I promised you a longer, more thoughtful post later. I needed to rest and to process. I don't pretend to be fully rested nor fully finished processing. I think this whole Camino experience and ministry is a work-in-progress. There is a part of it that was ministry to others, and a part of it that was God working on me. I'm not even close to processing both of those. But I can give you some snippets of my journal from the days immediately following our departure from Santiago and being home.
(2 days after Santiago... headed home on the train) I'm a little emotional. Stood on the platform of the train station and cried on Billy's chest. Seems surreal. I'm ready to go home, to go to my own bed and my world. But I don't want to go back to normal. What does that mean? What do I want to retain from The Camino? What needs to be different in my life? The number one thing weighing on my mind and heart as I run through all of these questions is TIME.
How do I keep my schedule under control? It usually controls me. How do I maintain focus on people and life and the present? Thim and schedules make me focus on responsibilities and expectations of others. How do I stay in the present and not in the future? How do I stay connected, stay focused on relationships and not on the list and the schedule?
I'm not turning on my computer or looking at my agenda until I figure some of this out. I need to figure out how to deal with not structuring my whole life around meeting the expectations of others - sometimes unspoken and only perceived, and maybe only in my head. I need to figure out how to set boundaries and draw lines. I can't lose this important lesson of The Camino.
(3 days after Santiago... first full day home) In my devotional reading this morning, "...as you spend time soaking in My Presence, you are energized and lightened. Through communing with Me, you transfer your heavy burdens to My strong shoulders. By gazing at Me, you gain My Perspective on your life. This time alone with Me is essential for unscrambling your thoughts and smoothing out the day before you (or the month behind you).
"Be willing to fight for this precious time with Me. Opposition comes in many forms: your own desire to linger in bed, the evil one's determination to distract you from Me, the pressure of family and friends and your won inner critic to spend time more productively.
"As you grow in your desire to please Me above all else, you gain strength to resist these opponents. Delight yourself in Me, for I am the deepest Desire of your heart." ~Jesus Calling
This spoke to me so loudly this morning, speaking to all of my thoughts and questions and concerns. The Camino was a time of walking in His presence, of marveling at His creation, of my flesh fighting against the hands of the Potter. A time of listening, of loving, of learning - learning about myself, my own strengths and my own brokenness; of learning about others and hearing their hearts and struggles; and of seeing Him in a new light. It was a time of thinking about religion - about what it is and what it is not. A time of joy and tears, of extreme highs and difficult lows.
It was unfocused focus.
It was ordered chaos.
How is it possible for me (diagnosed OCD me!) to love all of that?!?! How is it possible for me to grieving the loss of The Camino?
Somewhere in The Camino was simplicity and freedom and permission to not conform to the expectations or standards of others. To just walk and 'be'. Somewhere in there, it was just me, and Billy, and Him... loving each other and loving others... on a long walk.
There is a lot more... more to process, more to think through, more to figure out. Right now, I'm working on staying slow and I'm concentrating on filtering every decision through a "what is important? lens".
These days since Sarria have been...different. For many reasons. Sarria is the point that is 100km away from Santiago. According to the powers that be and those who 'govern' the Camino pilgrimage, you must walk at least 100km to be officially 'recognized' as a pilgrim. Therefore, LOTS of people jump in to the trail at this point. Did I say lots? I mean TONS!
On the morning we left Sarria, we were suddenly in the company of a gazillion other people, all fresh and spunky and off on Day One of their pilgrimage. Their shoes are brand spanking new. They smell all sweet and soapy and fresh. Their backpacks are perfect. They don't have that grizzly, slightly scruffy, patched together look that the rest of us have. Not one of their toes is bandaged. They don't smell a bit wonky or have backpacks that stand alone and waft clouds of scent, something like Pigpen in the Peanuts cartoon. And not a one of them walks with the tell tale limp and drag that comes from weeks of painful muscles and blisters.
Worse yet, none of them says an encouraging "Buen Camino" when they pass. Buen Camino is a shortened version of "May it be well with your path". I love that!
