Posts Tagged With: End of Camino

My last day of walking the Camino: The Long Story

Setting out on my last day walking the Camino from Mansilla de las Mulas.

Setting out on my last day walking the Camino from Mansilla de las Mulas.

I walked the Camino Frances in three trips. Camino 1.0 was from St. Jean-Pied-de-Port to Burgos, in June, 2013. Camino 2.0 was from Leon to Santiago, in October 2013. That left the section in the middle from Burgos to Leon for my Camino 3.0, in April, 2015.

That’s the short story of why I was walking into Leon on April 19th, 2015.

After 10 days of walking from Burgos,  I was in Mansillas de las Mulas, only 18 kilometers away from Leon. Here’s the long story of what that day was like.

The night before I walked into Leon I was seriously thinking of taking a taxi because one of my ankles was hurting and when I talked with my husband on the phone, it seemed like the logical thing to do. The walk into Leon was known to be tedious, and lots of pilgrims bussed through it. When I began my second Camino, in October 2013, from Leon, I took a taxi out past the suburbs, and I didn’t regret it.

But when I got up the next morning to head out from Mansilla de los Mulas towards Leon, I felt I needed to walk at least part of the way. I decided I’d see how I felt as the day unfolded.

I had mixed feelings about finishing my Camino 3.0, and finishing the whole Camino in general.

Sign just outside Mansilla de las Mulas

Sign just outside Mansilla de las Mulas

The April trip was empowering. I totally enjoyed the walking, the solitude, and the conversations along the way. Every day I felt physically challenged and spiritually fulfilled. The Camino was as magical as it had been before. Each of my three trips had its own flavor, its own season (summer, fall, and now spring) and each trip took me deeper into the spirituality of walking solo. Camino 3.0, across the Meseta, had been more contemplative than the other two trips, more like a retreat.

There was something very attractive about the sureness of following the yellow arrows on the Camino.  But now the adventure was about to end, and I found myself feeling of sad and wrestling with the feelings of “what’s next?”  I didn’t want Camino 3.0 to end.

When I was a kid I had the habit of saying, “Oh, it doesn’t matter.” My Mom used to respond with, “No, everything matters,” which would make me angry. I realize now that I used to say “It doesn’t matter,”  when I couldn’t express my feelings very well, and that my Mom said “No, everything matters,” to help me.  But she didn’t quite know how to get me to open up and share what was going on inside.  As an adult, and a Mom myself, I realized how frustrating it must have been for her to try and help me process my feelings.

I still struggle with that feeling of emotional ambiguity as an adult, and I was in one of those frustrating “Oh it doesn’t matter” kind of moods as I left Mansilla de las Mulas, and I spent a lot of the day debating whether I should call a taxi or not.

Even on the last day of walking, the Camino had something to teach me.

In the morning, I prayed for strong ankles, and to be open to what the Spirit wanted me to learn. I ate a late breakfast at my beautiful little hotel in Mansilla de las Mulas with the group of Irish women walking together I’d met the night before.

Javier saying

Javier saying “Buen Camino!”

Javier, the owner of the hotel, said “Buen Camino,” and waved me onto the Camino.   He was one of the many gems of hospitality I’d met along the Way.

The 18 kilometers to Leon were not scenic, or beautifully empty, like the Meseta. But there were memorable moments.

Hill fort where the ancient Asturians lost their battle against the Romans.

Hill fort where the ancient Asturians lost their last battle with the Romans.

There was the hill fort at kilometer 3 where the ancient Asturians lost their struggle with the Romans. Right in front of it was a gas station.  I love the juxtapositions of eras along the Camino!  There was a long, medieval bridge at kilometer 6 that was still used by cars. A modern pedestrian bridge had been built alongside it for the pilgrim traffic.

The 20 span Puente Ingente over rio Moro

The 20 span Puente Ingente over rio Moro

I ducked into a village church in Villamorros in the middle of a Mass, and was happy to see a young girl assisting the priest at the altar.  At about kilometer 9, my left ankle began to hurt again. It was midday, and it was hot for April. The Camino was shunted under highway overpasses, and ran next to junkyards.

