We knew that today was forecast to be rain, and it certainly didn't disappoint. In the middle of the night last night, the thunder and lightning began in earnest. I secretly told myself that this was ludicrous and there was no way I was getting out of bed in the morning to walk in THAT! But when I woke up, it was only a steady drizzle and I decided that maybe I was being too much of a wimp. So we hoisted packs and set out for Sagahun.
Okay...back up. The truth about rain hiking is much more complex than that. You don't just put on your pack and go. Everything in our packs is put into giant zip lock bags. Worst thing at the end of the day is arriving to your destination exhausted and finding everything in your pack is cold and wet! Remember, even our beds are in there! Must take precautions to have dry bedding and clothes and everything else in there.
Then you cover all of your pack with a special rain cover designed to fit your pack. Then we hoist packs. Top it all off with special backpack rain panchos that cover your body plus the pack. NOW you can hit the trail.
The rain immediately showed it's true colors with flooded streets on the way out of town, only to be followed by flooded trails and man-eating puddles. It wasn't long before my pants legs were so wet that they began to run water in to my socks and boots.
Wet feet...A pilgrim's nightmare. Wet feet is a death sentence. It is a definite precursor to blisters. And once your boots are full of water, there's no remedy till you can get dry.
So, the Forrest Gump rain scene began playing itself out in our day. It was raining big rain, and little rain. Stinging rain and itty bitty rain. Drippy rain and big drop rain and cold rain and misty rain. It even seemed to rain up from the ground sometimes. There was rain dripping from my hat and rain on my glasses. Every step made feet slosh in my boots. We stopped for shelter and coffee an a cafe in a tiny town and I crossed legs at the table, only to have water run out of the heel of my boot. On several occasions, lightening would flash in the distance and we would judge how far it was from us, trying to figure out distances to the next shelter or town. PS. ..It was a wet, rainy day.
But we had fun, too! I'm so glad that our friend from New Zealand (Raewyn) teamed up with us early in the day and we walked together. She keeps us in stitches! We laugh so much when we are around her, and laughter is GREAT medicine when you are wet and cold and a little miserable.
End result...We made it to Sagahun, which is the official geographical center point on the Camino Frances! Officially halfway there! Raewyn says, "Hey, take one step that way. Now you are officially MORE THAN halfway there!" This is why I love this woman!
PS...no new blisters! It's a miracle!
Today's walk was described in the guidebook as uninteresting, featureless, and boring. Today however was the best day that I have had so far. I guess that says a lot about my personality? ? ? Actually I started out the day in thinking mode. I really haven't been in that frame of mind since starting the Camino. I guess I have been otherwise occupied with the details of the day or how my walking companion was holding up. Well, today was different. I began by putting on my pack as usual, but it felt uncomfortable. It hurt my shoulders, and it caused me to rethink life in general. My first thought was, "Are there things that I do every day that are really meaningless, like getting up early to walk for another 20 to 30 kilometers?" I couldn't help but relate to Forrest Gump. I pictured him just walking and walking across the US and then the quote "My mama says stupid is as stupid does." Little Billy (our Irish friend) said one day that man is the only animal stupid enough to do something like the camino.
It's not that I don't enjoy what we are doing, the people we meet, or the conversations we are having. It is just that sometimes there is a feeling of futility and monotony to it and I think that spills over into other areas of my life. I want to know that if I do something day after day that it is making a difference in my life or other people's lives. I did figure out a few things that I am going to flush from my life, but overall I still need to continue to evaluate my actions and what it is that I am doing.
Another thing that happened is a revaluation of the things that I am carrying on my back. My backpack is full. Today, because we would not have a place to stop for food and water, we had to pack a lunch and extra water for the trail. It ends up that the guidebook was wrong on that as well. Since we are used to eating lunch later in the day, we waited to eat the lunch when we arrived at our destination 17k down the road. I had more than enough water and there were even places to get water on the Camino. Guess where my guidebook is now? I pulled out a pocket knife at a picnic table and Laurie thought I had gone mad. I was only cutting out the maps to continue to help us with our journey and I threw Mr. Brierly's comments in the garbage. I now have less weight in my backpack. Laurie asked if I wanted to keep it as a souvenir and I said absolutely not. I don't need more things to pack, carry, move and store in my life. Ever since last year, I have been trying to evaluate what is important to keep or do and weed out those things that really don't matter.
It may sound like it was a bad day, but it was really incredible. We had some of the deepest conversations yet on the Camino, a great dinner with new friends from all over the world, and it was GOOD.
