Monthly Archives: October 2013

Eucalyptus in Espana

I shipped my daypack for the first time in 5 days, and really noticed the difference. I stepped lightly and it felt easy going uphill instead of going into grinding mode.

I left the village without wi-fi that shall not be named, in full rain gear. Once again, there was a fabulous sunrise at 8:45. And then a vertical rainbow to the West, in the direction of Santiago.

Today’s Camino wound through one Galician village after another, with lots of cows, dogs, and chickens. For the first time, many wayside cafe/bars were closed for the season. Then we went through Palas de Rei and continued on through green forests where the trees met overhead of the ancient sunken track of the Camino.

And then, suddenly, eucalyptus are everywhere! It smells like home.

Last night I picked out a destination from the guidebook for my pack to be sent that sounded interesting: a Casa Rural, 2 kilometers off the Camino.

When I got to the turn off, it was a long 2k walk to get here, and as I walked and walked I thought, “I hope this place is ok, because I don’t want to pick up the pack and walk back.”

It turned out to be a nice, and typically funky place where a family runs an Alberge and guest house,with dinner. The kids were watching cartoons after school and practicing flute. There’s a giant stuffed rabbit on top of the armoir in my room.

The Canadian couple from Quebec, Lisa and Harold, whom I’ve been walking with on and off for the last week followed me down here. Then, at dinner, another group of Brits and Australians showed up, who, as it turned out, knew the Canadian couple from 3 weeks ago, and as I sat down at the table who should be there but my friend from Hong Kong! I hadn’t seen her since Ponferrada, and we hadn’t exchanged contact information because I was intent on finding the glove I’d dropped. What a gift to see her again!

We plotted over dinner to all meet at the giant Albergue just outside Santiago on Thursday night, which sounds good to me.

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Categories: Favorite Albergues, October 2013, Uncategorized | Tags: , | 3 Comments

Rainy Day walking

After my ode to the fully loaded Albergue, guess what happened? I check into a nice new Albergue in Portomarin, and I end up being the only guest!

I conversed with the owner for quite awhile, and realized how little Spanish I know. I think she said she and her husband, who was a contractor, built the Albergue last year, and then he died. It was beautifully new and clean with a full kitchen. As I sat in the common room to read, an elderly couple came in and asked me a lot of things in rapid fire Spanish. I think they were the owners’ parents. They came by to “supervise” several more times. They reminded me of my own grandparent, who used to stop by and “supervise” my Mom.

I had a quiet evening by myself. Cooked an omelet, uploaded photos, and settled in for the night. It felt strange at first, but then, kind of homey.

But first , I had trouble getting the stove to turn on—all those cryptic international symbols. Mari, the owner, came down to help me and I could not understand a thing she said. It was the first time I felt tears if frustration. Then it dawned on me that the burner only went on if the pan was sitting on it. That’s what she meant! Yet another one of those European energy-saving strategies.

I took off into a rainy morning, feeling grumpy about it, but determined to walk the rest of the way to Santiago.

It became fun after a few kilometers. Rain, drizzle, sun. Pine forest, ancient oak trees.

After 8 kilometers I came to Gonzar, a busy pilgrim stop. It felt like a ski lodge on an inclement day. Wet gear slung everywhere. I sat down and started to write.

A woman I’ve seen earlier along the Camino came over and sat down. “You look like an Amazon out on the road!! Very strong!” And she made a stern face. Yes, that’s my scowly face that I make when I’m concentrating. She made me laugh.

“It’s a wet day! Let’s have an herbal Galician drnk!” So she bought two herbal liqueurs and we had a long visit. She told me all about her spiritual quest, and how the Camino has changed her outlook on life, told with much energy. She had a beautiful face, like Ingrid Bergman in “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” short hair and all. She was amazed when I told her I was a priest, and we talked some more.

Then the sun came out and it was time to walk. She passed me and said, “good-bye, lovely turtle!” I haven’t seen her since. Maybe in Santiago.

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Categories: Conversations on the Camino, October 2013, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments

More Reflections on the Albergue

Sleeping in an Albergue is a lot like taking a long airplane ride. You’re on a shared journey in a confined space. Everyone arrives, gets settled, and has to arrange their stuff just so in the equivalent of the overhead bins: the limited floor space next to your bunk.

I always make kind of mess, emptying my entire backpack on the bed so I can sort through it. Other people seem to have more organized systems, but I do have a bag for dirty clothes, and one for clean stuff, then my zip locks with my jumble of toiletries.