The Camino meets billboards for the Macy's of Spain

The Camino meets billboards for the Macy’s of Spain

Junkyard Dog outside of Leon

Junkyard Dog outside of Leon

That was the low point.  For the first time since I’d left home, I wondered about how safe it was to be walking alone. Why was I doing this again?

The guidebook said there was an albergue and café just up ahead in Arcahueja. Maybe that’s where I would call my taxi.  When I got to the cafe, I found the five nice Irish women I’d met in Mansilla hanging out. They looked pretty out of sorts, too. We said, “hello” and complained a little about the heat.

Cafe/Bar La Torre in Arcahueja

Cafe/Bar La Torre in Arcahueja

I asked the bartender how far it was to Leon. He said it was only 11K, and “there’s a beautiful view of the city just up ahead.” (I’m sure he tells everyone that!) I asked if a bus stopped in the village or if they had a taxi. “No” he said. Hmmm.

I ordered a slice of tortilla, two deviled eggs, and a café con leche. What should I do? I felt bone tired and was so tempted to call a taxi. My food arrived, and I realized I was ravenous.

Once the protein in the eggs and the tortilla  kicked in, it became clear to me that I really needed to walk the entire way into Leon, and make Camino 3.0 a Cathedral to Cathedral affair.  As my Mom would have said, “it mattered.”

Once I finally got clarity, I felt the need for some encouragement to make it into Leon.

I had an idea. I turned on my phone and checked into the American Pilgrims on the Camino Facebook page. It was 4 a.m. in California, and 7:00 a.m. on the East Coast. Someone must be up and reading the page. I posted that I was 11 K out of Leon and was tempted to take a taxi, and needed some support. I posted it on this blog, too.

Immediately, waves of energy started rolling into that little café in Arcahueja through my iPhone! “You can do it! Don’t quit! Feel the burn!” Over a hundred people responded, cheered me on, and sent prayers via the APOC Facebook page. My brother-in-law in Washington, D.C. saw the post on the blog and gave me a big PUSH.

The Camino taught me—again—that sharing my feelings and asking for support is ok. Feeling vulnerable is ok. It’s usually in those moments when God reaches through our stoic armor and touches us.  My unspoken prayers during my morning’s walk were answered.

I said “Buen Camino” to the Irish crew and headed back out on the Camino, now excited to continue. The guy behind the bar had exaggerated just a little though; it was a long time before I saw the view of Leon.

The last hill before I could see the city of Leon

The last hill before I could see the city of Leon

I passed big box stores, and auto dealerships, and medieval churches with storks nesting on top of them.

The funny thing was, my ankle stopped hurting completely. It was amazing.  I picked up the pace.  There seemed to be very few other pilgrims walking that afternoon.

The Camino crossed the Autovia (freeway) on a dedicated pedestrian bridge, and the amount of concrete and apartment buildings reminded me of my long walk into Santiago in the rain, in October of 2013. But weather was good, and I was very thankful.

Out in the distance I could see the Cathedral in Leon, with the snowy mountains behind it. How I wished I could keep walking on to Astorga and beyond. It was a new experience to know what was up ahead on the Camino. That’s when I knew that I had almost finished the whole Camino Frances.

Cathedral at last, but still a long ways off.

The Cathedral in view at last, but still a long ways off.

Walking from the bar in Arcahueja to the Cathedral took about two hours of brisk walking. I felt great, aligned in my purpose. The feelings of sadness about finishing were still there, but I didn’t blow them off by calling a taxi. I walked and felt sadness and joy, and was determined to finish strong.

Once past the newer parts of Leon, passing apartment blocks and crossing roundabouts, The Camino bridged a small stream and led me through the ancient city walls.

It continued into a tangle of medieval streets and spit me out on the grand avenue in front of the building designed by Gaudi. Suddenly, I knew where I was. The Cathedral was just up ahead. And then I was standing in front of it, looking up at its fantastic exterior.