These days are beautiful in their own way, but they also hold the extremes of heat and monotony.
We left Castrojeriz at daybreak to take advantage of the cool morning before the sun is too high. Immediately outside of town, we were faced with a big, tough climb. From a distance, the hill looked exactly like the mountain we lived on in Peru! And the climb felt similar! By 8:20am, we had hit the summit and sat to admire the view and catch our breath. But, all things that go up must also come down. So, it was soon time to head down the other side...always tough on the knees.
The rest of the day was through fields of wheat and other grains. Very beautiful, but we were soon hot and somehow those fields start to feel like glowing molten gold radiating heat toward you. These days become a race from about 10:30am on...A race to get out of the heat! PS - there are no trees and no shade. And very few water refill areas.
We stayed in Boabdilla...A tired little town with a depressing history of being farmers and workers for rich landowners who were usually less than accommodating or fair. The town's one 'claim to fame' is an elaborately carved stone pillar in the town square - a pillar where people were chained and publically punished by the landowners. Hmm...not my idea of a cool landmark.
We did have a fabulous evening in the albergue in Boabdilla, where we had a huge family-style dinner with other pilgrims. We met many great fellow pilgrims! We laughed more at that dinner than we have laughed in weeks! A fun bunch, for sure!
Monday was my birthday. It began at 4am when the Italians in our albergue decided to don their headlamps and begin readying their gear for the day. I tried to ignore the noise and headlamps that continued to flash around the room and salvage the last hour or two of possible sleep, but to no avail. Finally, Billy came over to my bunk and asked if I wanted to go ahead and leave early. So, we put on our packs and left at 6am, before daybreak.
It was great to start the day in the cool, having to actually wear long sleeves for the first couple of hours. We walked for 6km along a water canal. The frogs were croaking and the early birds were beginning their calling and singing. Lots of yellow water iris. Really beautiful. We did see the sunrise during the canal walk, which was nice. Billy tried to claim that it was a sunrise walk on the waterfront and a lovely picnic breakfast (a granola bar) for my birthday.
The remainder of the day was a repeat if yesterday, except this day would follow the highway for 19km. Talk about reflecting heat! And the trail is flat and hard...not easy on the feet or legs.
On that note, a professional trainer for expert backpackers is currently on The Camino. She said that she has NEVER seen such torn up and damaged feet and legs. She thinks a lot of it has to do with the terrain...hard-packed centuries old trails, miles and miles of very flat terrain, interspersed with concrete. From a trainers point of view, the variety of actual mountain trails and natural wooded trails are better for the muscles and structure of our bodies. That, and the fact that we do it day after day after day.
Best part of today was meeting Pepe. Pepe is well in to his 80s and he owns a piece of land on the Camino. He grows almonds. He was sitting out on The Camino with a big bucket of his almonds, trying to stop pilgrims and give them a free snack and have a little chat. We watched lots of people pass him by. But, you know us...We couldn't pass up Pepe without hearing his story.
Pepe had a car accident and lives to tell the tale. Bottom line, he feels like it was a miracle that he lived and that's how he found God. Nowadays, he works in his garden and small orchard and tries to talk to pilgrims. He says some stop, and a lot don't. He must have sat there and cracked a gazillion almonds for me while we chatted. He took Billy and showed him his almond trees. He told Billy all about how to plant his own almond trees. All the while, Pepe is talking to Billy and cracking almonds for me. In the end, Pepe hugged us and kissed me and said, "We're friends forever. We're friends forever." He even told us how to send him mail. Pepe made my day! He made me cry...so sweet.
Every culture has their stories, and Spain is no different.
We have now arrived in a town that is just down the road from Castrillo De Matajudios. Now, for those of you who do not speak Spanish, that name means Camp of Kill the Jews. That's not very becoming, nor does it speak well for attracting tourists. The name dates back to the early 1400s when the Castillians were working hard to eradicate the Iberian Peninsula of all Moors and Jews. Just last year, in May of 2014, the townspeople decided that they should maybe change the name. However, all road signs and maps still say Matajudios. It was a somber reminder as we passed the sign for this town today.
ALL religions have committed atrocities in their search for what is right and in trying to decide what it means to be a loyal follower. Let's just leave it at that, please, and not start a war of comments and opinions. And say a little prayer that the radical side in all of us is covered over and that Love and Peace wins in the end.
On to the next craziness of the day... The fiesta of
Colacho is happening as we speak in the town we passed through today. The devil (a man dressed up) comes and jumps over all the infants who were born during this year. The infants are laid on cushions in the street. If the devil jumps over your baby, the baby is cleansed of original sin. Y'all, I can't make this stuff up! You have to go read about it. The Catholic church has urged the town to separate from this tradition and accept the idea of baptism instead, but the fiesta goes on.