What has happened to my beautiful Camino? What has happened to the peace and tranquillity, the comraddery and the community? I feel invaded and violated
Billy had warned me of this moment. He had told me that this day was coming. The day when the workers in the field story from the Bible would come to life for me. The day when I would be the one who had put in the long hours and had done the hard work, only to realise that the pilgrim who walks for a few days gets equal reward, equal recognition.
I wasn't unaware. And I wasn't completely taken off guard. But I was shocked at how many came in for the final push. I was shocked by my own feelings about these newbies who smell nice and stay in fancy hotels and dress up at night for dinner.
I don't even care about the recognition or the certificate or the amount of work. But I do miss my community. I do miss the relational feeling that we had before Sarria. I miss the quiet trail and the long conversations. I miss that we were past the "where are you from" and the superficial questions...We were in to the deep stuff. We were contemplating the stuff of great importance. We were past appearances. We were in to heart stuff, to tears, to what we were going to do with our lives when the Camino is over.
The dynamics are all different now.
We still run in to our "old buddies" now and again. It's like seeing family. And we still meet new folks every day...folks who started over a month ago, like us. They get it. They get us. So the starting point for the conversation is just automatically different. It's deeper immediately. They know the places you've been. They know the troubles, the aches and the pains, the tears and the triumphs.
I'm certainly not separating pilgrims in to the good guys and bad guys...don't think that, please. In fact, my mom and Sarah are two of those newbies who started in Sarria. They aren't staying in fancy hotels or having a luxury pilgrimage, by any stretch of the imagination. They are doing it with us, the way we have been doing it for weeks.
In fact, that is part of what has been hard for me. To watch Sarah and Mom start this walk has been tough. They are at two different places on the age scale. Their Caminos are very different and yet, the same. They are walking the same path with the same walking companions and very much the same gear. But their experiences are very different.
And that has been a big lesson for me over the past several weeks. My Camino is NOT like anyone else's Camino. My feelings are different. My experience is different. My deep thoughts and spiritual experiences and God moments are different. And my worst judge has been myself. I have judged myself over and over and over again. I have compared myself to others. I have tried to keep up, to match experiences, to measure up. And why? No one was setting expectations on me except ME! No one really cared how far I walked or how well I did it. But I judged myself a million times and fell short a million and one. Grace...I fall short of giving myself any grace.
Tonight, I waited for dinner by resting in a hammock. I needed some think time, some peace, and some positive thought patterns. I'm trying to wrap my head around the fact that this will be over in a few days. That we will all stand before the almighty certificate maker who will write our name on the page and welcome us in to the pilgrim family as equals, no matter if we started in St. Jean 791km ago, or in Sarria 100km ago. And I'm completely aware of the correlations between the pay for the workers in the Bible story and my situation, and about a gazillion other biblical ties. I know...I get it. And it's still hard to piece together in my head.
I really just want it to stay simple. Get up, put on your boots, hoist your pack, and walk. Then do it again tomorrow. And the next day. And the next day. Smile at every one. Help those who need help. Listen to those who want to talk. Make friends.
And say "¡Buen Camino!" I want it to stay that simple.
Well - guess what...walking the Camino does not always yield the best Internet results. I know, I know. You are shocked to hear that news. The truth is, most albergues have some Internet access. Some places are so remote that we have had trouble getting Internet or cell service. What on earth did those early pilgrims do without cell service or Internet? ! ;) How did they post a blog or upload photos? Ha! Anyway... forgive me for the past few days of no posts. For some reason, it has been easier to upload a Facebook post than to get a blog to go through. And I have no computer or tablet - thus is all via cell phone.
The past few days were some of the most beautiful I have experienced on The Camino. Not that all of Spain isn't gorgeous in its own special way, but I have been particularly fond of these last 4-5 days. The views are spectacular. The woods are pristine. The trails are quiet and mossy and storybook quality. Just amazing.
