camino


In honor of finding my old journal, in honor of the very recent second anniversary of (my) Camino, in honor of the movie about Camino releasing next month, and mostly in honor of seeing that I am still walking it in my heart – I present to you the finale of mi caminar a través de España (here’s part 1 and part 2). And here‘s my pictures.

Day 10: Portomarín
The race is on: there over 300 beds in this town, and TONS of people are sleeping in the streets. The next town has a little over 100 beds, so we are getting concerned about finding places.
The walk today wound through peaceful countryside, which was a nice change of pace from being next to busy roads. It is amazing that with so many people walking, you can still be completely alone, unable to see anyone either in front of or behind you. If that happens in a patch where the yellow arrows are scarce, it can make you very nervous that you are lost.

There was a long line for the laundry sinks, so Jake & I went in with Jeanette & Esther to get a washer (rentable washers, like at a laundromat), but the piece of junk ate our money. Esther was hilarious.
My feet are healing from the blisters, although they still hurt really bad when walking. My hip, which mostly healed the day we went to O Cebreiro, chafed again from the Band-Aid so today I didn’t put anything on it.

Day 11: Palas de Rei
We booked it to make it here in time to get a spot in the municipal, which most of us did. We left half an hour earlier than normal, and the distance and number of beds are almost exactly the same as today, so I think we will do the same tomorrow. Some of us ate lunch with a French lady who is a swimsuit designer. Jake & I are not getting along at all.
I am ready to go home.

Day 12: Ribadoso
6 of us made it to the albergue in time to get a spot; everyone else was planning to go further. Then the albergue kicked out the first 15 people in line because they were a group – kids with chaperones. I hope they were able to find some other place to stay; that had to be stressful for the chaperones. But, they didn’t walk very far at all so I didn’t feel sorry for them having to walk more. This albergue is nice, actually (for an albergue) – our new definition of luxury. There are plenty of laundry sinks and more than enough space on the clotheslines. And, THE SHOWERS HAVE DOORS! The buildings are stone lodge style; there’s a lot of land, and it’s next to a little creek. So, even though the town doesn’t have much, we are glad we’re staying here. And, our little group of 6 is great – no whiners.
While walking up a hill with Esther today, she said, “I’m glad the guy with short shorts isn’t here.” About a minute later, I heard someone speaking Spanish to her behind me and then passing her. She squeaked, “Suzanne!” and I knew who it was. Sure enough, he came alongside me and I could see his white thighs out of the corner of my eye before he passed; then all that was left were his scrawny butt cheeks propelling him up the hill. We cracked up.

Things I am looking forward to:
1. not sleeping in a sports bra
2. paper towels, or any towels, in the bathroom
3. privacy while showering
4. not sleeping in a room full of snorers
5. wearing clean clothes
6. getting a full night’s sleep
“There is a vast, rich reality of obedience beneath the feet of disciples. They are not the first persons to ascend these slopes on their way of obedience to God, and they will not be the last.” – Eugene Peterson
This is the most striking thing about Camino for me – I am not the first to walk this, and I am not the last. We have been walking this path for thousands of years, all in our own way walking to God.

Day 13: O Pino (Arca)
It was overcast this morning and misting when we left. The last hour or so it rained on us. It was cold and wet and miserable waiting on the albergue to open, and it opened late because a girl collapsed or something right in front of the door.
The restaurant we ate lunch at was really good – prices were low, portions huge, food genuinely good, and waitress nice. Oh! and the bathroom had hot water, AND soap, AND paper towels. We are all really looking forward to arriving tomorrow and being FINISHED.
On Psalm 133 and community: “How great to have everyone sharing a common purpose, traveling a common path, striving toward a common goal, that path and purpose and goal being God…Living together means seeing the oil flow over the head, down the face, through the beard, onto the shoulders of the other – and when I see that I know that my brother, my sister, is my priest. When we see the other as God’s anointed, our relationships are profoundly affected…we are set apart for service to one another. We meditate to one another the mysteries of God. We represent to one another the address of God.” – Eugene Peterson
This chapter [from A Long Obedience in the Same Direction] really hit home for me. I love the idea of community but tend to shrink back from the reality. I want to pick and choose who my community is, but that’s not the way it works. In fact I have been intentionally avoiding relationship with some of the people God has given me to be my community. And even though I’m convicted about it now, I’m still not sure I want to do anything about it.

