El Camino – Dispatch 1

Camino September 18

I’m three days into the Camino with my fabulous friends, Sylvie Caouette and Céline Guay. I picked up a bad cold along the way, but the walking has been fabulous. We made it through the Pyrenees in a day and a half, crossing from France into Spain, a new country for me. Gorgeous views. It’s been quite a good spiritual and social adventure so far.

Celine, Sylvie, and I getting ready to start the Camino.

A way marker on the Camino.

Camino September 20

Had an interesting experience on the Camino yesterday. I have been ill with a nasty head cold. The pharmacy that was supposed to be open in Zubiri was closed. The owners had just started a two-week vacation. The Camino didn’t want me to get meds. It was a rough night for sleeping.
Yesterday I suffered all morning. I couldn’t breath, especially on the uphills. I could barely keep my head up at times, I was so weak.

The Pyrenees.

I wandered into a church outside Pamplona with Sylvie Caouette and just started talking. Looking for an existential reason for my cold, I asked why I had let myself get sick. What was the Camino trying to teach me? Was it to slow down? No, that didn’t make sense; I had already decided to slow down. Was it because I felt I had to suffer because it was a pilgrimage? That made sense to me. So I said out loud, “I don’t need to suffer to have an amazing spiritual experience on the Camino. The best thing you could do for me is to have me walk up this street and find a pharmacy that is open.”

Sylvie and I walked up the street 300 meters and found a pharmacy that was open. Within an hour, I could breath again and was chatting away like a schoolboy.

Walking through the Pyrenees.

Sylvie and I had a coffee and croissant in old Pamplona for about $2.25 Canadian. Such civilized hiking. And such fun. And as it turned out, it was a great day.

Camino September 21

We walked 24 kilometers today, the last ten or so in 28 degree heat. And a nice juicy uphill with no shade for the last couple of kilometers. When I arrived at our pilgrim’s hostel, El Cantero, the owner, Mariola, said, “It’s ok, the hill is over, you are home now.” What a wonderful woman she is.

Here’s something you don’t see everyday.

The day was filled with hills, one of which was a long uphill to a col, which wasn’t a problem, but the downhill was a challenge. It was a steep talus-filled gully. Thankfully, years a pilgrims walking through here has created a thin worn path through the boulders. But because some people are quite slow, you need to pass in the rubble. When I moved to pass a few people, I could hear my ankles screaming, nooooo.

Sylvie and Celine enjoying the scenery in the Pyrenees.

It was an emotional day on the trail for some. I met a young Finnish woman in a church. She was crying. We chatted outside. She had been called to the Camino because her life was in shambles. She quit three jobs to come on the Camino, so this is no small event for her.
I stopped in every single open church along the Way today (there were three of them). Seems strange for an atheist to go to church and send out requests for loved ones to the universe, but what the heck, I’m trying. I find that in most churches (not all though), there is good energy. Why not tap into it if it can help someone I care about?

An interesting pedestrian bridge crossing.

A couple of days before I started the Camino, I learned that a very dear friend of mine has breast cancer. She has just started chemo and I went with her to have her hair shaved off. I ask the universe several times per day for her to beat this cancer. Like all women, she doesn’t deserve it. She is everything that is good in people. So in the churches, I whisper requests on her behalf.

Along the Way.

We are in the village of Maneru, population 450. This village is linked with the Knights Templar and the order of Saint John; very influential in the Middle Ages.

A fountain for thirsty pilgrims.

I loved this day. And still a pilgrim’s meal to come.

Camino – September 23

I’m in a cafe in the old part of Logrono, Spain. It’s going to be a hot day today – over 40 degrees. We hope to be finished walking by 1:00 to avoid the worst of the heat.

Such civilized hiking.

I’m always the first awake, so the other seven people in my dorm asked me to wake them at 6 am by singing Here Comes the Sun. Poor Kit; she couldn’t hear me even when a sang inches from her ear. Finally, Sylvie shook her awake. She was grateful because she also wants to finish before it’s too hot.

Uphill.

The last couple of days we’ve been walking through vineyards and olive groves. The grapes are ripe, but the olives are not. One farmer encourages the pilgrims to eat some grapes. It’s his advertising for his wine.

The olives are not yet ripe.

