Day 8 – A Real Pilgrim

Day 8 – A Real Pilgrim.

St. James

A few days earlier as I was climbing that soul-sucking hill into Navarrete, a pilgrim carrying a heavy load passed me.  I can’t tell you what this does to my male ego when a 71 year old woman carrying a heavy load passes.  All afternoon we had been passing each other, then resting, and finally when we both stopped, she offered me half of a fresh apricot she had carried all day.

Tzika & Steve

When I eat with The Marys at the Pilgrim’s Meal that night, MaryAnna said “I think she is a real pilgrim.” A raised eyebrow and questioning look (because I very much felt like a real pilgrim), she continued. “I think she is on Camino with something very heavy,” and I’m thinking about her ill-fitting backpack, laptop bag slung over her shoulder, and plastic bag full of stuff.   Bag lady.  “No, I’m serious, I think she is walking The Way to seek penance, or receive healing, or absolution.  She is walking the way to right something with God.” MaryAnna is very wise, and sees things I miss. 

Shadows of Tzika & Steve

Yesterday I started early and alone but before the first town, The Marys caught up, and MaryAnna peals off to walk with Tzika, who walks slower. When we all stop for lunch and Tzika continues her steady plod.  MaryAnna can hardly contain herself, “She is a real pilgrim!”  Tzika is Bulgarian, and has limited language skills.  For the last several days we have been playing pilgrim hopscotch with hand signals and smiles. But MaryAnna and her share German, and she tells us that Tzika’s 33 daughter died, and she is in deep grief, and wonders if she will be able to make it to Santiago.

There has got to be a story about the red hat

They explore the possibilities, MaryAnna suggesting a bus to bypass the hard, or lonely places, but Tzika says, “That would not be the way.” Her journey has as much to do with where she is going as the work God is doing in her as she gets there. 

That hill where Tzika passed me

Part of what worries us is her backpack, and her bags of stuff she carries.  The Marys and I begin to hatch a plan about getting her a proper backpack to replace her daypack, wondering if she would allow us.  If we can find one large enough maybe she could put everything inside and stop having to carry all those bags.  But town after village we pass and look for a store but the search comes to nothing.  I worry at some point we’ll get separated, so to do this, there is an urgency.  

The Camino is like a scavenger hunt crossed with a road rally.  There is a route, and it is sparsely well marked, and one of the life lessons I hope I’ve learned is when I’m not sure of the way, to stop and look for the yellow arrow, or Camino sign, or those who have gone before me.

The Camino knows the way.

But I have to watch for the sign and not sacrifice forward progress for uncertainty.  There is a way…and it is well marked, even if I can’t see it. 

See the yellow arrows?

Much of this morning I walk with Tzika and through proximity, feel the grief radiating from her. I get into my own grief for my late mother-in-law, Nelda,  who died a few days before this last presidential election.  Though I’ve helped organize her two funerals. I’m not sure I have finished my grief.  Getting entangled in Tzika’s and her slower pace allows me time and the memories flood over me.   

Inside the Keen store

As we approach Santa Domingo, I feel myself losing it.  I don’t know if it’s the slower pace, or the work of grief, but I’m wondering how much more I have in me today.  “Lord, I pray, “if you’ll just provide a store with a backpack for Tzika, I promise I’ll make it happen.”  The town looks small, too small to have much hope of finding what I’ve prayed for, but 20 minutes later I’ve fallen well behind Tzika and I walk past a “Keen Footware” store and inside they have quality backpacks.  I run ahead and find Tzika stopped for a coffee, and I try to explain in hand motions, what I need to do.   She is willing to come, but reluctant. 

Tzika wearing her new blue backpack. The one she is holding she donated. In her right hand are the two bags. 

An hour later she has a new backpack, and I watch her pack it.  As we set out together I notice she has not packed the laptop bag, or plastic bag though I know there was room inside.  I tell the story to the Marys who surprisingly have stayed in this town too, though it was only 13km (8mi) from last night. Neither of us make the progress we expected today.   

MaryAnna says “There are some burdens we can’t help other’s with,” and I guess that is Tzika’s story.  These burdens though physical, represent something.  I expect we will continue to play pilgrim hopscotch over then next 500km(300 miles), and so I’ll be watching those bags.  

Bed #38 in the old convent

I check into a convent, or the old convent building, the nuns have a nice new building, and we stay in the historic building.  As I’m going to vespers I see a person with dark skin.  I’ve been counting them since coming to Spain and she is number five.  I smile a big smile, happy to see her face.