Approaching the Cathedral

Approaching the Cathedral

It was nearly 4:00 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon, and the doors were closed for Siesta.

When the adrenalin subsided, the sad feelings welled up again. No one was there to celebrate my arrival, and I had a wave of homesickness. But Mary was there, up on her pedestal outside, by the locked doors, holding baby Jesus in her arms, and she was smiling.

Mary holding Christ

Mary holding Christ

Thank you for being there, Mary.

Mary greeted me, and sent me off to my hotel to check in and relax. I was grateful for the lessons I’d learned that day. I wasn’t really alone. The Spirit was with me, and I felt blessed by the wave of energy and love from my fellow Pilgrims back in the States that had swept me on, to finish Camino 3.0, and the entire Camino.  Amen.

Categories: April 2015, Camino de Santiago, Leon, Pilgrimage | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Mansilla de las Mulas

My 6 kilometer walk from Reliegos to Mansilla de las Mulas didn’t take very long, even with a limp. It was perfect walking weather:  cool with a breeze, and big, fluffy white clouds sailed in a blue, blue sky.

Almost to Mansilla de las Mulas

Almost to Mansilla de las Mulas

Out in the country I saw this fire burning unattended. It was such an unusual sight for this urban Californian, I had to take a photo.  Way in the background you can see a little fringe of snow on the mountains.

Fire burning in a field, en route to Mansilla de las Mulas

Fire burning in a field, en route to Mansilla de las Mulas

Mansilla still had its medieval walls, and it seemed like it had walled itself off from the 21st century.  The stores on the Plaza Mayor sold fabric and craft supplies, children’s clothing, and toys.  All of them had dusty windows and were closed for siesta. I’m amazed how Spain is largely unspoiled by chain stores or fast food restaurants. Not a Starbucks in sight outside of Madrid!

Tired PIlgrims statue in Mansilla de las Mulas

Tired PIlgrims statue in Mansilla de las Mulas

My friend Nancy had recommended a place to stay in Mansilla called Albergeria del Camino.  I’d sent my big pack there from Reliegos that morning. It turned out to be a cute little hotel with just four rooms.   When I walked in the entryway the owner said, “oh you’re the one who belongs to this pack! I didn’t have a reservation for you, but I have one room left!”  He showed it to me and it was so cozy!  He said, “this is the best bed on the Camino!” It was the Spanish version of a Tempurpedic!  I couldn’t resist.   After a soak in my own tub, and blow-drying my hair for the first time in several days, I went downstairs for a late lunch.  The Ensalada Mixta was a cut above the usual pilgrim menu.  I had definitely kicked it up a notch by staying at the Albergeria.

Fancy Ensalada Mixta

Fancy Ensalada Mixta

Javier, the owner, recommended I visit the Provincial Ethnographic Museum of Leon about five minutes across town after lunch.  Wow!  What a fantastic place!  I wish it had more presence on the web so I could post some links.  It was a Smithsonian quality museum about the history and culture of the people of the Province of Leon placed in a former Monastery.  It had three floors of exhibits of all eras of history going back to before the Romans.  Fashion, furniture, photographs, jewelry, traditional farm equipment, looms, spinning wheels, and other artifacts were all arranged by century and theme.

IMG_5839Visiting the museum was just the right thing to do that afternoon. I’d fallen in love with Spain and I wanted to understand it better.  So many times I’d wondered, “What did this place look like before it began to crumble?  What did the people wear 100 years ago?  What is the terrain like a little off the Camino? What is that mountain range? I wonder what happened here during the Civil War?”   That afternoon in the museum helped me integrate something of what I’d learned and observed along the Camino. And lots of the exhibits were in English.

I wandered back to the hotel taking my time.  It was a luxurious feeling to not be in a hurry. Perhaps that was one of the themes of Camino 3.0.  Taking my time.  I walked out of town a bit, investigated the Camino route for my exit tomorrow.  It crossed another rushing river, and as I looked back, there was a nice view of the walled city.