So, there you go. That's your little piece of cultural learning for today. Don't judge culture, but do try to learn from it and try to understand a small piece of the underpinnings of society.
Off to bed for me...another day on The Camino tomorrow with lots more to learn.
Day 12 (Thursday) was really wonderful. The topo map showed a pretty serious uphill climb that would cover 12 km of the day, so we started out with a little nervousness for how it would go. I have had chest congestion and a cough for a few days now, and I completely lost my voice on Wednesday, so we weren't sure if I would be able to make the climb with my lungs compromised. However, God was awesome and didn't disappoint! I took the climb slow, but it was not terrible and the views more than made up for the effort!
We hiked through oak forest for several kilometers. Then, it turned in to pine forest with ferns covering the ground. So many times, we both remarked at how much it looked like Texas forests.
We were caught in a little summer heat thunderstorm at one point, but it was very short and the rain barely even made it to the ground from the heat.
We stayed in a tiny, ancient little town that still looks like it came straight out of Game of Thrones. We ate dinner at the house of someone who Billy met last year. The house is 400 years old! She was super sweet to us, pinching Billy's cheeks when she talked to him. She was quite worried about my voice and throat and she told me at least 52 times that I needed to drink lemon and honey.
Our night was TERRIBLE! One day, I will have to post all about the lovely experiences of pilgrim albergue lodging life. But for now, just imagine 100 other pilgrims all sleeping in bunk beds in the same room. All from different cultures and ways of doing things. Men and women mixed in the same room. Two toilets and two showers for each sex. It's a train wreck. ..trust me. So, last night was the worst so far and we got zero sleep. It was sweltering hot in there. At 3am, someone's cell phone alarm went off. Then at 5:30am, another alarm went off and no one would claim it or turn it off. We finally gave up and hoisted our packs and hit the trail at 6:15am.
Today was also good. Walking so early, we got in several miles before the heat hit. We met a Spanish woman named Angela. Angela was stopped on the side of the trail on the first big hill and I asked if she was okay (because no one is slower than me!) and she replied that she was fine. She said, "paso a paso y poco a poco" - step by step and little by little. I need to add that this woman is grey headed and obviously much older, which is why I checked on her to begin with.
We later found out that Angela is 80! Yes...80! She has 6 kids and 18 grandkids. This is her 12th time to walk The Camino. Her last time was just 6 months ago! I asked her why she keeps walking it and she said, "I just love to walk. I love The Camino." She was awesome and an inspiration!!!
We are staying the night in Burgos, then we start the part of the Camino called The Meseta. Lots of long, desolate stretches coming up. I've heard many say that the first third of the Camino is about conquering the physical - the second is about conquering the emotional/mental - and the last third is where God really works on your spiritual self. That makes me a little nervous. ..I thought the first third was pretty emotional!
What do these next 2 weeks hold for me?
I've been pretty honest with you guys about my struggles. However, if you were to only see photos, it looks like lots of beauty and smiles and fun, doesn't it? Guess what, Folks. .. just like all other social media, photos don't usually tell the full story. For every one smiling laughing awesome photo, the truth is in the 52 other photos of that day that you don't see, or that didn't even get taken because they were too real or too hard. We have heard countless folks on The Camino say how surprised they are at how hard it is. "It didn't look this hard in the movie."
So, in a small effort to show the truth, here is what most of the day really looks like...
So, let's just start off with the fact that I'm still walking and I haven't packed it up and gone home. Truly, the last two days have been much better. We made a few tweeks to our system and our plans and sort of threw the schedule and the map to the wind. We will walk till we feel like we are done for the day and then we'll stop for the night. So far, that has been a good plan.
The days are getting ridiculously hot and the trail has very little shade or respite. Hydration is a major issue now.
When we arrived in Santo Domingo De la Calzada yesterday, it was around lunch time in Spain (2 pm). We were hot and exhausted and decided to go ahead and stop. The line to check in to the albergue at the church was long and slow...The nun running the show was a little particular, to say the least. While waiting in line, the heat and the hydration caught up with me and I started to feel nauseous. Billy stayed in line while I went to sit in the shade of a fig tree. God and I had a serious discussion under that fig tree and I had to admit to trying to do this Camino under my own strength (which is minimal to none) and had not been asking for His strength to carry me.