“Hey, I know you,” I hear in a soft Texas accent.  I’m shocked, not expecting to hear a voice from home.  “Where you from?” she says, crossing the street to stop me.  

“I, I, I live in Ghana…” I stammer. 

“No, no, before that…you’re from Austin…your Steve Buchele!”  OK, this is getting weird.  I still can’t place her face, I’m searching my Ghana database, and coming up dry.  Wrong database. 

“I’m J.S.”  I remember her from Seminary, she was one of our class’ rising stars.  Everybody knew her and she went on to do great things. We catch up and share our reasons for Camino, and then part ways, and I promise  to pray for her, and not share her journey.  

After vespers, and a delicious Pilgrim Meal in the new convent, I head back to a restful night, not knowing that in the morning, I’ll have to break out via the fire escape as the sisters have locked us in for the night.  For only 13km, it has been a busy day.

Fin.

Day 7 – on being pruned

Day 7 – on being pruned

Early morning with the tires
I know yesterday I wrote “As you walk the Camino…will you in life after,” but today, channeling my brother Rod, it felt more like “As you walk the Camino, the Camino walks you” and walked well did I feel. 

The weather was cool and dry as we walked through fields of vineyards, each spouting their tender new branches from the gnarly old stumps.

Early morning vineyards

The stumps or vines were pruned some time ago, and I get the feeling they have stood dormant all winter, but now the spring rains and warmth have brought them to life.  I learn it is the new branches that produce fruit, and if the gardener did not harshly cut the branches back, the fruit would not come. Seeing these vineyards springing to life occupies my mind with something Jesus said: 

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes, so that it will be even more fruitful.   

Afternoon vineyards

I’m walking through the heart of Spanish wine country, drinking in its beauty, and thinking about pruning.  I know from my gardening experience a transplant does best if its cut back after being placed.  It lets the set focus on new root growth,, instead of sustaining existing leaves.  But everything about it seems instinctually wrong, yet from experience I know its truth, but ain’t easy.  

A branch

To my eye in these vineyards, the branch cut off (no fruit) and the branch pruned (fruitful) are indistinguishable; God alone knows the difference.   I say this because God and I have been working through on why I thought I was called to Ghana.  To friends who have been with me these past years, you know I’ve been struggling.  It feels like the great switcharoo, what my friend Mary Kay says:

Sometimes, God calls you to what you will say yes to, and once there, changes that call.

If it’s a change order, a door closing, being cut off, or a pruning, they pretty much feel the same the branch.  A few weeks before leaving for The Camino I was seeking the Lord on what I am doing here?  What heard, not so much in an audible voice, but a thought that did not originate within me was “that is the wrong question, what if you had not been not here?” and I saw the faces of the students I’ve come to know, the faith conversations we have had, and the gentle nudge (or not) I’ve made here and there.  It did matter, it did mean something, but why couldn’t it feel that way? 

 “I am the vine;” Jesus says, “you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” Maybe the part The Camino is trying to teach me is how the “bear much fruit” part will involve pruning. 

A few days earlier as I was climbing that soul-sucking hill, a pilgrim who was carrying a heavy load passed me.  I can’t tell you what it does to my male ego when a 71 year old woman carrying a heavy load passes.  All afternoon we had been passing each other, then resting, and finally when we both stopped, she offered me half of her fresh apricot she had carried all day.

Yes, she just passed me (Tzika)

When I eat with The Marys at the Pilgrim’s Meal later, MaryAnna said “I think she is a real pilgrim.” A raised eyebrow and questioning look (because I very much felt like a real pilgrim), she continued. “I think she is on Camino with something very heavy,” and I’m thinking about her ill-fitting backpack, laptop bag slung over her shoulder, and plastic bag full of stuff.   Bag lady.  “No, I’m serious, I think she is walking The Way to seek penance, or receive healing, or absolution.  She is walking the way to right something with God.” MaryAnna is very wise, and sees things I miss. Tomorrow I’ll share more about Tzika.

Tonight we arrive in Azofra and stay at a nice municipal Alburgue.  What is unusual iabout this one is it only has double rooms, by gender.  

Two beds per room…nice

This Alburgue has been here in one form or another since 12c, but where we stay was built in 2004.  It was a great sleep.

Fin.

Day 6 – As you walk the Camino…

Day 6

A Camino “sign”
A few days I heard the expression

“As you walk The Camino” so will you in life after.”

