Conversations on the Camino

Reliegos

New Albergue in Religios

New Albergue in Religios

In the post, “Signs of New Life,” I wrote about the insights that arose for me as I walked and rested along the Camino from El Burgo Ranero to Reliegos. Because my foot was hurting, I had to go slowly, and that made be more open to the Spirit.  Here’s a little more about the end of that day, and my next day of walking to Mansilla de las Mulas.

The new albergue where I’d sent my daypack was at the entrance to Reliegos, and I was relieved to see it come up so quickly because I was limping.  It was only about 2:00, early to stop, but it felt like the right thing to do. I had the whole place to myself. The beds were all regular beds, not bunk beds, and there were plugs next to every bed!   I asked for some ice at the bar, and went back upstairs to ice and elevate my foot. The bedroom was a nice spare place to relax and stretch out.

Bar Elvis in all its glory

Bar Elvis in all its glory

Then I did some laundry, hung it out to dry, and walked a little farther into Religos to see if Bar Elvis was open. It was one of those famous Camino spots and it was briefly featured in the movie, “The Way.”  Of course, it was closed for siesta time, so I didn’t go in.  The graffiti all over the outside was wonderful, though. I really liked this advice:

Good Advice for Life

Good Advice for Life

 

When I got back to the albergue,  a friendly young Peregrina arrived and claimed another bed.  Her name was Alice, from South Africa. She was a divinity student at Oxford!  Alice had just started her Camino in Sahagun, so this was her first night on the Camino. We became acquainted over dinner.  She was so smart and wise beyond her years.   We were the only ones in the dining room, and half way through dinner, I noticed that I was bending her ear.  I must have been feeling a little isolated not having talked to a native English speaker for several days.   Among other things, we talked about our call to ministry and her experience as a female divinity student at Oxford.

When I told her about my sore foot, she said, “why don’t you send your big pack tomorrow, and give yourself a Sabbath?”  She said it with such disarming kindness that I found myself saying, “Yes, I’ll do that!”

An Italian guy showed up later that evening and took another bed across the room.  We greeted each other and got into our sleeping bags, said “good-night.”  Once again I was thankful for the company of pilgrims, and for the trust we had in each other.  It was one of the best sleeps of the trip.

Big Sky heading towards Mansilla de las Mulas

Big Sky heading towards Mansilla de las Mulas

The next morning I followed Alice’s advice and left my big backpack in the vestibule for Jacotrans to pick up, and just carried my daypack.  We walked together to the end of the village.  I was limping, and she was full of energy and ready to conquer the world. I wanted to walk with her but she was way faster than I was.  So we said good-bye.  She was headed to Leon and the mountains beyond, without a poncho or a coat.  I hushed myself and refrained from going into “Mom” mode.  She could take care of herself.  I was glad to have met her. She was someone truly called to ministry.

Trees along the Camino

Trees along the Camino

Later that morning when I stopped to rest, and picked up my daypack to put it on again, I was shocked by how light it was.  I felt like I was floating down the Camino!  What was going on?   I felt like a great burden had been lifted off my shoulders.  It had, of course; the extra 15 lbs. were with Jacotrans.  But there was something more to it.  Alice giving me permission to leave the heavy pack behind was rather profound.  It’s what I needed to hear.  It was an absolution.

Like the day before, when everything in the landscape seemed to speak to me of God’s presence, that slow 6 kilometers to Mansilla de las Mulas carrying just the daypack spoke to me of God’s forgiveness, and how light it feels to live without the baggage I usually carry around.  I walked slowly and with joy to Mansilla de las Mulas.  Thanks be to God, and bless you, dear Alice!

La Virgen Peregrina

La Virgen Peregrina

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Categories: April 2015, Conversations on the Camino, Favorite Albergues, Return to Camino, Spirituality | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Thin Places” on the Camino; a Reflection on Halloween, All Saints & All Souls

Grave along the Camino

Grave along the Camino

I love the convergence of Halloween, All Saints and All Souls this time of year, as summer moves into fall, and the days grow shorter.

Walking alone through ancient forests in Galicia

Walking alone through ancient forests in Galicia.

The Celtic tradition considers this sequence of days a “thin place” where the veil between our everyday world and the world of the divine becomes more permeable.

When I returned to the Camino in October of 2013, I found that much of my journey was a series of thin places. Over and over, I was touched by the beauty of nature, history, art, and fellow pilgrims.  And I had several mysterious encounters that brought me close to loved ones who had died.

Once when I was hanging out at the the Albergue in Astorga, I saw a Scandinavian man about my age check into the albergue.