Day 14: Santiago
We got into Santiago around 11. There was no particular sense of celebration, because the walk here was itself celebratory. Our band of 6 walked more or less together the whole way, talking and laughing and taking our time. (Maybe this is how we should have walked most days?) We waited in line for about 2 hours for our compostelas, then ate lunch at Burger King. While we were waiting in line, an old lady came up to us and said we could stay at her house, so we did. This is not something I would have considered a few weeks ago, but seems perfectly normal now.

And there you have it: 2 weeks that changed how I think about God, my views on luxury and comfort, the way I give (and possibly more importantly, receive) hospitality, my approach to friendship, how I make it through hardship, my feelings toward seashells and yellow arrows. I was miserable almost the entire time, yet I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.

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On Sunday, we visited a different church. When we picked Asher up from the nursery, the lady said brightly, “I can tell he is used to going different places, he just did great, no problems at all.” I smiled and affirmed that he is easygoing but inside my heart twisted for my little boy, who has moved more in his short life than I did in my first quarter century. He’s never known anything but different places and the worst part of it is: there is no end in sight.

On the second day of Camino, a blister started forming on the bottom of my foot. I ignored it as long as I could but finally stopped to drain it. I bandaged it as well as possible and continued on. It felt better for a bit but then started to hurt again. I drained it again, bandaged, walked…but after that it turned into a blood blister. I wasn’t sure what to do with a blood blister so I hobbled the rest of the day, miles and miles, in utter agony, until we came to Astorga. I would have loved to stop along the way but there was nowhere to do so, I just had to keep going. Some medical people cared for my foot in Astorga but that sort of healing takes a long time. The next day I set out wounded.

We were headed to Foncebadon. Though we started out early, the trek was long and my feet hurt badly. But there was just nothing to be done but keep going. Even though it was hot and even though we had to go 7k (about 4 miles) up a very steep hill, one you nearly had to crawl up, one referred to by a member of our group as “the face of death.” No point in stopping – you would still be hot and tired and you would lose what momentum you had. So I kept going. Even though I wanted to lay down and die, I knew I couldn’t. I mean, I could do the laying down but was unlikely to actually die, and then I would just be stuck in the middle of nowhere in Spain. So I kept walking until I got to Foncebadon.

Same for every day after that, just keep going til you get to your destination. Just keep going because if you don’t you are stranded in very rural Spain. There’s nothing else you can do. Then you get up the next day and do it again.

And that is what I’m doing now: Just keep going. My feet are bleeding and my arches are tearing and and my tendons are on fire and my knees feel like they have knives in them and my hips have weeping sores from my pack and speaking of my pack, it’s heavy and my shoulders ache and IT IS SO FREAKING HOT and I’m thirsty but my Nalgene is already empty and none of the water we pass is potable and I am just going to carry on because thousands, millions of people have done this before me for thousands of years and somehow they survived and I will too. I just have to keep putting my feet down, tired as they are, one in front of the other, until I get to wherever it is that I’m going, because even though there is no end in sight I know that eventually I have to get SOMEWHERE if I just keep walking. Maybe it is a tiny little town on the top of a steep, steep hill but I won’t even check for bedbugs because I will be so happy, grateful to get a bed.

To peregrinos – pilgrims – Foncebadon means an arduous day but it also means a decent shower and communal dinner at the end of it. Then after exhausted sleep, you get up the next morning and do it again.

I am always intrigued by the search terms used to find my blog. Recently someone wandered over here by googling “naked in the albergue on the camino,” which has now joined “fat guy in swimsuit” in my all-time favorite searches. (I googled the albergue one and sure enough, my blog pops up on page 6. Someone was very dedicated to unearthing all there is to be known about this condition.) (By the way, don’t try googling “fat guy in swimsuit,” my post doesn’t come up, at least not that I had the patience to find, and especially don’t do an image search because a lot of those images have nothing whatsoever to do with a swimsuit.)

Camino has been on my mind a lot lately, though. A mere few months ago I could not imagine ever wanting to do it again but something – my transient lifestyle, I suppose, or perhaps packing my Camino pack once again with the intention of living out of it – has made me think wistfully of the simple life of just walking. All your belongings fit into a backpack and your life’s worries consist of finding a place to sleep and acquiring food. I mean, I guess that is all you ever really need to worry about but on the Camino that is literally what you are doing. Your time is spent walking and talking and thinking and just being. (This is a romanticized version, of course. I just read back over my Camino posts, which I actually never finished, and was forcibly reminded of the interpersonal difficulties and PAIN ALL THE TIME and my recent musings have neglected those very important items.) Everything just seems so hard and directionless right now (no one told me coming home was the hard part!), the idea of walking and thinking and eating tortilla and following the yellow arrows seems so simple and appealing. There are no yellow arrows in real life.