I'm not one to say that I have experienced miraculous responses, but I have to say that as soon as I prayed under that fig tree, I suddenly felt tons better. So much so that I went back to the line and told Billy that I thought we should go on and not stay here. Folks, this is a really weird response from someone who almost threw up 5 minutes ago!
So, we hoisted our pack again and headed in to town to find some lunch and rest for a sec before we headed forward. Guess who we found around the corner?! Little Billy!!! We had lost him a few days ago when we had to slow down and thought that we might not see him again on The Camino. Giant hugs abounded in a wonderful reunion and we all sat down to lunch together. I need to point out that if I had not sat under that tree and decided to move on, we would NOT have run in to Little Billy!
After lunch, we took our time in town by going to the big cathedral and to the ermita chapel and around the older areas. Then we headed out to the next town in Grañon. Grañon is a tiny town that originally existed only as a church and a pilgrim hospital. We stayed in the original pilgrim hospital that is from the 14th century and still looks it! The priest was lovely and held a pilgrim mass and blessing. Accomodations are just as they were in the old days...mats on the floor and community meals at a giant common table. there were 8 nationalities represented at the table and we all said the blessing for the food in our own language.
During dinner, one of the pilgrims began to feel poorly, then she went white and passed out. She and her husband are from England. No one had any idea what to do. And didn't know how to talk to her or her husband. When she came back to consciousness, I was able to determine that she had not had ANY water today. She only had two glasses of wine and a glass of orange juice during the day. Someone had some rehydration fluids and she began to drink it, but the usual symptoms persisted and she began to vomit and get worse. The host called for a doctor, but no one could speak both English and Spanish well enough to talk to a doctor on the phone. I never dreamed that all of that translating for medical missions in Peru would come in to play in Spain, but here I was and I knew how to translate. After talking with an EMT and the doctor, they decided to come to the albergue to treat her. Once there, I continued to translate between them.
In the end, all was well. She was very dehydrated. The doctor was happy with her recovery by the time they left and demanded that the woman NOT walk on Wednesday and only rest and drink fluids before she walks again. This week is forecast to be one of the hottest weeks in June in history for Spain. Pilgrims are already planning shorter days and walking earlier to take advantage of the morning coolness.
Again, it is not lost on me that had we stayed in the first albergue in Santo Domingo, we would not have had the experience of staying in the 14th century pilgrim hospital in the church, nor would we have been available to translate for the medical emergency that occurred.
Moral of this story...pray under the fig tree, admit that your own strength is not sufficient, and let Him lead. He has a pretty good plan!
Sunday... It was a really tough day for me. Expectations. I expected that it would be an easier day after resting and taking a day off. I wanted to be rearin' to go. Instead, it started out hard and only got harder. It was like we hadn't had any time off at all. My feet were killing me. I had to switch to my hiking sandals early in the day. The day started out with a long walk in the city...not my favorite. Concrete walking is really tough on your feet and legs.
Sometimes, these towns decide to "help the Pilgrims" by paving the trail...which is terrible. Today we did 13 kilometers on "improved trail", which means 13 km of foot beating and leg torture. To top it off, the trail follows alongside the highway. Not really lovely and not really pleasant. And it was hot. And that was just the first 13km.
It was slow going. Physically and mentally tough. I still hate being passed up every day, all day. Still hate feeling like I'm last or that I am less than everyone else. Seems like everyone else is doing it easily. I wanted to walk the Camino as a ministry to listen to others, but that is hard to do when people keep passing you. I also wanted to walk to prove to myself that I could do this, which I am seriously doubting right now. I don't want to complain. I don't want to share my pains and doubts, but it is obvious how hard this is for me. Billy is super patient, but I can't get past feeling like I am holding him back. I'm frustrated with myself and I'm afraid he will get frustrated with me, too.
Somewhere between Navarette and Ventosa, I broke down. I lost it. I just started crying like a baby. I was physically hurting. I was exhausted. I was an emotional wreck. I lost it.
To add insult to injury, I started getting cramps in my foot and my back and shoulder. Dehydration was going to play a factor in this day. No water equals guaranteed cramps. Billy tried to massage the cramp out of my shoulder and back and it was excruciating! So, of course, I cried again.
When we got to Ventosa (11 km short of our goal), we called it quits for the day. We got a place to stay, to try to regain composure, and to debrief what is going on with me and this journey.
We had a good, long talk. I cried a lot. It is really hard for me to confront something that I can't figure put. It's equally terrible to be face to face with something that I might not be able to conquer or be successful at. I've always been able to find a way to succeed at everything I really put my mind in to. But the Camino is another animal. ..I'm not sure I can win this battle, and that is tough to deal with.