A couple of days ago, we passed the famous Fuente del Vino, a fountain of wine, courtesy of the Bodegas Winery. In the tradition of the Benedictine monks, they provide free wine for pilgrims. For myself, I opted to drink my wine out of my scallop shell, symbol of St James. I thought it would make a better story than drinking it out of my water bottle. Hehe.

Drinking wine out of a scallop shell.

Ah, so refreshing.

The energy on this Camino is powerful, as are the relationships I’m having with my fellow pilgrims. Everyday, I give thanks for this incredible opportunity.

Camino – September 25

Our merry little band has grown to nine. In addition to Sylvie and Celine I am traveling with Kim from Quebec, two women from France, Evelyn from Germany, Lena from Sweden, and Fernando from northern Spain. Tonight, we are in Belorado, at a fabulous little hostel, where I am waiting for my late pilgrim’s meal of garlic soup, a Spanish omelet, dessert, and, of course, red wine.

A tenth-century church.

Everyone is hurting from the walking and the heat. Myself, I have blisters on both heals, reminding me that I have this silly belief that quests or pilgrimages require suffering. Hehe. It’s a belief I’m working on changing.

The landscape of northern Spain.

Today, we passed through Santo Domingo, home of Saint Dominic, who spent his life supporting pilgrims. This is also the place of miracles. Legend has it that there was a couple who was traveling the Camino with their son. Here in Santo Domingo, an innkeeper’s daughter voiced her affection for the son, but he thwarted her advances. So she hid a silver goblet in his bag. He was arrested for a thief and sentenced to hang. Meanwhile, his parents were oblivious and carried on to Santiago. On their return, they saw their son hanging in the gallows, but he was still alive. They ran to the sheriff, who was just sitting down to supper. The sheriff said, “That boy is no more alive than this cock on my plate.” Whereupon, the cock came back to life and started squawking along the table. The miracle was not lost on the sheriff, who ran to the jail and released the boy, who was given a full pardon.

Outside the gates of Pamplona

Such magic on the Camino.

Camino – September 26

We had the best breakfast so far on the Camino at the pilgrim’s hostel in Belorado. So delicious. So filling.

Happy on the Way.

It didn’t stop us, of course, from stopping for a second breakfast at a cafe in the village of Villambistia. While drinking cafe con leche, I initiated a discussion about ‘group think’. Yesterday, we had missed seeing the interior of the cathedral in Santo Domingo. It had been 8:45 am and the cathedral didn’t open until 9:00 am, so we all left. Fifteen minutes was too long to wait. The Camino was waiting; we had to carry on. Yet, the cathedral in Santo Domingo is a major icon along the Camino, rich in history, culture, legends, and miracles. It’s a small regret that I now have because I missed it. We had beds already reserved, so there really was no reason why we couldn’t have waited 15 minutes until it opened. I don’t know much about Saint Dominic, except that he was shunned by the Catholic elite because he was illiterate, and so he dedicated his life to helping pilgrims along the Camino. It would have been nice to learn more about him, to walk in his footsteps. After all, who doesn’t love an underdog? Sadly, I will probably never come back and experience the inside of the Santo Domingo cathedral. Lesson learned about group think.

The cloister at the cathedral in Estella.

At the moment, I’m sitting on the top bunk in a dorm room in San Jose de Ortega, population 20. It seems that the sole purpose of this village is, and always has been since the Middle Ages, to support pilgrims. My bed is inside a medieval building adjacent to the church. It has a 16th century courtyard, which is currently being used by pilgrims to hang wet clothes. At 6:00 pm, we will all attend mass and afterward, the priest will give us garlic soup and bread for free, a tradition that was initiated by the previous priest, Jose Maria, who died in 2008. I’m looking forward to the experience, despite my atheist tendencies. It’s all good energy anyway.

Early morning on the Camino

Today, I sadly said goodbye to my new friend, Fernando. When we all stopped at 24.1 kilometers, he decided to carry on for another 7-8 kms.

Fernando and Celine.

We all walk the Camino alone. The relationships we develop are short and intense, and so the goodbyes are felt strongly in the heart. I miss Fernando already. And wish him well. Hopefully the Camino will help him find the answers to his difficult questions. That is, after all, why he came on this journey.

A shrine along the Way.

Buen Camino, my friends.

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