He seemed familiar, but I knew I hadn’t met him before.  Then it dawned on me that he looked just like my Swedish cousin who had died in his thirties, many years ago.  If he had lived into his 50’s he would look a lot like my fellow pilgrim at the Albergue contemplating chess moves by himself at the large chessboard in the common room. It was as if a door opened in my heart that I had shut a long time ago. I realized that I had not thought of my him for many years.  Seeing his “double,” made me remember him with fondness, and say a prayer for him.

Another day I noticed that the pilgrim walking with me reminded me of someone but I couldn’t quite put my finger on who it was.  We were having so much fun walking and talking that I forgot about the hunch for the rest of the day.  She was funny, forthright, and down to earth. She made me laugh at myself in a “cut the bullshit” kind of way. Later on, I made the connection.  She reminded me of my in-law who was about my age when she passed away from a swift-moving cancer.

She and I had never made enough time to see each other.  I had regrets about that now.  But somehow spending the day with my new Camino friend was like having some of that unstructured time I’d missed with her. It was a healing experience.

In 1996 my brother, my only sibling, died at 35 under sad circumstances.  By the time he died, we had not seen each other for a long time, and I had many regrets about our estrangement.  Could I have been a better sister? Could we have helped him find his way through addiction and mental illness?

Tom Petty lyrics on the outskirts of Santiago

Tom Petty lyrics on the outskirts of Santiago

Along the second half of the Camino someone had written Tom Petty lyrics on the backs of traffic signs and mileage markers.  Every time I came upon one of these signs I laughed because it was so random:  Tom Petty on Spanish traffic signs! Then I remembered that my brother had been a big Tom Petty fan, and he would have laughed with me.

Seeing those Tom Petty lyrics gave me an unexpected positive memory of my brother as an adult.  We didn’t have many of them, and, I realized that some of that had been my fault.  I remembered him in a negative way.

As I  walked alone and laughed about the randomness of the Tom Petty lyrics, I felt a sense of comfort surround my troubled relationship with my brother.  We had a laugh together that seemed to heal a long held grudge against him that was so tough to live with.  I had wanted to let go of it, but I didn’t know how to.

This was one of the grace-filled moments of the Camino.  I felt like my brother was reaching out to me through those silly signs, making me laugh, and that he wanted me to know that he had forgiven me. It makes me cry to think about it again.

These experiences of “thin places” along the Camino were full of tears, and it felt good to cry.  I cried as I walked, and cried some more, and as the tears flowed, I felt lighter and freer. I sometimes wondered why I was crying: Perhaps I had not really grieved for these dear people in my life? I think that was part of it.  Our culture doesn’t honor grief; we just soldier on.

It’s funny, but The Camino requires soldiering on, too.  It’s hard to walk that far everyday and one of the mysteries of walking day after day is that hard physical work allowed some hard emotional and spiritual work to happen at the same time. Maybe my sedentary life had locked in those emotions?  The body must hold difficult memories and emotions.  I do believe that now.

The unexpected tears were also tears of joy and awe. I remembered each of these beautiful people as I walked the meditative rhythm of the Camino.  I felt tears of thankfulness and joy and felt the grace of forgiveness and God’s love surrounding us in beauty and mystery.

All along the Camino I saw my loved one’s reflection in my fellow pilgrims, and our common humanity.  I understood in an almost visceral way that, just beyond this “thin place,”our loved ones are alive in the Lord, and that we are all members of the “Communion of Saints.”

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

Landfall at the 12:00 Pilgrim’s Mass

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Friday morning I woke up in my “garret SRO” room and knew I had to move house. My pack and boots were still sopping wet and they told me at the reception desk that the heat was off until November 1st. OK.

I went on Booking.com, then went out in the neighborhood looking for the hotels on the site. I asked a jewelry store owner for directions and she suggested a hotel a little further on. They were super friendly when I arrived, more like my favorite albergues, and they have radiators that are in use!

After checking in with all my wet worldly goods, I headed back to the Cathedral where I planned to spend most of the day: the 12:00 mass, (the Butafumiero, the giant incense burner, was scheduled to swing) and then the museum and roof tour. I still felt keyed up.

At 11:30 I was fortunate to find a seat on the aisle in the transept, and waited for the 12:00 Pilgrim’s Mass to begin.

The Butafumiero is a giant incense burner made of silver that hangs from a rope attached to a pulley system above the altar. It takes a crew of men to make the Butafumiero fly. You can see the knot of ropes attached to a pillar at the crossing when it is set up for the Mass.