Well, except for those few epic climbs. Holy Bajoly! Who decided to climb up those hills?! I really had several moments when I thought, "How is this so hard?! I climbed over the stinkin' Pyrenees mountains a month ago! How is this so hard?!" But it was rough! Two climbs in particular were really hard. Let me just say that everyone needs a cheering team.
On one day, we were coming up a huge climb. Super steep. Mid-day. Hotter than Hades, as my Gama would say. I was dying. So was Billy. I was calculating...It is 3:30pm, we'll be lucky if they will still serve us lunch when we arrive, we'll be double lucky if there is a bed left, I'm out of water, and I don't think I can make it 2 more kilometers to the high point. We have to stop. At the same moment, Billy says, "let's stop at the next town and see if they have a bed and food". I've never heard more beautiful words.
As we walked up the last part of the ascent and crest in front of a small albergue, a small group of pilgrims (who have already arrived and are already eating lunch) begin to cheer and welcome our arrival. Okay, I'm an introvert and I don't love attention, but a personal cheering section at the top of a very hard-fought ascent is exactly perfect! Everyone should have people in their lives who have "been there -done that" who are waiting in the wings and watching so they can cheer when you finally defeat the monster! It was so great!
As we walked through the fields on the next day, Billy stopped mid-trail and said, "Look." I glanced over to see a field full of daisies. Huge smile! Daisies are my favorite flower. I just smiled at him and we exchanged knowing glances and continued on. Flashback...June 30 years ago, we had been dating for a month. It was my birthday. Billy knew that daisies are my favorite, so he told the florist that he wanted a stem of daisies for each week that we had been dating. He didn't realise that LOTS of flower heads come on one stem. So I received a really big bouquet! He also wanted to get me a gift. So I received...wait for it...jumper cables. Yes, jumper cables. The things you hook up to your car when it is dead. Romantic, huh? (okay, maybe my car had died during that week and maybe I didn't have jumper cables...)
That's my husband. In the same breath, he can give you flowers and jumper cables. And that's what I love about him. You see, he's a great protector. He will kill himself to provide for me. He's the number one person I want by my side when there is a crisis or a handiman job or when I'm crying and need special care and love. He might not always be the guy who plans out the super expensive fancy date, but I guarantee that I will always be taken care of and loved, and he won't ever leave the day without a few laughs and a million smiles in his wake. So, a field of daisies on the side of a mountain was perfect.
Yesterday was our 29th anniversary. We celebrated by taking a long walk...on The Camino De Santiago. No fancy dinner or expensive gifts. But he did make me the greatest play list on my music to listen to as we walked. And I cried, because it was so 'him', and because the songs were so indicative of his personality and of our relationship. And because, again, he provided for me in a way that I didn't even know I needed or wanted...songs that had beautiful words, songs from different times during our 29 years, funny songs that made me double over laughing on the trail, and songs that made me weep with their lyrics. He's a great man! I'll walk to the moon and back for this guy!!!
In other news...Today was Day One for Granny and Sarah. They met us yesterday evening in Sarria. They will walk the last week with us, arriving in Santiago this weekend. It is interesting to have been walking for 30+ days and now welcome someone in for their Day One. To watch them struggle with Day One struggles. To listen to the same words you spoke 30+ days ago as they come out of another person's experience. Now its my turn to encourage and walk alongside and cheer someone else on, just as I was encouraged and loved on the trail by others. It's now my turn to be the cheering squad for someone who us struggling and fighting for every step, who aches with every move, who questions why they decided to try to do this...its my turn to patiently care for and believe in someone who isn't sure they believe in themselves.
We left our home in Andalucia on May 22 to start the Camino. That means that I have been living out of my 15lb backpack for 30 days - and 4lbs of that is water. I've learned to live with my three pairs of pants and 4 pairs of socks, 3 short sleeved shirts and two long sleeves. Throw in some underwear and a towel and soap and a sleeping bag, and that has been my life for the past 30 days. I still have about 8 more to go.