It doesn’t seem like this change happens all at once, or at least that has not been my experience.  I began walking the way I had walked through life, and The Camino was a gracious host, letting me walk it my way, but a few hours, or was it a few days I felt its influence; pushing me change, if I wanted to learn its way.

A real Pilgrim, I will tell her story tomorrow

Today the landscape was largely urban, the influence of the relatively large city of Logrono.  The path was asphalt or fine gravel, and to either side, cut grass.  Gone were the wildflowers and rocks.  Someday, I’ll write a post “things to do with rocks,” but it won’t feature any pictures from today.  The landscape has been managed, and but for the reservoir, a boring soul-sucking walk.  It was a hot, barren side of the highway Camino. 

A beautiful park, a pleasant change to what is coming next.

I guess it didn’t help that I got started after 10am so the sun was well up.  I was delayed by sending back clothing I was not using, and letting go of blister tape and antiseptic, dropping my pack weight by a pound, but honestly, I don’t feel a difference other than mentally.

The Camino road.

Planning for the trip had me doing 20-30km/day (12-18 miles), but I have not been able to manage anything that far, unlike the people who passing me. It is a twin problem of walking slowly and stopping to snap pictures.  This is my third day of walking alone. Pilgrims I started with are now several days ahead of me.  I think about them as I pass things we might have talked about wondering how they are. I say a prayer for them.  It feels like I’m falling behind, but as one reminded me there was no right way to walk the Camino, only the way that was made for you.  For me, hurry and The Way are incompatible.  

Along the freeway there was a fence of crosses

On one of the long hills I meet The Marys, Mary and MaryAnna, from California.  Both have worked together and MaryAnna just retired. They came to this portion of the Camino what ask what is next.  Last fall they did the Leon-Santiago segment, and now are picking up the St. Jean to Leon part they missed.  MaryAnne has a special relationship with The Camino and speaks her wisdom with authority, in a German accent, that sounds very wise.  Tomorrow I will learn the other Mary retires in December and this is their third/fourth Camino, having done the Portuguese Way, and another years ago.

The Marys

We attend the Pilgrim’s Mass, and after receive a blessing by the priest who wants to meet each of us after the service.

The Pilgrim Mass
After worship, the Priest blessed us, and then asks esch of us where we are from.

At dinner MaryAnna says 

“Once you accept the suffering, the change begins.  That is the beauty of The Camino.” 

I have been asking about the pain, how long will it last?  (Mary says two weeks).  Mostly its my middle back, hurting in the afternoon and nothing but a nap seems to fix it.  I’m six days in, and they see the concern on my face.  The sky is a deep iridescent blue and we all pause to admire it. 

Church Sky

“You don’t fight it, you dance with it” MaryAnna adds and goes on about the intrinsic value of suffering, something I don’t get but fear I will come to over the next week, if Mary’s timetable holds.  “There is no short cut,” she says but now she is not talking about pain, but the process of learning The Way. Maybe that’s what she has been talking about all along. 

“As you walk The Camino” so will you in life after.”

Fin.

Day 5 – the Camino does provide.

Day 5 – The Camino does provide. 

Tapas, tapas, tapas, breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Food wise it has been a great day. I feel like I must be walking through ground zero for Tapas, and everywhere I go today, that is what is on the menu. Fine by me.  

Tapas
Tapas and journaling

I brought a flag from Ghana, but no idea how to display it.  I’ve seen people pass me with their flag sewn on their backpacks (mostly Denmark), but I wanted to “fly” Ghana’s.  As I was leaving Sansol, I saw these two sticks of bamboo in the center of road and walked past them, barely noticing them.   I felt the Spirit say pick them up. “Why?” I wanted to ask, but I’ve had enough of these experiences to know its best to do and not to ask.  So I walked back and for the next hour wondered what am doing with these 14” bamboo sticks. In Torres del Rio I run into Doris and Eileen, the pilgrims who started in Munich, and joining them for a Café Americano, it occurs to me, these sticks would make fine flagpoles.  A few minutes later the Ghana flag is mounted on my pack. The Camino will provide. 

Ghana flag property flying
For the pilgrimage being a religious exercise, there are surprisingly few churches open.  Passing by the huge twin towers, seen from miles away, the doors rarely open. I don’t know if it is a general statement on the state of the Church in Spain, or the press of pilgrims that come through to make it, frankly, not worth the effort.  Still it makes me sad not to stop and pray, and experience what God feels in this place. So far, its only happened once (during a rainstorm), but today, being Sunday, the churches are open.

