I realized that I’ve walked six days in a row, for a total of 126 kilometers! Yesterday, I walked 4 kilometers over my ideal of 20 a day, and my ankle started to hurt. I limped into San Juan de Ortega, an isolated Monastery. We were late getting there, and the “deluxe” accommodations were full. So we stayed in the very rustic Alburgue in the Monastery for 5E. I had wine and a late dinner with my English friends at the only bar in the hamlet and got back to the bunk room just in time for 10:00 lights out. At 2:30 I woke up to a symphony of snoring from all corners of the room. It was a measure of my relaxation these days that I found it funny (for an hour) and then it subsided, and I slept a bit. Then it revved up again between 4:00 and 6:00. The 8 French pilgrims (all my age) sharing the room with Monika and me, got up at 6:30 and the day began. I’m very happy to have taxied into Burgos after 5 kilometers, and to be staying at a hotel.
Hostel or Hostile?
By now, I’ve stayed at 11 different places on the Camino. Some places practice “transactional” hospitality. That is what we’re used to at home: you pay a fee and receive services, and its very business-like. I’ve shared a 30E hotel or private auberge room with my pilgrim friends, and its very predictable, and safe, with privacy
Then there are the “Pilgrim Pleasure Domes,” like Hotel Jackue in Puente la Reina. They built an Auberge in the basement of a hotel. It had dorm rooms and private rooms, and nice bathrooms, a communal kitchen, laundry machines, and all the amenities of the hotel: the bar, beer garden, masseuse, and a 13E Pilgrim dinner with good wine. Our group had a proper dinner party that night, and stayed up talking in the easy chairs.
I’ve also stayed at family run auberges, where the proprietor lives in the building and is front desk clerk, laundry person, and travel guide. The place in Los Arcos was one of those, and the place I’m staying tonight in Belorado. They are very friendly, carry your backpack upstairs for you, and have a genuine interest in the Camino. The guests are pilgrims, and there’s communal space arranged do people will talk. They’re often in funky, renovated spaces, and very charming.
Orisson was a fancy version. They could charge more because they were the only Auberge on the mountain. They served a communal meal, and asked us to introduce ourselves, which helped us get to know each other. That’s where I met so many pilgrim friends.
Then there are the true Auberges, run by the municipal government or an International Pilgrim Organization. They have a special brand of hospitality. The ones run by Pilgrim organizations have volunteers who come from all over the world to work for two weeks at a time as hospitaleros. They meet you at the front door with a warm welcome, and know what it’s like to be a pilgrim. My first encounter with one like this was at Roncevalles, after the epic walk over the mountains. I had a tough night sleeping with a snorer in the room and the hospitalero helped me move my mattress into the Common Room, where I could sleep. He also gave me the wise advice, “snoring is part of the Camino.”
I’ve been reflecting on all these kinds of hospitality along the Way, and how we can cultivate the warm hospitality of the hospitaleros a and the family run auberges at church. We are called to extend more than “transactional” hospitality, we’re called to be transformative agents of hospitality in Christ’s image. The Camino is teaching me so much, day by day.
Sounds of the Camino
Cowbells in the Pyrennes. BaaBaa of sheep. Snoring. Rustling of plastic bags in the morning. Tap, tap, tap, tap of trekking poles. Hiss of the espresso machine. Boots on gravel. Tap, tap, tap tap of trekking poles. Boots on cobblestones. Rain. Rushing streams. Boots in mud. Squish, squish. Hola! Buen Camino. Church bells from across the fields. Cuckoo! Cuckoo! In the woods. Kids playing in the square. Church bells ringing for evening Mass. Tinkling of wine glasses. Buen Camino! Rustling of plastic bags. Snoring. Buen Camino,Buen Camino.
Finding my Own Camino
My Camino began when I walked up the hill from St. Jean Pied-de-Port. The hike began, and so did the relationship with the physical journey as well as the relationships with my fellow Peregrinos.
Those first few days I really pushed myself physically, and it was exhilarating. As the second week began, I learned that I need to find my own pace, and claim my own Camino. My body was screaming “slow down!” with blisters, rashes, and dehydration. I found I wanted more time to explore the towns, and the sites along the Way.
At Los Arcos, I had a conversation with Joseph, the owner of the auberge, in my broken Spanish, and he said, “You have to walk your OWN Camino.” He’s right, of course. It’s easy to follow the stages in the guidebook and to move with the pack.
Every day on the Camino is full of learning. On Day 10, I feel that I’m on the way to finding my own Camino.
Living out of a 36 liter pack is both liberating and difficult. I love the freedom of carrying everything on my back. Thanks to Andrea and Lydia , my belongings are really pared down. But with toiletries, rain gear, sleeping bag, and 2 liters of water, it’s still a bit heavy for me day after day.