I felt regret that I had not arrived right then, before the Mass, like many people around sitting near me. One of my tasks of the journey is to let go of regrets, and be less hard on myself for things, for not doing things perfectly. I let it go. Like the rest of the journey, this was my Camino, with twists and particularity. It was ok.

A nun led us in singing the responses before the Mass began. There were announcements in multiple languages for silence, and that NO PHOTOS or MOBILE use during the service.

The Mass began, all in Spanish of course, but I found, through familiarity with the liturgy, and perhaps a new comprehension of Spanish that I understood a lot of it.

There was a familiar and touching moment when one of the priests moved into place to read the Gospel and he was pulled back by another priest to allow a Deacon to proclaim it. At that moment, I wanted to be with them, at the altar. But I let that thought go, too, because it felt like I was where I was supposed to be, receiving.

Then there was a Sermon. A real 20 minute sermon! And I swear I understood most of it. It was about the power of the Camino to transform us into the image of Christ. He is not an idea in our heads we’re supposed to “believe” in, but a person who is there with us. The trials and joys, the friendships of the Camino are a metaphor for life. Through them we can know Christ.

St. James knew Jesus and took the Gospel here to Galicia, and we are called to take the message back into our lives.

At the end of your Camino here in Santiago you may take home souvenirs, but the the most important one is being closer to Christ.

I looked around and noticed that I saw at least 6 or 7 people I’d walked with. Tears. People in flip flops and sandals with socks. Pilgrims. Were here together in Santiago. More tears.

At that moment, I arrived.

I felt such weepy joy shuffling shoulder to shoulder with the crowds of pilgrims to receive Communion.

I have never seen a church, let alone a cathedral, so full. It was standing room only. Like an unwashed Easter.

After the Blessing, the Butafumiero crew came out in their maroon cassocks and untied the massive ropes, and it was lowered so the incense and coals could go in. Then the “captain” of the crew signaled for it to go up above his head, he grasped the bottom of it and gave it a mighty swing towards us.

The men yanked the rope down and up, and it began to fly higher and higher over our heads and then back across the other side of the transept. Each time it swung away from us I could see the red hot coals glowing through the slots in its side. It almost touched the ceiling above my head!

Joy, pure joy, awe, amazement. So this is why I came. Not to see this spectacle, but to feel this warm opening in my heart, and the Spirit moving among the people, and within me, such love.

Of course, the crowd (me, too) whipped out their phones and took photos, but that seemed authentic to our time, as much as the extreme stinkiness (which was the origin of the Burafumiero) of our medieval friends must have been. Like them, we’re a little uncouth and worn around the edges. And that’s one of the fruits of the Camino. We’re more real.

The Butafumiero took its last pendulum swing and the “captain” caught it, and pivoted around with it on his heel, a fine Spanish flourish, like he was the Matador and the incense burner was the bull. Massive waves of applause!

As the baroque organ played, we began to move, waves of people, towards the opposite side door on the Plaza de Quintana.

Suddenly I saw Lisa and Harold, from Quebec! Lisa and fell into each other’s arms and sobbed. She was someone who I’d talked with for hours on the Camino, very quiet and unassuming, from a tiny town in Quebec.

She said, “so this is what it’s all about, at the end of our lives it’s going to be like this, it’s all going to make sense, our crazy lives, and it will be so beautiful!!”

Yes. It will.

We met Eric and Vi, from Bristol, Linda from Hong Kong, and her Austrian friend, on the Plaza, and found a “free buffet” of 9e for a spontaneous lunch. And there was a salad bar and broccoli!

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Categories: Camino, Cathedral de Santiago de Compostella, Conversations on the Camino, October 2013, Pilgrim's Mass, Santiago de Compostela, Spirituality, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Mindful and Blustery Day

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This morning in Castenada, it was pouring. At the bar where I had desayuno, the TV news showed flooded streets in Santiago. It’s supposed to be the first big storm of autumn. So I hung out for an extra hour at the bar in hopes that there would be a break in the storm.

Right then I saw on the Spanish news that there’d been another mass shooting at a school in Nevada. The bar person asked if I was American, and shook her head. It was one of those moments when you see your own country from an outside perspective.

That’s when Walter walked in. He sat down at my table and we began talking. He’s from Tasmania, and has traveled all over the world. He’s about my age. There were the usual questions, “when and where did you start the Camino?” and then he told me how his friend in Tasmania had just been diagnosed with cancer, and began to cry.

We bonded over how the Camino has made us cry every day, for seemingly no reason.