12c Chapel built by Knights Temples.
13c Jesus

Still in Torres del Rio, I start to walk by an old building that no longer a functions as a church, but for one euro I am welcomed inside.  This 12c Knights Templar built chapel once served as a beacon for pilgrims but today, most pass by unaware of its history.  The Way is like that.  People are so focused (myself included) on making the next town, or getting their 20, 30, 40 km (12, 18, 24 miles) in that few stop and learn about what they are passing by.  For the record, 20km is about all I can do. 

The Way

“There is no right or wrong way to walk The Camino,” I heard an unnamed pilgrim say, “only how close you come to walking the one made for you.”  I feel judgmental complaining about those passing by without really passing through and I don’t like it. I have been walking slowly, and stopping to take pictures, so slow that several Caminos have already passed me by.  One can not fully experience their Camino and hurry, I feel, at least that is how my Camino is seems to be going.  

Mount of hope and regret

Along the way I pass the mount of hope and regret.  I don’t know what its official title is, but here people have left notes, pictures, and inscribed rocks with their hopes and regrets. 

Coming upon this valley, it looks like a trashbag has burst, but on closer inspection, each scrap has a message, each rock has an inscription, and there are pictures. 

I wonder did people specifically bring these pictures for this place, or were they overcome by something that compelled them to leave something here.  

I’m overwhelmed by the raw intensity of feelings expressed, like what those who clean the Wailing Wall (in Jerusalem) must feel (people write their prayers on scraps of paper and them jam them in remains of the 1c wall of Solomon’s Temple).

Arriving in Logrono late afternoon, I check into the Albergues, wash my clothes, and set out to find dinner (more tapas).  I pass by their grand cathedral, its open and I am invited in. Mass is about to start.  Its all in Spanish, but it is beautiful.  Other than an occasional Sanctus (Holy), I have no idea what is being spoken, but the form…that I recognize. 

The Great Cathedral
Sunday night Mass

It feels so good to know what is going on even if I’m not sure what is being said.  That is the beauty of tradition, something that feels absent in Ghana.  What the priest is doing, I have done, I even recognize the Sacramentary he reads from, similar from the one I used to use.  God is being worshipped in this place, and I am thankful to join their community. 

Stone Outpost

Today felt like two different walks, the first was my Camino punctuated by stone outposts that must have served as refuge for 12c pilgrims.  

A different Stone Outpost

The second half, felt like I joined someone else’s Camino. It is crowded, and gone are the wildflowers, live oaks, and rural landscape. We are approaching the third largest city on the Camino.  Even without the guidebooks telling me this, I know.  We are approaching an urban environment, and it feels different, wrong, and the press of people, mountain bikes, and security shows me that something has changed.   Its no longer my Camino, but one I am sharing.  

Could it exactly what St. James is trying to teach me about The Faith?  It was never really mine, or about what I believed, but about a faith I am sharing.  Its not me and Jesus, but us.  

Fin.

Day 4 – A Pilgrim is always Grateful

Day 4 – A Pilgrim is Always Grateful

Huge stack of large square bales.

Today I notice how the terrain is changing from the colder northern climate, to –I’m guessing–a dry Mediterranean landscape. Olive trees, vineyards take over from the wheat, rye and other field crops but to my eyes, it looks like the Texas Hill Country; home.  I see Live Oaks, even Mistletoe and lots of spring flowers, but sadly no Bluebonnets. 

Red Poppies are everywhere
Live Oak…in Spain

It was good to walk alone, a nice contrast from the previous days.  I left later in the morning, and fell in with a completely different group of people.  Very few English speakers, so the solitude wasn’t that much of a choice.  

Mistletoe…in Spain

It was good to be in my thoughts and sing…for hours.  I think about the grave we passed yesterday and the (translated) inscription, “I once was what you are, you will be what I am.” I’m reminded of all the people I’ve lost over the years.  Mom, Jim Cloninger, Papa (Charlie), Nonnie (Nelda), people who left a deep and lasting impact on my life then, but all the stuff they held precious  – where is it now?  

Vineyards

Maybe I’m thinking about Nelda’s beloved Sun City home that sold this week.  All this stuff that she had collected and moved (and moved), now had to find new homes (and owners).  I have such cherished memories of her, and the wonderful grandmother she was to my children, but feel little for her stuff.   Papa with his love of computers, photography, guns, and after he passed, what became of them?  