To be honest, the first thing I really started to miss was my daily hair and make up. I can't believe that I just said that, since I may be one of the least girly girls ever to walk the planet. I only wear a tiny bit of make up each day, but I quickly realized that some thing about that ritual had started to define me...like I wasn't fully me without mascara. Can you believe that?! I also have the world's flattest, thinnest, straightest baby fine hair and he only thing that makes it at all presentable to the public is a blow dryer to give it a little volume. Whoops...no blow dryer in my backpack. I immediately started feeling like the ugliest animal in the forest. I have had a ponytail and a hat for the entire Camino.
Now, I know that hair and makeup do not define me, but it is funny what goes through your head when you are suddenly stripped of routines and daily stuff. For me, the last week has been a lot of thinking about what I miss and take for granted back home. I'm not talking about people or big things like a car, etc. I'm talking about the little daily things.
I miss my bed. MY BED. I'm so tired of sleeping in a different bed every night. I'm tired of playing Russian roulette on who gets a bottom bunk or who gets a pillow that actually has some stuffing in it. I'm so ready for my bed, my sheets, my awesome pillow, my view out my bedroom window...
I miss being able to get up and walk downstairs and get coffee. I miss being able to drink coffee that I don't have to dig out coins for. I miss pouring a second or third cup and sitting quietly as I savor the morning. I miss sitting on the couch, all cuddled up with my dogs and my Bible and my journal and my coffee.
I miss cereal. I miss breakfast that is something other than coffee and a piece of toast (the typical Spanish morning fare on the Camino ). I think if I saw a box of Cheerios right now, I would cry in happiness.
I miss the opportunity to cook my own meals. I miss variety. Every night on The Camino is basically the same 3 or 4 meal choices. I miss fresh vegetables. I miss our garden and our yummy fresh lettuce and spinach and squash and tomatoes. I miss fresh fruit in our fruit baskets in the kitchen.
I can't wait to take a shower and NOT wear shower shoes! I can't wait to have a clean bathroom that is not being used by 100+ other people tonight.
I know that some of you are saying "first world problems" right now..
don't judge until you have walked The Camino with a pack on your back...then, let's talk.
I'm so excited to go home and watch the sunrise and not think that I'm already late getting on the trail. And to watch the sunset and not panic because we aren't in bed and we will start tomorrow's trek exhausted. I'll be happy to not need 3 maps to plan my day tomorrow, to not need to calculate distance and topography and climate and water and rest points and pack weight. I'll be grateful to not need constant doctoring on my feet or my calf or knee.
I'll be happy to see my clothes again, to choose an outfit that isn't especially made for hiking or wicking moisture or quick dry. I want to put on something pretty and feminine and wear strappy little flimsy sandals...not these hiking sandals with hick rubber bottoms and canvas straps and velcro.
I miss snuggling up with my cute kid before bed. I'll be happy to tell my husband goodnight without having to reach up from the bottom bunk or kiss him through the safety rail on the top.
Don't get me wrong - I have loved the Camino! I'm still loving it. I love to hike and I love my gear and I'm grateful for each piece of it. But I have really been taking stock of how much I love some seemingly normal, run of the mill, routine things in my days - things I don't usually give much thought to or I take them for granted.
Right now, I'm all about going home to my normal life and seeing it with new eyes.
We walked in to Ponferrada today after two days of tough-on-the-legs uphill and extreme downhill work. These two days were some of the most beautiful on The Camino, but my knee and calf are seriously paying for it.
Ponferrada has a gorgeous castle once inhabited by the Knights Templar. When Billy passed through here last year, he passed through at daybreak and couldn't visit the castle or the city. I told him back then that I WILL SEE THAT CASTLE WHEN I WALK THE CAMINO! So we have planned our walking according to when we would be able to walk in to Ponferrada and see this castle. And, SCORE!, it was free admission day!!! What a great reward for my screaming calf and my prominent limp. Seriously folks, I'm not too far from qualifying for a handicapped hang tag for my car. oh wait...We pilgrims don't have our cars. Poo...