In the Albergue, I always make sure I have my iPhone, glasses, and water bottle within reach from my bunk so I can find them in the middle of the night. I seek out bunks next to plugs so I can charge my iPhone while I sleep. The newer Albergues come with lots of plugs. Medieval buildings do not.

There’s usually a shelf for your boots, and a big container for your hiking poles. Some places are very explicit about food, blister repair, and boots in the dormitory, and that’s usually a good thing.

In the afternoon, lots of people partially unpack and take a nap after the many kilometers on the Camino. In bad weather, everyone’s stuff is spread out to dry.

Then there’s a surge out to eat or drink. Some albergues have fully stocked kitchens, and many Europeans buy groceries and cook. The kitchen is a good place to hang out, share some wine and talk.

Later, around 9:00, pilgrims start returning and by 10:00 everyone is settling in. The “big light” usually goes out at 10:30.

There are always a few snorers. I’ve learned to listen to music, and sometimes I take a Benadryl. For some reason, in October there aren’t as many snorers as when I was walking in June. There have been fewer symphonies and arias.

The morning begins early. Before daybreak, the early risers start packing up, their headlamps flashing. There’s an easy etiquette that we won’t stare when it’s time to change clothes.

Our shared sleeping experience is over, and it’s time to pack all our precious carry on items back up into our backpacks and make sure we know where our passport, iPhone, and wallet are. It’s time for desayuno and to walk.

I’m thankful for these nights of shared sleeping. They have refreshed my trust in others, and I wish that more Americans could experience the easy sense of shared privacy I’ve learned to enjoy.

Some nights I’ve had conversations with the person in the adjoining bunk—sometimes they’re men—but I feel very safe. This trip has allowed me to let go of defenses I didn’t realize I had constructed.

Categories: Camino, Conversations on the Camino, October 2013, Uncategorized, Wisdom | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Galicia, Galicia

Last night I felt a bit low. I had a private tour of the Monastery at Samos, which was huge, and impressive, but it left me slightly cold. Such a giant place for 19 monks. The style was baroque and neo-classical; only an archway was left from the 9th century. Although the arch did have a carving of the Jerusalem cross that almost matched the Celtic cross I’ve worn for years. I was just in a grouchy mood.

Also, the rain was getting to me. There’s a reason I don’t live in the Sunset district!

The morning dawned clear and dry. I decided to taxi to Sarria and walk from there, about 10k from Samos. That way I would have a whole day to make progress from Sarria in good weather.

My taxi driver was female, and I enjoyed our 15 minute ride together. Somehow she understood my Spanish, and we had fun conversation.

Sarria is the 100k point from Santiago. If you start there you can receive the official credential for the pilgrimage. There seems to be a shift in the atmosphere; it’s a little more touristy. The menus posted outside the restaurants are in four languages with little flags of Britain, Germany and France.

It was as foggy as the Sunset district when I arrived in Sarria, and as I left. The Camino passes an elementary school, and it was fun to see kids being dropped off—such a big part of my life for so long. But this was 10 a.m. So that’s the secret to small children staying our at restaurants til late at night!

The Camino was magically green and ferny, with massive chestnut trees and oaks. It passed through farm after farm, with stone fences. It looked very British to me. I encountered shepherds guiding sheep, goats, and cows. The pungent smell of dung, and woodsmoke followed me all day. I felt light and energized.

I was able to let go if my worries and my fears, and be totally in the moment.

Tonight I’m staying at another Albergue, new and ultra-modern in design. I’m enjoying the Albergue life, hanging out my laundry, and gathering it in after dinner.

My iPhone refuses to take any more photos so I may have to switch to my camera for awhile.

Sometime today I passed a boundary where I really am going to get to Santiago, and probably earlier than I thought.

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Categories: Camino, October 2013, Uncategorized, Wisdom | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

The Inner Journey

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I’ve been on the move for almost two weeks. I’ve slept in bunk beds and nice hotels. Every morning I’m excited to start the next segment of the journey. I love seeing the yellow arrows pointing me onwards. The Camino has welcomed me back into its embrace.

What about the inner journey? What am I learning along the Way?

I’m a world class worrier. I’ve known that for a long time. But with hours along the Camino I can see more clearly how I seem to have a need to worry about something, no matter how insignificant. What if my pack isn’t delivered or gets lost? What if there’s no where to stay? (Somewhat irrelevant in October.)

I have a talent for seeing the glass as half-empty.