The Camino markers

I remember helping my dad and sister move out of the house I was raised in and found the research my Mom and done for her Master’s and asked Dad what to do with it, “toss it in the dumpster.”  He was right, or course, but still it didn’t feel right.  So much effort went into producing this research and paperwork, and 50 years later, out it goes.  The Dalai Lama has it right:

People were created to love, things were created to use.  The reason the world is in chaos is that things are being loved, and people are being used. 

Maybe I’m thinking about stuff because I need to lighten my load.  18lbs is the max I should be carrying, and I’m pretty sure I’m below that, but it still feels like too much, at least that is what my back keeps telling me. 

A priest in the documentary we watched about the Camino said that the “weight people carry represents their fear,” or maybe he said worry, but either way I know I don’t need as much.  The things I was worried about, blisters, knee or hip pain hasn’t happened.  My feet are fine, and my knees are functioning well, so far. But then maybe its not my back, but a bored mind because I notice when it is occupied by singing, juggling, taking pictures, or seeing how many steps I can take with my eyes closed (101 steps) the pain goes away.  Would any amount of lightening help?  Like an anorexic who sees herself as fat, will I ever be able to leave the camp of the latter of that Rick Steve’s quote:

There are two types of travelers, those who pack light, and those who wish they had. 

I wish I had. I wish I could.

By 3pm the Camino can be a lonely path.

We cross the River Salado, another reminder of home, where the story is told of locals who used to wait by the river sharpening their knives.  When a horse-riding pilgrim let down their mount to drink from the salty (poisonous) river, the locals sprung to action once the horse fell, and flayed it “right then and there.”  Today we cross the bridge and we see no knife sharpening locals The river looks peaceful enough to drink.

Today I notice what I’m calling Pilgrim Fatigue.  “Buen Camino” is heard less and less from townsfolk as I pass through their cities. Stores have signs “Don’t touch the fruit”  (I guess fruit touching is a thing?).  There is the occasional price gouging, and a noticeable feeling of being less welcome.  This is the beginning of the busy Camino season, and I wonder how surly they will be when the Camino hits its peak?  And what will the merchants be like in Santiago?  Maybe they are knife sharpening decedents, who need a good horse flaying to set themselves right. 

The Hick

But “a Pilgrim is always grateful,” as Mike & Paul, from Germany chide another pilgrim one night over dinner as they started to complain about the food.  It is a good reminder that we are guests, visitors from a greater mission who are just passing through. 

Fin.

Day 3: The Camino Will Provide

Day 3 – The Camino Will Provide 

Today I walked 32054 steps, or a little over 20km (12 miles), my longest day so far. The teaching that kept presenting itself was: “What you need, the Camino will provide,” or it will be provided by Santiago (St. James), or simply “The Camino will provide.”  I admit I didn’t pay attention the first few times, but by the third time I knew St. James was trying to tell me something.  Interesting for such a secular walk, there is quite a bit of mysticism attached to the Camino, or St. James.

Huge stack on large square bales

Yesterday, when the rain had asked me to stop in Puente la Reina, where I met up with Amy the Aussie, who I met my first night.  She was concerned about John and Michelle’s and their polls, which had been left behind when they had gone ahead.  We set out together to walk the polls forward.    

Amy

Amy is a fast walk, (or she is trying to ditch me), and soon we are in the next town, but no John and Michelle. It is past 3pm, time to call it a day.  We were the fourth people to check into the Albergues, and this one had separate rooms for men and women.  At least that is how it started out, but by six, the men’s room of 30 beds was an even mix of men and women.  I don’t have any hard statistics, but by my count this walk has been maybe 70% women, and seriously, women snore just as loud as men and their boots smell just as bad.  Soon Kay checks into the Albergues, but I won’t meet her until today after a long and hard climb. 

Kay in front of “the wine fountain”

Kay is on sabbatical and asking The Camino to give her direction for what is next.  All she knows is that being a social science researcher isn’t it.  This is her fourth Camino, but only for two weeks and then Its on for something else.  I’ve met quite a number of people who have joined my Camino, knowing they won’t complete it.  Doris, from Germany began her Camino in Munich, Germany five years ago and has been chipping away at it in three-week chunks with her sister. They are a delightful pair. Doris won’t finish it this year, and maybe not even next, she says laughingly.

Doris and Eileen taking a break

We start out early, but soon its clear to me that I can’t keep up with Amy, and I beg out to take pictures. 

Morning dew

A few hours later I’m walking with Kay, and hearing her story, it brings out the life coach in me and the day’s conversation is a delightful distraction.  Kay is also a fast walk, and tomorrow I learn both plan on going 18 miles, and I know I’m not in shape for that kind of walk, which brings up the walking partners. 