Another place that I really wanted to try to see in Ponferrada is an ancient church...The Church of Santo Tomas De Las Ollas. You see, this church is a Mozarabe church dating back to the early 900s. We happen to live on the Camino Mozarabe - a part of the Camino De Santiago that runs from the south of Spain in Andalucia. It runs directly behind my house...It is literally outside my bedroom window! Andalucia used to be called Al-Andaluz and was part of the Moorish Kingdom. The caliphate was in Al-Andaluz for many centuries. During that time, there were Christians who lived in the Moorish Kingdom. They adopted the Moor culture and customs, dressing in the Muslim way and following many of their ways. But they were Christian believers and they were called the Mozarabe. The had churches - many were cave churches or very primitive structures carved out of rock. These churches usually also took on a very Moorish appearance with the distinctive keyhole windows and doors.
I'm intrigued with the Mozarabe and I try to visit all the historical sights I can find. So a Mozarabe church in Ponferrada was a must see!
Well, that's easier said than done. This poor little church used to be on the Camino and visited frequently, which is probably one of the only reasons it still exists today. But, as sometimes happens on The Camino, a big city has changed the path over the centuries. So today, Santo Tomas De Las Ollas is nearly a forgotten relic. And trying to find it to visit is also a task. I won't even expound upon how much I hated "Emily the GPS Woman" in our cell phone today...only to say, NEVER TRUST EMILY!
We did finally get a taxi driver to carry us through the city and up a big hill (thank goodness we didn't walk it) and he dropped us in a tiny plaza in a super tiny neighborhood. And there, at one end of the plaza, sat little Santo Tomas De Las Ollas.
I had read that the church is not generally open, but you could get a key from the woman who lives in house 7. I thought to myself that the odds of the Internet being correct on this were slim to none and kind of resigned myself to the fact that we wouldn't get to go in.
Guess what! Lo and behold, there actually is a house 7 on the plaza. And, even better, there is a sign on the door of the church that says to come see Manuela in house 7 for the key!
I timidly knock on the door...It is Spanish siesta time and I'm breaking some serious cultural rules! I get myself ready for a sharp tongued Spanish woman to come to the door and rip me a good one for disturbing siesta. But the sweetest, tiniest lady came out smiling. I apologise profusely, knowing it would be expected of me to do so, only to have her smile even bigger and express her happiness that I speak Spanish and that I am a pilgrim.
Manuela is not only the keeper of the key, but she is the keeper of the history of the church. She knows it all. She showed us every stone. she showed us which ones are original, which ones are restored, which parts fell down and which ones are turned wrong. She knows which parts of the frescos were painted when and by whom. She knows all the dates for every piece. You see, this church is a piece of her. It is her parent's church, and their parent's church. She was born here. She was christened here. She was married here. She has raised her kids here. And, most recent as 5 months ago, she held the funeral of her husband here. (we paused for a bit here while she cried and tried to regain her composure and I stroked her back and listened to her saddness). Manuela is the life of this ancient place. She holds the memories and loves this place.
The history here was amazing. Not only the ancient history, but the more recent history that is Manuela and her love of this place.
The last several days have made me decide that you need to hear 'the other side'.
The other night during dinner, Billy grabs my foot under the table and squeezes it and scares the everloving daylights out of me. Completely unable to act nonchalant about it, I gasp and give him a look and say, "what on earth are you attacking my foot for?" He says, "I can't believe it! Pendulum is at the next table!"
I knew exactly what he was saying and I glanced over to see the man in question. Last year, when Billy walked the Camino his first time, he came upon a guy who was consulting a pendulum regarding every move he made. Where should he spend the night? Ask the pendulum and follow the swing. What should he have for dinner? Ask the pendulum to point out the correct menu items. He even got very upset when he followed a woman's advice over his pendulum's answer and all did not turn out as he would have liked.
So here he was, sitting at the next table! And talking to his new dinner companions about his pendulum. How on earth did he end up in the same albergue with Billy on year two!?
That was a few days ago. We saw him again today, under even more bizarre circumstances. He walked in to the same cafe as 'Crystal'...