I'm giving my 100% best every day. I'm giving it all I've got. I've got nothing more to give. The reserves are gone. Yet I fall short every day. I can't meet my own goals. I fail at my own expectations all the time. I feel like I'm letting Billy down and holding him back.
Really, at 2pm today, I just wanted to go home and admit that The Camino had won this battle. This is the hardest thing I have ever done. I'm not sure I can do it. I don't know how to deal with failure in this. I'm a mess. Something has to change. I can't walk all the way to Santiago like this.
(Adendum. ..After crying and talking to Billy and debriefing and resetting expectations, I feel ready to continue. He's a great coach! We'll see what tomorrow brings.)
We walked a short distance today, 7:30am to 11:30. Being the 7th day on the trail, we opted for stopping early and taking a day of reflection and rest and recovery. We are currently in Logroña and will resume hiking on Sunday. I'm writing to you as I sit on the floor of a laundromat doing some much needed laundry after a week of Camino dirt.
Looking back at the past 7 days:
We crossed the Pyrenees in freezing temps and fog and drizzly rain...A 12 hour hiking day. A HUGE feat for me!
Joy always comes in the morning! No matter how tired and sore and worn out I am in the evening, no matter how much I think I can't go foward tomorrow, I wake up every day and feel great and find new strength and new joy. It's true...joy does come in the morning.
I have learned that I am still a broken vessel who needs some serious soul work. My pride has been a major source of trouble over the past few days. Watching people pass me by is tough. Comparing myself and my journey to others is trouble every time. Pride is a killer. I cannot compare my journey to the journey of others. God has me on a specific path for a specific purpose.
I have seen, over and over again, how important it is to be in community and to do this journey together. Yes, there are times when it is important to walk alone and be reflective and introspective. But there are many more times when it is important to have a companion, to have a friend to listen to or to walk with I their story, someone who will encourage you and to whom you can be an encouragement.
I have learned that mentors and guides come in many shapes and sizes. Some are older, some are younger, some are many steps ahead of you, while others are just a few feet ahead...but all are mentors and guides and helpers. It is important to learn to walk in the wise counsel of others who have gone before you and can help on the journey.
We have come 168 kilometers out of 791km. Only 623km left to go...
We left Estella at 7am under a glorious blue sky and with a cool breeze keeping the morning fresh. Not too far down the trail, we were already shedding the sleeves and putting on sunscreen for what was turning into a scorching day. Billy (the Irishman we call Little Billy - he named himself that due to his height next to Billy Drum) caught up to us as we walked. On other days, Little Billy (a man in his 60s) has had a goal and a pace and has passed us up quickly each day. But today, something was different and he said that he had already hit the wall. It wasn't even 8:30am yet and he was slowing down and low in spirit. So he walked alongside us instead of his usual pace.
For the first time, we could actually chat with him. Big Billy (my tall husband) asked the question that seems to stump many on this Camino... "Why are you walking The Camino?"
Little Billy began to slowly tell the story of his wife and her long battle with MS. So much love and compassion and pain began pouring from his heart as he recounted the story of their relationship. At times, he laughed and talked about their vacations together, about her love of writing, about her unquenchable desire to learn more and get her masters. He also told of her battles with losing her ability to walk, of her going blind, and of her loss of independence. He talked about being a caregiver and about finally being told by doctors that he couldn't do it all...He needed help. He talked for many, many kilometers. In the end, it turns out that this week is the one year anniversary of her death. He walks in honor of her and as a way to mourn and grieve.
As his tears fell, I reached out to touch his shoulder and he turned and grabbed my arm and squeezed it tight. He looked me in the eyes and said "Thank you. Thank you, Laurie. I'm going to be okay." And he kept walking alongside us.
These things go one of two ways. Either the openness and vulnerability becomes too heavy and role find a way to separate themselves and self - protect, or the vulnerability brings them closer. In this case, Little Billy pulled in closer to us. He stayed with us all day. He walked at a slower pace and talked to us for 22 km. I hung back quite a bit and let the two Billy's talk all day.
At the end of the day, even though it had been a sweltering day on the trail with little to no shade or shelter, even though my muscles were aching and I was exhausted, I thought it was a most beautiful, most incredible, most holy and divine day.
Little Billy went his way and we went ours when we got to town. And it wasn't an hour later before he called our cell phone to see if we would come to the square to share a drink with him and wind down from the day. We went to the pilgrim mass and blessing together, and then we ate dinner together.
Loving living life with others along The Camino! It's a Holy experience.