The Camino gently leads me towards the half-full view. Today I came into Samos drenched and coughing, and fell into a tiny coffee bar. The owner greeted me and guided me to a seat. She served me Caldo Gallego, which was made for this drizzly weather: garbonzo beans, peppers, and beef bones. After I finished I asked her how she made it, and she spent some time in the kitchen teaching me how to cook it.

Last night, after walking up, up, up the mountain in the driving rain, I attended Mass in a 9th Century church with people from all over the world and we stood in a circle around the altar as the priest presided in Spanish and English.

Just when I feel depleted, the Camino provides, and fills me with hope.

I’m still praying for clarity on where God is calling me when I return to the Bay Area. Maybe I’m being taught to trust.

For now, I’m heading out each day on the Camino, putting one foot in front of the other. Half an hour on the trail I find myself encountering joy.

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Categories: October 2013, Reflections, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Contemplative Day along a Trout stream and Super Highway

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Today’s walk led out of Villafranca into the mountains. Last night I heard the lovely sound of the rushing river below my window, and I walked along that river all day to my current location at the rather funky Municipal Albergue in Vega de Valcare.

It was overcast and foggy all day. The Camino paralleled the highway, and the river, and above us the super-highway soared on cement pylons and then dove into tunnels. Meanwhile, the pilgrims walked and the river burbled, as we have for centuries. The trout must have been swimming, too.

There were many signs along the steam that said something like “don’t do something with fish or death.” It took me a long time to figure out it meant, “catch and release fishing only.”

There were also signs next to fountains that said, “sanitation of water is not guaranteed.”

It was an easy walk today, and I found myself wondering what it had been like before the Camino was behind crash barriers next to the highway, and before the superhighway flew over both the Camino and the old highway.

The stream was there , and the Camino, and pilgrims. And the truchas, the trout.

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Categories: October 2013, Uncategorized | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Getting somewhere slowly

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Yesterday I walked more than 20k, from Ponferrada to Villafranca. I had my backpack transported, so I just had my daypack, and it was a lovely day to walk: clear and crisp.

The second half of the day was in the wine region of Bierzo. I’ll be sure to seek it out their wines now. The dark purple grapes hung in heavy clusters, and I sampled as I went. I have never tasted such delicious grapes! Sweet and intensely berry-like— the way the color purple should taste!

As usual, when I’ve gone over 15K, the last 5K were tough.

Villafranca’s topography reminds me a bit of Western Maryland or West Virginia, steep hills with villages along two swift-running rivers. There were several huge churches that I wanted to visit, but I was too tired to backtrack once I’d found the Hostal I’d reserved.

It feels like I’m moving very slowly, but I’m making steady progress. Tomorrow I go up the mountain to O Cebreiro, the Celtic capital of Galicia. There are thatched roofs and many similarities with Ireland, including the weather. It’s supposed to rain tomorrow like it does more often than not.

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Categories: October 2013, Uncategorized | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Ponferrada on the Day of Discovery

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Last night I stayed at another nice Albergue, in Molinaseca, Albergue Santa Marina. It was very new, spacious, and comfortable. 7E for a bed, 8E for 3 course pilgrim dinner, 3E for breakfast.

We had a snore-free night in our room of 15 pilgrims in our IKEA bunk beds. But at breakfast I heard from a German man how a female snorer in the other room kept everyone awake. He described how at another Albergue he tapped a particularly bad snorer repeatedly on the head with the tip of his trekking pole in the middle of the night to get them to stop. Remind me never to sleep in the same room with that guy!

It really is unheard of in the USA to sleep in the same room in bunk beds with 15 male and female strangers, let alone dress and undress together. You quickly learn to avert your eyes early in the morning and before bedtime. And to think about how modest you need to be.

In the middle of the night I find it unusually comforting to wake up and hear my fellow bunk mates breathing. My fellow human beings. It’s primal in a way, sleeping in one big room, something we share with the medieval pilgrim’s experience. We’re all in this journey to Santiago on our own, and together. We give up an element of our privacy to belong to the community of pilgrims along the Camino.

This morning I walked with a young woman from Hong Kong. She happened to be in the bunk next to me last night and we struck up a conversation.

This morning was cold walking into Ponferrada, and we talked about our journeys on the Camino, and our life journeys. It was fascinating to hear her firsthand perspective on the Peoples Republic of China.

What we shared was a love for the Camino experience, and the spiritual healing that we’ve found along the Way.

We parted at the Templars Castle, where she met a friend from Germany. I hope we see each other further on.