When walking the Camino, we play a bit of a hopscotch / leapfrog game with people. Everyone is on the same road, but we leave at different times, we rest at different places, we walk at different speeds...so you end up seeing people over and over again as you pass each other during the day or as you stop to rest in the same towns, etc.
For the last couple of days, we have been paralleling a woman who has both baffled and frightened me. The first time I saw her, she was walking an irratic s-pattern down the trail, stopping every few meters to state at the sky or to shake her arms at an invisible something, or to spin in a circle with her palms up and her head back. Honestly, my first thought was drugs. My second was mental illness. She also mumble talks to herself or to something. When we saw someone pass her, she waved her arms in a strange motion and said something in their direction. So, she freaked me out a little. With her outburst toward others when they passed, plus the thought that maybe we were looking at drugs or mental illness, I was a little nervous about passing her on a trail that is two feet wide. But pass her, we must. So I said a little prayer of protection and then she really freaked me out! When I prayed (quietly and at a distance of many meters), she stopped dead in her tracks and faced us head on in the middle of the trail. Whoa. She starts her stuff again. So I do it again and again she immediately turns toward us. Okay...I'm a lot freaked out now. Billy says a prayer silently and she ducks her head and turns her back to us and stands off to the side of the trail, but won't face us. We pass and go on our way. Its then that we notice that she has crystals in her hands and a black ball / orb. Okay. Now we know a little more about what we're dealing with .. the whole thing is more than a bit freaky.
The nature of the Camino being what it is, we have hopscotched and leapfrogged 'Crystal' for two days now. She acts even more nervous about us now than she did yesterday. Once, she saw us coming and literally ran off the trail and across a country highway! I really would be nice to her and try to have a conversation if she would stand still long enough, but she acts like we are hot potatoes and she takes off when she sees us.
She came to a cafe where we were having coffee today. She put down her crystals and her orb thing and turned to go order, but when she saw us, she grabbed her stuff and announced that she couldn't stay. And off she went. I asked another couple if they knew what her story was (as they are also leapfrogging the same parallel path with us) and they were as mystified as I am, only to say that she told them yesterday that she deals with energy on the Camino.
Tonight, we are staying in a home in a quaint village that looks like some precious alpine hamlet from medieval times. The owner was so nice and so gracious when we arrived, and she sent us immediately to the showers and to bed to recover. When we woke up, we found a key to the house tied to our door with a note that said, "go to a restaurant and enjoy your night...We'll see you later or tomorrow morning." such hospitality. Upon heading out for dinner, I noticed plates of crystals laying around. Then I noticed books on reading Tarot cards. Then the Buddha statue met us in the hallway.
I tell you these things so that you will have a clearer picture of what is on The Camino. There are some who walk for religious reasons. Some walk for adventure. Some walk for grief or loss. And some are out here doing whatever it is that they think might bring them peace and enlightenment.
May the real Truth and Love and Peace find those who are searching.
In our mission agency, we often use the African proverb, "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." We see this play out every day on The Camino.
There are people who are speeding along, pushing their physical limits, and leaving everyone else in the dust. Occasionally, we catch back up to them later, but usually because they have pushed too hard and are injured or too exhausted to continue. We ran into one of those people today. Early in our time on The Camino, we ran in to her often as she was walking at a pace and itinerary similar to ours. But a few days ago, she was complaining that she needed to walk faster and that would mean shedding some relational weight (walking buddies). Today, we were shocked to run in to her...she has been walking 42-45 km per day! But she looked spent. She looked sad. Before, she was always smiling and laughing. Now she just looked exhausted and sad.
I have been amazed at how fast a walking day goes when you have someone engaging you in talk and laughter. Days with Little Billy or walking with Raewyn seem to clip along at a better pace and mood. When someone pulls up alongside and you walk a few kilometers sharing stories, hours just seem to melt away and take your mind off of the sore feet and aching knees.
I was thinking today about how much I owe most of my Camino journey to others who have come alongside and kept me walking.