Everyone packs their backpack with ziplock bags of stuff: toiletries, etc, and one of the cliches of the Camino is being woken at the auberge in the early morning by someone wearing a headlamp rustling plastic bags as they pack their backpack for the next day’s hike.
My backpack contains everything I own for the moment, and I’m constantly impersonating that guy in the cliche: dumping out everything onto the bed and finding whatever I need, and then repacking it for the next day. In the process, I do my share of rustling through ziplock bags.
At Trinity we had a homeless parishioner named Joyce, who came early every week and repacked her bags in the safety and good light of Trinity Hall.
I feel a new sympathy with Joyce now. As a Peregrina, I’m on the move every night, and my pack holds everything I own. And I’m constantly repacking it and editing what’s in it.
Of course I’m privileged to have a bank account, and a home to return to. I’m grateful to have the experience of both traveling light and being deeply rooted at home. And for my mental health. Joyce, tonight I salute you, and pray for you.
I’m taking a break from the Camino gang tonight and sitting by myself on the Plaza in Najera. It’s not a typical plaza next to the town church, it’s along the sparkling river. But it’s 7:45 and the space is filled with people of all ages eating tapas, visiting, and drinking beer and wine. There are lots of families here, too, gathered with friends, and the kids have full reign of the space, riding scooters, practicing soccer moves, and chasing each other. It’s wonderful. Every night along the Camino I’ve seen the same thing. People go home in the afternoon for siesta time, and then reemerge (and businesses reopen) at 7:00. They seem to enjoy this communal time together. It reminds me of coffee hour at Trinity, when the kids climb the tree and race around the courtyard. Spain seems to have a wonderful sense of community.
Night in Los Arcos
I loved my day hanging out in Los Arcos yesterday—experiencing the fabulous church, sitting at the cafe in the town square for lunch and later, dinner with pilgrim friends. Gina, Caroline and I stayed at a cute auberge, and splurged on the more private rooms. They shared,and I had my own room at the top. The ceiling has the original heavy wooden beams. When I went to bed at 10:00 or so, I heard what sounded like a married couple arguing in Spanish. I rolled over, wondered where it could be coming from, next door? How? The building was stone. It didn’t sound like an auberge encounter. The whole place was close for the night. I feel asleep. At about 3 I heard a woman crying out in Spanish and screaming! I was still half asleep, and wondered what the heck?? In the morning I commented to Gina and Caroline about it. Only Gina heard any of it. She thought it was on my floor above her. The Irish woman on my floor heard nothing. As we discussed it on the trail today I realized how strange it was.
The Aubergue was in a building that had to be 300 years old. Who had lived there in all that time? Certainly, many, many people with lives I would never know. Were the voices I heard echoes of another time, of energy held within those walls? I’ll never know. I do know that Spain has an ancient and passionate soul. The voices were not scary. I slept well and felt comfortable in the room. They were human and very real. It was yet another lesson in the mysterious quality of Spain.
Church in Los Arcos
The countryside is punctuated with ancient churches. Today my pilgrim buddy, Caroline and I bussed to Los Arcos from Estella, to give our bodies a break. (20 minutes to cover 22 kilometers vs. about 5 hours at my good pace. We walked into the church, which looked semi-impressive on the outside, and my jaw dropped. Overwhelmingly beautiful. Cloisters attached. Sometimes Spain just brings tears to my eyes. We’re going there for pilgrim Mass this evening, and another pilgrim blessing. There’s St. James again!
Reflections from Day#6
Today was day six of the pilgrimage. It feels like much longer, in a positive way: the experience has been so rich. I have entered a new community, of pilgrims, and a new country with its language and culture. It’s been physically challenging, and spiritually rich.
Yesterday we walked 24 kilometers in the mud, mostly, after an adrenaline filled day walking in the rain leaving Pamplona. I walked both days with Caroline from Chicago. She is having her pack transported each day, and walking with her daypack. She has a slow and steady pace, and we stopped to smell the beautiful roses along the way. Her friend from Chicago, Gina, is an athlete, and walks very fast. I kept to her pace between Roncevalles and Zubiri. They are both wonderful women and I’ve shared 2 hotel rooms with them, and had such a fun time. Yesterday, I hit some physical wall: felt weepy in the afternoon, and realized that I had not drunk enough water, and my camelback was dry. We didn’t have snacks with us. My legs were rashy. Basically didn’t feel too good after the first 15 kilometers. An older German lady was walking behind us and said, “are you ok?” I said, “I’m not sure,” and she opened her pack and gave me some of her water. Then she said, “I am a healer, come here.” She put her hands near me and told me to visualize my feet and legs becoming better. We conversed a little–I don’t speak German and she doesn’t speak much English–but we understood each other in the way that Pilgrims seem to along the Camino. Caroline took a photo of the two of us.