Tomorrow is a long walk, and the day after, too. As much as I’ve enjoyed the Albergue experience this week, I’m also enjoying having my own wee hotel room here in Ponferrada, at a new place called Hostel Nirvana. There’s a hair dryer! Which comes in handy when you need to speed up the drying process for your hand washing.

The Templar Castle in Ponferrada is a dead ringer for the Fisher Price toy castle our son played with endlessly. Fun to see the real thing.

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Categories: Camino, Conversations on the Camino, Favorite Albergues, October 2013, Spiritual Growth, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

What a beautiful day on the Camino.

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Last night I stayed in Foncebedon, a tiny village in the mountains after Astorga. Because I was concerned about my ankles, I decided to taxi up the hill to give myself another rest day but still make some progress. I enjoyed sitting in the front seat conversing (barely) with the taxi driver, who was a Bono lookalike. He very graciously stopped to check that my trekking poles indeed made it in the trunk.

I got to Foncebedon early and hung out all day. It’s a tumble-down village of slate stone. Lots of it has fallen down or is in the process of falling down. It reminded me of the song our son played on the cello from the Suzuki method: “Moon over the Ruined Castle.”

But there are 4 Albergues which are bringing the village back to life. I stayed in Monte Imago, run by a small group of yoga enthusiasts. Their shared paella dinner was fantastic. And there was a cozy vibe. I slept straight through the night and didn’t hear any snoring.

This morning I had my pack transported to Acebo, about 10k away, to be conservative on the mileage. It’s still a little unnerving to hit the trail and know that my pack is sitting there at the place I’ve just left. It’s a good illustration of faith.

The pack transport firm, Jacotrans,hasn’t let me down yet—I put 7E in the envelope and write a destination, and it magically shows up further down the Camino.

So off I went in the fog, towards Cruz de Ferro, one of the landmarks of the Camino. It’s a cross on a tall pole around which pilgrims have left stones and momentos that symbolize what they would like to leave behind on the Camino, or something in memory of loved ones. And many other things in between. People bring stones from home and other small items. The fog

was so thick I didn’t see the Cross until it was right in front of me. I left a stone and said a prayer, though, I confess, the Cruz de Ferro did not move me as much as I expected. It was right on the road, not as isolated as I had pictured it.

The fog and sun made for beautiful light the next few hours. It was totally silent and there was a timeless feeling—I would not have been surprised to see people in medieval garb or even fairies.

I got to Acebo early, and my pack was there, but I wasn’t ready to quit for the day. So I repacked everything in the main pack and went on, another 10k . Ankles are doing well, and I felt so energized by the scenery and the experience of walking today.

The last 5k to Molinoseca were tough—all downhill on rocky ground, but I felt confident about continuing on to Molinaseca..

I’ve picked up a bit of a Camino tribe: the Hungarian sisters, the Finnish woman, Austrslians, and the 70 something siblings are here at the Albergue. I’m getting to like bunk bed life—as long as I get the lower bunk.

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Categories: Camino, Favorite Albergues, October 2013, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

Astorga Sabbath

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Yesterday I took a serious rest day, not unlike a Sabbath.

I’ve been staying at Albergue San Javier a block from the cathedral, in a 300 year old house that’s been converted into an Albergue: two floors of bunk bed rooms, a downstairs common area with an open kitchen, sunken seating area, and a back courtyard with a balcony overlooking it from the second floor. Laundry hangs above the courtyard. The place feels homey.

After Camino 1.0 I am taking the rest thing seriously to keep the ankles happy. Staying “home” slowed me down enough to have conversations with fellow pilgrims from Korea, Spain, Finland, Hungary and Denmark. I went to the grocery store and bought eggs, cheese, good Spanish wine for 2E and made lunch in the kitchen. It’s was a nice break from coffee bar food. I sat in the sun and read, and had a restorative foot massage. In the evening, I had dinner in the kitchen with two sisters from Hungary. At 10:00 I climbed into my cozy lower bunk and slept 8 hours. Truly a Sabbath. Slowing down has brought me deeper in touch with my fellow pilgrims.

This morning I’m eating another omelette and sharing the rest of my groceries with other pilgrim cooks. It feels good to see the rest of the eggs get cooked, and leave the spaghetti for someone else to boil up another day, and to give back to the Camino.

I’m going on up the Camino towards the Cruz de Ferro today, after checking out the ancient hospital where St. Francis stayed on his Camino in 1212!

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Categories: Favorite Albergues, October 2013, Uncategorized, Wisdom | Tags: , | 3 Comments

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