I am grateful to Billy (the husband one) for being there every step of the way...honestly, I would have quit on Day One if he hadn't been there to coach me through the struggle and the pain. And there have been about a million other times that I would have thrown in the towel if he hadn't been there to dust me off and keep moving.
I'm thankful for all the crazy, fun pilgrims who have kept us laughing on the trail.
I'm thankful for all the folks who sit around pilgrim dinner tables with us at night. There's no bad day that can't be greatly improved by a family style dinner and talking with friends.
I'm grateful for locals...The sweet people who see pilgrims walk down their streets every single day. I think it would be easy to get tired of that, yet there have been so many really precious local people who have taken the time to say hello, to wish us well, to get us back on the path when we get lost. Just this morning, one man stopped, without being asked and without us saying a word, he stopped in the pouring rain to ask us if we needed help (we were looking at a map). He then proceeded to give us very detailed directions...All while standing in the rain! Then he smiled and said, "Buen Camino" and was off. Another woman, also today, stopped directly in front of us and made a very intentional point of looking each of us in the eye to wish us well on our journey. Those folks bring a lump to my throat! So nice of them to help and to speak words of encouragement to complete strangers.
And there are folks back home - home in Spain and home in the USA - who keep encouraging us, keep reading this silly blog, keep sending us prayers and messages to help us along. You are an integral part of the Camino journey, whether you think so or not.
I don't think anyone could ever say I did this Camino 'fast'. And I definitely have not done it alone. I am sure grateful for all the people who have been with us...We still have a long way to go, so we need to go together.
Some days are great, and some are a little less than. I guess if you wake up to live another day, then they're all great (but some of us who are believers sometimes question even that...'cuz eternity with Him sounds a lot better than this day!).
Yesterday was one of those days. The good parts were the fact that I was with Billy and we were still walking with our New Zealand friend, Reawyn. And there was coffee in the morning - which makes every day worth living for at least a little while, right?!
It was one of those days from the very beginning. Albergue life being what it is, we were awakened by the cell phone alarms af several 'gotta be first, gotta beat the sun, gotta win the pilgrim race' pilgrims. Those folks generally wake up at 4:30am. After they wake up the entire room with their alarms and their packing procedures, others generally follow suit - what else are you going to do? For those of us who try to maintain some sort of sleeping composure, we can usually only make it to 6am before we give up and get up.
Pilgrims walk with an unmistakable limp and stiffness. At this point in The Camino, almost no one can stand up and take any steps without a moan. We do a lot of hobbling and shuffling until muscles get warmed up. If you are an unfortunate top bunk person, those first moments are crucial...will your feet and legs respond quickly enough to keep you upright?
We hit the road early and soon found out that today's walk would be way less than lovely. It followed the highway. In some places, we walked ON the highway. It was asphalt. It wasn't pretty.
Before we even made an hour of walking, I already had a hot spot on my foot. We stopped and did some quick repair and hopeful prevention of further damage. But by time we hit the first town, I had a full blown blister and we had to do more major work...The dreaded threading procedure so common to pilgrims. A sterilized threaded needle is sewn through the top of the blister and then the thread is cut, leaving two small pieces hanging out of both sides. These serve to wick the fluid from the blister while leaving the skin still covering it and protecting it from infection. This is all covered with a bandage after a few good squirts of antiseptic. It doesn't hurt at all. In fact, it relieves the pressure in the blister and helps tremendously. This procedure is a common sight along the Camino.
Off again for more unattractive highway or near highway experience. Thank goodness for Reawyn and her wit and quick jokes! She kept me laughing for most of the way. The path then wound it's way through an industrial area outside of a major city. Lovely. The more asphalt we walked on, the more my feet and knees hurt. Even my ever spunky happy friend was now losing it and we were both fast becoming Grumpy and Fussy Pilgrim.
I announced to the heavens that "I did not sign up for this part of the Camino. I signed up for Pretty Camino. I did not sign up for Yucky Industrial Asphalt Camino. And, PS...They didn't show this part in the movie."