It has been a while…if you need to refresh your memory the first part is here.

Day 5: Ponferrada
I am SO glad we went extra yesterday; today was extremely difficult for me. It was almost all downhill, many parts very steep. And rocky too – difficult to find comfy footing for my recovering blisters. Threw a lot of “God, help me” prayers up & continued knocking back ibuprofen. My feet were in quite a bit of pain by the time I made it to Ponferrada. Unfortunately there is nothing to be done but to keep going until you get there – on Camino and in life. I think of my friend Amy, who is walking through some horrible situations in life, and I would rather live on Camino – miserable as it is – than go through what she’s going through.
There is only 1 albergue in town so we went there – to be sent to the back of an extremely long line. <One person> was in the front because she hitched a ride and she told them we were a group of 18. They pulled us out of line to check us in together, even though there were still 4 people missing. We got in trouble for that later because it is against the rules to save places and the guy said he would kick all of us out if they became overcrowded. Thankfully that didn’t happen. Jake & I were dubious about checking in with them in the first place because cutting in line is not usually the best way to make friends.
True colors are starting to show through as people are tiring and getting hurt.
Some people want to pass Villafranca tomorrow to shorten the O Cebreiro day, despite an acute lack of lodging. Jake & I, along with Esther & Jeanette, decided we are stopping in Villafranca anyway so we can be rested for O Cebreiro, which will be difficult no matter how much we shorten it.

As an aside, my only regret from Camino is that we passed the Cruz de Ferro early this morning, and even though I had a Texas rock to place at the cross I didn’t. (Pilgrims have been placing rocks from their homeland, representing their burdens, at this cross for hundreds of years.) I didn’t realize we were passing it this morning and didn’t feel prepared to participate in something so significant. I wish now that I had done it anyway.

Day 6: Villafranca
Today wasn’t too bad; a shorter day, and not too challenging as far as terrain goes. I made decent time but came into town alone, so I wandered around looking for everybody (I had no money with me so could not procure lodging on my own). Finally I found an albergue with a few familiar faces, so I asked if they’d seen anyone from my group and they directed me to a nearby albergue. I was one of the last few to get a bed. This was the last day Jake carried all of our money with him.
At this point Jake & I are sharing food & medical supplies freely with Esther & Jeanette. We started out keeping tabs and more or less paying each other back, but at this point we are not bothering with money any more. We do try to rotate who buys the bag of croissants for breakfast but other than that it’s like family.

Day 7: O Cebreiro
Jesus knew what He was talking about when He told people to travel light. We paid a few euros to send our bags ahead for the longest & most physically demanding day. Some people said this was cheating, but I think it was more authentic – after all, pilgrims 1000 years ago had just their clothes, walking stick, and a gourd for water. I replaced the gourd with a Nalgene and that was basically it. Anyway, the result: what should have been the most taxing day was the best since the first walking day. I did a little over 19 miles in 6 hours, which is a pretty good pace. Like I said, Jesus knew what He was talking about when He gave traveling instructions. They sound so restrictive, but really, they’re grace.
I had a wonderful conversation with a little old lady on my way today – in Spanish, of course. It has been wonderful to understand the language around me while here, but also very discouraging because I haven’t taken a Spanish class in 11 years or so and I speak much, much more Spanish than French despite living in France.
Last night my bed was literally under the eaves in the attic of the albergue (like I couldn’t sit up because the ceiling was RIGHT THERE) and it was unbearably hot, to the point I couldn’t sleep. But it was really chilly for the first few hours of walking. Having a day off from the pack gave my hip sores a chance to heal, and they’re looking a lot better. My feet feel a lot better too – they did hurt while walking, but not as bad as they have since I switched to the new shoes.
Also, community showers. The guys say these aren’t “real” community showers…but I figure if I am naked & showering, and I can see other naked people showering & they can see me, that is plenty of community.

Day 8: Triacastela
Not too bad today; it was mostly downhill but ok. I didn’t see any signs announcing that the town was Triacastela so I stopped, fixed my sock, stretched, and continued on. When I got to the highway I noticed the direction sign didn’t have Triacastela on it, and since I’d seen a lot of albergues in town I decided to find out what town it was. I returned and asked what the name of the town was, and found out it was Triacastela. I headed back to figure out where everyone else was. Turns out the municipal albergue was across the street from where I fixed my sock and stretched, and unfortunately none of the people who were watching the road saw me. The albergue is pretty far off the road so I didn’t see it either.
Some in our group didn’t like the looks of the municipal albergue and went to a private one which is 7 euros instead of 3. I feel like that is taking advantage of fact we are being reimbursed but got a negative reaction when I mentioned this. Apparently I am on my way to a reputation as a holier-than-thou but since I don’t like a lot of these people anyway that doesn’t bother me too much.
Community showers again, but since I showered when everyone else was at lunch I managed not to be seen by anyone.
Had a cool conversation with a guy named John we have seen at several stops along the way. Found out he went to the same smarty-pants school as my sister.
Also, SPAIN HAS MORE FLIES THAN PEOPLE.