Sometimes at random moments it’s clear to me that we’re walking a path that people have walked for 1,000 years. People have suffered and loved and left something of themselves along the Way. And I can feel their vibrations sometimes, it’s a mysterious thing. And also, the Camino brings you to heartbreakingly beautiful places you would never see otherwise. And you meet people from all over the world.

I think all the exercise and the new people you meet break down your defences, too. The whole experience is cathartic.

The sun broke through briefly around 9:30, and we began to walk. He’d told me he had diabetes, and then said he also had cystic fibrosis, and was very long-lived for having the disease. He periodically had to stop and cough, which was difficult to witness.

We ended up walking most of the day together.

It was a mindful day for me, where I wanted to walk alone some of the time and process where I am at this point on the pilgrimage.

In many ways, he was just the right companion. The fact that he was walking the Camino was inspiring, and he had many life insights from his living with CF and doing amazing things like climbing mountains in Borneo, being a guide in Australia, long-distance biking.

Somehow there were enough periods of sun that I didn’t get too wet, and there also were times of blasting wind, thunder, and downpours. I put my rain gear on and off about 15 times during the day.

The Camino led us mostly through a canopy of ancient trees that met over the top of the trail, provided shelter. It was like a long, long nave in a way.

A couple of times we looked back and saw clusters of big box stores and the highway–but on the Camino we were in a protected, timeless tunnel of green.

Walter continued on past the Albergue I’d reserved. I hope to see him in Santiago.

Tonight I’m staying at an Albergue/hotel combination and I’m sharing a room with a Hungarian woman. It reminds me of my week sharing rooms with Monika.

My hair is like a fright wig, I’m sick of my clothes, and I’m treasuring this night of sitting in the bar trading pilgrim tales with Irish folk, and South Africans.

A good day. I’m glad I have one more day to walk slowly and take my time. I’m not quite ready for this epic journey by foot to end.

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Categories: Camino, Conversations on the Camino, October 2013, Spiritual Growth, Spirituality, Wisdom | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 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

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

Third day, with Senior moments

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Last night’s Albergue San Miguel was a real find. They had art supplies available to guests so you could draw or paint, and the walls were hung with pilgrim artwork.

In the evening, I visited with three French guys about my age in the garden, and then we went out to dinner. Only one of them, Jean-Paul, spoke English, and he began his Camino from his home in LeMans! He’s walked 1,000 kilometers. The other guys were from the South of France and the West. I was supposed to hear their three different accents, but couldn’t really hear them. They left very early and were off to do 40 kilometers today!

The sun comes up at 8:15 this time of year, and I waited to leave until then so I could see. It was 41 degrees F , and my two wool layers were just right until the sun warms up.

Walking out of town, I met a guy who grew up in Danville, and then ended up walking mostly alone today. I’m enjoying the solitude, and listened to my epic playlist.

Today the Camino wound through hills and fields, and the light was golden. The countryside reminded me of the Contra Costa county hills with a little Sonoma County thrown in.

Then out in the middle of nowhere, we came to a concession stand where everything was free. There was an encampment near it with a real hippie vibe, like Isla Vista, in the 70’s.

Soon after, there’s a giant cross and a view of all Astorga spread below, with its Cathedral—kind of a mini-Santiago moment. A path appeared from the left, and some pilgrims approached. Turns out they were on the Via de la Plata, one of the other Camino routes that merges here in Astorga, with my route, the Camino Frances.

In short succession, I had a series of encounters with senior citizens.

A guy was playing Flamenco guitar with a donation box right there overlooking the view. I gave him some change and he asked if I was German or Dutch. When I said I was from Los Estados Unidos, he asked if I had a dollar. Turns out, I did bring a couple of dollars and gave him one. He was very pleased.

Just down the road there were three people of mature age sitting on a bench. “Buenos Dias, Peregrina!” It occurred to me that they came there for entertainment, since there’s a constant stream of pilgrims coming down the road. They interviewed me and it was fun to converse a little in Espanol. They did not like the fact that I was traveling solo. I told them my Mother doesn’t like it either.

Not five minutes later I had another conversation with someone of my parents’ generation, in a coffee bar. Jose was a native of the neighborhood and grilled me about where I lived, and where I’d walked. The guy behind the bar rolled his eyes a bit, it must be a regular thing.

Made it to the Albergue and I’m relaxing on my lower bunk, trying to decide my strategy tomorrow. It’s my first bunk bed experience of the trip. So far, I’ve had single rooms, which are still a good deal in the albergues.

Wish me luck with sleeping tonight.

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Categories: Camino, Conversations on the Camino, October 2013 | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

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