Well, either the heavens heard me or the enemy did, because just at that moment I rolled my ankle and began the most epic slow motion death stumble of all time. As I fought to regain my footing and not hit the ground, several factors all came in to play at once. I'm wearing a giant backpack...my hunchback of Notre Dame appendage...and it is NOT helpful in balance control. Oh, quite the contrary. Imagine a slow motion cartoon of Elmer Fudd stumbling, huge pack on his back, arms flailing with trekking poles securely velcro fastened to each wrist and wildly swinging in the air. Reawyn just keeps saying "over-compensate, over-compensate", which was not meant to be a command, but instead was her blow by blow sports commentary of the show.
I managed to stay upright and only slightly pee my pants by the time I came to a halt. Then we laughed our heads off!
Y'all...It didn't get better. I won't even bore you with the rest. The highlights are:
I got another blister.
We said goodbye to Reawyn as she decided on two days in a hotel to rest.
We decided to give up on walking on highways and asphalt and take a city bus to our destination point for today.
We took bus advice from a patient who literally JUST walked out of the psychiatric hospital we passed on the way (turns out he was a very nice man who is probably a high - functioning autistic gentleman and he knew the bus schedule and city map by heart).
We managed to get lost inside the city in the absolute worst neighborhoods you can imagine. If I were a hostel or Albergue or hotel, I would NOT choose these neighbourhoods. However, if I were a drug dealer or human trafficker, I would consider it prime property.
We witnessed a domestic discussion that ended with a rather large woman dragging a very broken pack-n-play playpen down the street.
We walked past housing that reminded us of our days on the Mexico border working in the colonias.
Praise Jesus, we finally found our place for the night (we opted for a private room instead of Albergue bunks tonight). We doctored more foot ailments and bathed and found food.
Sunday HAS to be better, right? Maybe Pretty Camino is just around the corner? :)
The tiniest grain of sand or a sliver of a twig can make you crazy when it's in your boot. Just one blade of grass stuck to your sock can make you completely unfocused on anything else in the world and completely suck all of your attention to itself.
On the Camino, I have noticed that the little things have a way of really demanding my attention. A small wrinkle in my sock can make me absolutely mad until I stop to fix it. A backpack strap that is maladjusted will cause me to continually wiggle and fidget about in my pack trying to shift weight around and make things right. I have one small knot under the arch of my foot that has caused me so much grief over the last several days...A tiny knot the size of a pea that has caused me to walk funny, to change shoes, to shift my gait and to roll my foot to the outside.
A toenail can make you lose your mind. A seam on the inside of your shirt that is rubbing the wrong way. A runny nose that randomly decides to run while you're walking. A gnat or a fly that continues to buzz around your face. They're all such little things, but they have a way of sucking you dry and occupying your mind with their distraction and bothering ways.
Some little things are important to deal with. The issues with socks and feet are quite important! Healthy feet are vital. Leave a grain of sand or a piece of grass or a wrinkled sock for too long and you will be fighting blisters and injury later. Other little things are just that...little things. They are distractions. They beg for our attention and distract us from our focus.
There is a constant kind of discernment that I face on The Camino every day. Which little things are important, and which ones are not? Which ones should I pay attention to and deal with, and which ones should I learn to let go? I think this is a lesson I need to learn in the rest of my life, as well.
There are other little things that I have found to be very life-giving on The Camino. Listening to a bird on the trail. Flowers along the path. Stopping to chat with a local shop keeper, if only for just a moment. Having someone grab my pack from me at the end of a long day and offer to carry it to my bed for me. A hug from another pilgrim along the way. A husband who bandages my feet. A new friend who makes me laugh. Graffiti that gives encouragement and spurs me forward. A message from a friend back home with words of encouragement. The prayers of my good friend in Antequera, written out in advance and lovingly bundled in my pack for daily reading. A big smile from a pilgrim albergue host when they see our residency card and they say, "Ah! You live here in Spain!"
It's the little things.