa and a German woman named Doris. They were all traveling together. We sat and they offered me cheese and bread, which I partook of, and we had a wonderful time together. At the end as I sat there, they all lit up cigarettes and blew smoke in my face.
I can say that I really believe none of us is addiction free. My addiction may be food, or control, or judgment and so who am I to frown on someone else's choice of addiction.
It is very humbling to come to the realization that when I look at a homeless person on the street before I judge them and say, there but by the grace of God, I, too, may be homeless because I have left myself and there is nobody home. Even if, I am living in a house and have all the commodities that we associate with abundance. This Camino is a trippy trip!
So I am in Sarria. Can you believe I have just over 100 kilometers (62 miles) to get to Santiago!
Some say, these are the hardest kilometers because we start to let our guard down. It's like they say that many accidents happen very close to home. I will ask you to hold me in light as I continue to strive to stay present, to pay attention, to not get complacent or feel the work is done. And as the man in Carrion said to me, when I arrive in Santiago, that is when the work begins.
Thank you for your faithfulness in staying the course with me. You are an integral part of My Camino.
From my heart to yours,