View of city walls of Mansilla de las Mulas

View of city walls of Mansilla de las Mulas

Back at the hotel, my room faced the church.  The stone glowed in the evening light. I rested on my “best bed on the Camino,” with ice on my ankle and watched the stone of the church change color as the sun went down. One of my stork friends was hanging out on the roof.  Seeing the storks in their nests all across the Meseta was one of the joys of my Springtime Camino.

View from room in Mansilla de las Mulas

View from room in Mansilla de las Mulas

Eating dinner in the dining room I noticed that by staying at the Albergeria, I’d shifted uptown into a more affluent crowd of pilgrims. Lots of people on the Camino ship their luggage every day, and stay only in hotels, or travel in organized groups, but for the most part, I had been hanging out with the backpackers. Among that crowd in the dining room I felt like I was transitioning back into my regular life, and also teetering on the cusp of being a tourist.  It felt very comfortable and it also made me a little sad.

A group of five Irish women sat at the next table. They were very jolly, and we talked over dessert.  They walked together for a week on the Camino every year. That’s more of a European approach—to do it in chunks. Right then I wished I was walking with a group of old friends, too.

I was contemplating whether to walk all the way to Leon in the morning.   It seemed like a prudent thing to get a taxi into town at some point with my sore foot. What did it matter really? It would give me more time in Leon.  I’d finished the missing link of my Camino.  I went to bed feeling conflicted about it. Tomorrow was my last day of walking.  Just 18 kilometers to go.  I wasn’t sure how I felt about that.

Categories: April 2015, Favorite Albergues, Museums on the Camino | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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

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

A time to walk and a time to heal

Yesterday I took a taxi to the Universidad de Leon Hospital and limped into the ER to have a medical professional look at my foot. It was a fascinating window into the Spanish medical system. They don’t take your blood pressure or weigh you or make you fill out any forms. They have a “concierge” guy at the door of the ER who directs you where to go, and a very no nonsense triage guy. It’s so much quieter than an American ER, no TV or paging, and the lighting was subdued, not hospital bright.

I can’t believe I did it all in Spanish! Because no one at the hospital spoke English. The female doctor spoke a little. Had an X-ray done, and also tried to pay. I’m supposed to give the documentation to Kaiser.

Her diagnosis was Plantar Fasciatis. She said I should not try to continue the Camino.

The treatment is RICE: rest, ice, elevation, compression and anti-inflammatory drugs.

My Camino friends from Chicago arrived at the hotel in the afternoon, and we sat in their room and I heard about their days of walking and how tired they were. As we talked, I realized that, for me, walking the Camino was over. I could follow along by bus, but that wasn’t really a pilgrimage. I found so much joy in the walking, and talking on the path, and watching for the yellow arrows, and coming into tiny villages—the whole experience.

It made me sad to come to grips with my situation, even though I knew I wasn’t alone. Many people in our “class of Orisson” were going home with injuries.

So I went upstairs and prayed about what to do, and cried. I had to have a destination for the morning. Astorga or Santiago by bus? Madrid and then SFO? Hang out somewhere for 3 weeks? I talked to Hale on Skype. Coming home seemed like the right decision. I called Delta on Skype and was able to change my ticket.

I met Gina and Caroline in the bar and we talked like Camino friends talk, honestly and with love. They are gifts of the Camino; I’ve learned so much from both of them.

We met in the morning for the awesome Parador hotel breakfast buffet. I decided to give Gina my Camelbak and my copy of the Brierley guidebook for the rest of the journey. The Camino has made me more generous. It feels good to know she has them as she moves into Galicia. We posed at the statue outside the Parador, and then it was time for my taxi to the train station.

I’m in Madrid now. I will keep posting my reflections on my experience of the Camino as I move forward, as well as more photos.

I know that it will continue to teach me and inform my ministry.

Today in Madrid I looked up at the cathedral and saw a statue on the roof of St. James with his staff and shell. Later, I had tapas at an outdoor cafe and noticed that we were on Calle Santiago. He is looking out for me, I think.

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Categories: Camino, Spirituality | Tags: , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

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