Rye

The Camino is like a game of cribbage, which is actually two games played concurrently.  In cribbage you play your hand, and then you count your cards, and doing well with one hand doesn’t always look the same.  On the Camino, there is the walk, and then the place you stay and the community for the night, and you have to manage both.

Morning Steve

We’ve shared a few days together, but I don’t realistically expect to see Amy or Kay of them for the remainder of my Camino.  They are two driven, ambitious women, and I’ve already walked with one for 31 years, and don’t need to keep up with another.  Besides, if I try to keep up then I’m walking their Camino, and St. James brought me here to walk mine.  I’m reminded of this African Proverb – “If you want to walk fast, walk along.  If you want to walk far, go together,” except I don’t think it works for The Camino, unless St. James has given out the same Camino. For now I’m, according to the proverb, walking fast (alone), except that I’m really not that fast. 

Michelle and John

Midway through the day we run into John and Michelle in Estella, and I learn Amy has already found them and tried to give them their polls, except they hadn’t lost theirs.  So Amy leaves them on a fence, and moves on and John and Michelle report seeing the polls walk past them an hour later.  The Camino Will Provide. 

Camino – Day 2

“The Camino starts where you begin,” the expression goes (Kay, Sweeden) meaning one may start anywhere along this 500 mile route, or any of the other routes. The French Way I am on just happens to be the most popular.  But to get the certificate of completion, one must walk the last 60 miles (100km) and you will ask the reason.

When the rains came, I ducked into this ancient chapel

Traditionally for religious reasons, today’s Camino seems to be a largely secular walk, or at least that is what the pilgrims I have met on my path say.  Maybe like me, they don’t care to discuss their religious motivation to a complete with a stranger they just met.   I know have been less willing to tell anyone my reasons…lets just say God and I have something to work out and as my sister Sheron says, “its time to fish or cut bait,” (she has another more colorful expression, but you get the idea).

Great Pilgrims Arch in Obanos.

Early in the day I walk through the village of Obanos where a legend from the 14c has it that the daughter of the king, following the family tradition of joining the Camino, was not able resume her former royal life and set off to live anonymously, in service to the poor and others.  Outraged, her family sent her brother to reason with her. In the town I am walking through the brother found her, but unable to convince her to leave this pious life, he stuck her with his dagger and ran away.  If the family could not have her back, neither would God.

Rainbow over chapel where he found his sister.

Overcome by the guilt of his murdered sister, the brother decides to start his Camino, and after does not return to his former station in life, but builds a hermitage in Obanos, and dedicates his life to prayer and serving the needs of pilgrims, or so the story goes.  I’m not expecting anything so dramatic. But it does bring up the matter of religious pilgrimages and retreats.  

Old Roman stone road.
Walking these ancient paths, some the Roman roads of the first century, I have plenty of tine to think.  I have trouble walking, navigating, and praying (I’m not a good multitasker) so I end up singing chants from Taize in time with my steps.  

My hill climbing one is

The LORD is my light, my light and salvation,

in God I trust, in God I trust.

It’s a really good climbing chant, one I broke in when I walked up Mt Sinai years ago.  After I’ve sung all the parts to this round I start jazzing it up, St James Infirmary style and it becomes a spiritual. 

Rain gear

Today was tough because it was raining and mostly up hill, so the chant became well worn and started to feel like a work song. 

My first day was a solitary walk, mostly from the language barrier, my TexMex Spanish not being much use here.  When I checked into the Albergues, I met Amy, a Aussie civil engineer, who just began talking to me.  I realized I hadn’t really spoken to anyone since I had left Ghana on Monday.  I had lots of questions she was an accommodating host, and before long I knew everyone and over the next few days would learn that everyone knew Amy.  I had wondered if the Albergues would turn out to be an essential part of the Camino, or could I skip the rooms of bunk-beds and snoring people and opt for something nicer.    It turns out that while not the best place to get a good night’s sleep, it is a great place to make friends, who scatter for the day, and then gather again at night to swap stories and tell lies.  

Snore fest of fun people.

I learned “You don’t walk the Camino for no reason” (Dave, Asheville, NC) and it changed how I saw the people I walked with.  “Even if you don’t know the reason,” Dave continued, “it will be presented to you.”  I now watch and wonder what has brought them to this place, and what Camino Gifts will be given (or revealed) to my fellow pilgrims amidst the pain, solitude and walking.  

Camino marker as we journey through town.