Posts Tagged With: Camino conversations

In Sahagun

Tami and checked into a cute Hostal run by a French couple at the point where the  Camuno enters Sahagun. We both had our own rooms. I was ready for some privacy, and my own bathroom. The room was tiny, barely bigger than the two twin beds pushed together, but it was very cozy and looked out on the Camino. And it clear with a hairdryer.

My feet were killing me. So I lay down on the bed and elevated them, and caught up on the blog a bit.

I’d sent my daypack into a different Hostal that I’d picked out from the Brierley guide. After my feet felt better I went out to find it. No luck. So I went to find some lunch. Walked downhill deeper into Sahugun and there weren’t many places open. Lots and lots of “Se Vende” (For Sale) signs and boarded up shops. It was a reminder of how bad the economy still is in Spain.

At the bottom of the hill I ran into Bill and Aimee, whom I’d met atAlbergue Jacque de Molay. They were in search of lunch, too, and I joined them. Turns out they live in Santa Fe but are both from central Louisiana, where Hale is from. We had a great time sharing our stories and enjoying a notable lentil soup with chorizo that had the depth of flavor of a Gumbo. They raved about a place in Mexico called San Miguel de Allende as a place to learn Spanish.They go there all the time. I was struck by the synchronicity of meeting them and Nancy, who both had “CenLa” connections.

After lunch, I found the Hostal where I’d sent my daypack and regretted sending it there. The proprietor answered the doorbell and really wanted me to check in; he was desperate for business, but I had already checked in at the other place. I didn’t quite feel unsafe, but I was uncomfortable. It was another reminder to me how bad the economy remains in Spain.

I talked with the owners of my Hostal in the lobby about it. Clearly, it was the very beginning of the Pilgrim Season. I think there were only 3 people staying in their place that night. Our disjointed conversation in Spanish and English, with a French overlay (which I don’t  speak!) made me aware of how flexible people are on the Camino about communication. They’re comfortable using a kind of Esperanto of whatever language works, and aren’t afraid of trying something. I’d entered the zone where I was comfortable not understanding everything that was said. I seemed to understand enough, and know when to ask for clarification–or not–and that was ok. We don’t ever live in that space at home.

Sahagun was a little disappointing, a lot of the really old churches I wanted to visit were closed. But later that night I got together with Tami, and Andrew,from England.

We walked to the ruins of the 10thC Abbey, and Andrew was very knowledgeable about them.

Andrew and I had talked several days before about the psychological dimensions of saying hello and goodbye to so many people that you meet on the Camino. It gives you insight into how you make friends in real life. The same patterns apply on the Camino, but they’re amplified. Now that I’ve walked on the Camino three times, I realized that I was thankful when I met people and I shared contact info with some people, but I was able to appreciate them and let go. I did not need to be “with” a group or a buddy the whole time.

There was a difference, too, because I wasn’t going to Santiago. It gave me a somewhat unique perspective. Most pilgrims had to keep moving quickly to make time on the long haul across Spain. I was reminded of that when Tami and I entered Sahagun, where there’s a monument that marks the halfway point to Santiago.

I had moments of wishing I could continue further—the stretch past Leon to Molinaseca might be my favorite segment—but I was also thankful to be doing a shorter pilgrimage, and to be present to the charms of the Meseta.

Categories: April 2015, Santiago de Compostela | 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

A Mindful and Blustery Day


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.









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.



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

Ponferrada on the Day of Discovery


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.





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

Third day, with Senior moments


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.








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

Day #15

The Camino turns every town into your college campus; you walk into the central square and you see people you know. It’s the most wonderful feeling.

And there are always surprises. Today I walked around Burgos (slowly, because of my sore ankle) and as I descended the staircase by the Cathedral, I saw Taylor sitting in a cafe.

Taylor was the first person I met on the Camino, climbing up out of San Jean, in France. He is about Colby’s age, wears a straw cowboy hat, and has a prayer shawl, made by his mother, that he uses as a pillow. Sweet guy. I assumed he was way ahead of me with the other 20-somethings. He said he was slowing down to enjoy each place.

We compared notes about where we’d been, and he consulted his staff with the name of every night’s stop carved into it. That was new since I’d last seen him. It’s tempting to buy one of those wooden staves, but I love my trekking poles.

We caught up a bit more and then, instead of plopping down next to him at the table, I sensed that we both wanted to be alone, and said “Buen Camino”, knowing that we will most probably see each other again up ahead.


Categories: Camino, June 2013 | Tags: , , | 10 Comments


My Camino friend Monika finishes her Camino tomorrow and goes back to her work as a surgical nurse in the Cardiac unit at the University hospital in Vienna.

We met back at Orisson on June 5th, so I have known her two weeks. We’ve traveled together for the last week, walking for hours and sharing cheap hotel rooms and claiming neighboring bunks in albergues. I feel like I’ve known her for years.

That’s the way the Camino works. Like college or meeting fellow new parents, you bond with people quickly over a common challenging experience.

We’ve met the Camino in all its richness –cranking up hills, going down muddy ravines, searching for a yellow arrow when the path was unclear. And we’ve shared cafe con leches at all the village bars, explored every village church, and then headed back on the Camino, one step in front of the other. Along the Way, we’ve shared our life stories, bit by bit. We have had so much fun, being silly. I’ve laughed till my stomach hurt.

Monika has done the Camino before, and so, is knowledgable about the route ahead. But she is open to new adventures everyday.

She is a Wise Woman. She always says, “It will be ok,” and “we will see what happens.” Walking through the fields and forests of Spain she’s given me lessons in botany and bird watching. I love the way she draws diagrams in the dirt of the Camino with the point of her trekking pole to make a translation clearer.

Being a nurse, she’s very practical and decisive. Our differences in culture and language make it easier to say, “I’m doing this tonight,” and we do our own thing for the evening.

This morning we both had good news from home, and we celebrated together with a leisurely rainy day lunch.

Our lives at home are very different, but we are friends on the Camino, and, I hope, just plain friends.


Categories: Camino, June 2013 | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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