Day 9: Sarria
We accidentally walked the long way today, past an old monastery (founded in the 600s). Unfortunately, being Sunday, the monks were busy praying so the monastery was closed and they wouldn’t stamp our credencials. Which is disappointing, because this is supposed to be the coolest stamp of the whole Camino and since we accidentally walked the extra to go there it would have been nice to get. As far as walking goes, it wasn’t too bad; the terrain was fine. But the ground was very rocky and uneven, so my feet were in a lot of pain. I made it, though. We had to stay in a private albergue because the municipal is very small, but several of the people we have seen along the way are staying here too.
There was a discussion today about whether or not we should make reservations at another private albergue because lodging will be harder to procure from here on out (a lot of people start the Camino from Sarria because it is the last place to start if you want a compostela). My opinion is that we should not deliberately plan to spend three times as much.
“Perseverance is not resignation, putting up with things the way they are, staying in the same old rut year after year after year, or being a doormat for people to wipe their feet on. Endurance is not a desperate hanging on but a traveling from strength to strength…Perseverance is not the result of our determination, it is the result of God’s faithfulness.” – Eugene Peterson

I re-read A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson while walking because it covers the Psalms of Ascents – the pilgrimage Psalms. I read a chapter every day (starting 2 days before we started walking) – every chapter for one Psalm – and I would absolutely do that again. Absolutely.

Day 0: travel to Madrid. Getting nervous & worried: what if I forgot something? What if my pack is too heavy? What was I thinking?

Day 1: train to León.
song in my head: Imperial March.
verse I thought of this morning: “we are always being given over to death…” (2 Corinthians 4:11)
My bag is heavier than I wanted. I didn’t get as much sleep as I wanted. I am nervous and worried.

“Be graceful and grateful in representing the reign of God.”

Day 2: San Martín
thought this morning: what have I gotten myself into?
verse that popped into my head: “strengthen your weak knees” (Hebrews 12:12)
Scheduled to stop in Villadangos; walked 5k extra to make tomorrow shorter. Icy cold shower. Knees & feet tired but ok; group walked more or less together all day. Had tortilla patata for dinner – eggs, potatoes, and green peppers cooked together in a skillet. Delicious! and filling.

Day 3: Astorga
Yesterday, at the end of the day, I thought this wasn’t so bad, that I can do this. Today I think I am in hell. Most of the day spent hobbling on a blister (literally, on the bottom of my foot) which became a blood blister. Prayed “God, help me” with every step. The rest of the group left me & Jake behind once we got into town, which wouldn’t have been so irritating if they hadn’t been insisting we stay together. Once we finally found the albergue, they had people to care for foot wounds so I paid them a visit. The guy took one look and told me to lay down. He drained it and then told me – through Esther, my friend and interpreter, that he was going to put some iodine in it and it would hurt a little.
me: (partially sitting up) IN?!?!??! He’s going to put iodine IN it? That will not hurt a little…it will hurt like a…
Esther tried to convince me that the syringe I saw was for the person in the other bed but I didn’t believe her. And it wasn’t. He poked the needle under the skin and injected iodine the fires of hell into my foot. I shouted something but did not flinch. After 45 seconds or so I lost feeling in the last 2 toes of my foot because it hurt so bad. They told me I was a torera (bullfighter) for taking the iodine injection like that. They also told me I will be able to walk tomorrow. We’ll see.

Had to get new shoes (closed toe) to prevent infection.

lesson on human nature: people who are all “Hey guys, wait up!” when they’re in the back of the pack don’t bother to look behind them when they’re in the front.

Day 4: Foncebadón
Once again, we went farther than scheduled in order to shorten tomorrow. At the beginning I wasn’t doing well, but either the prayers or the Advil* paid off because I started feeling better. Still praying “God, help me” with every step. Heels & arches hurt, but open foot wounds protected from infection so it was a tradeoff. Beast of a hill today; thought I might have a heart attack but survived. Worried because tomorrow is mostly downhill, and blisters are all on the balls of my feet & ends of my toes, plus downhill is hard on my knee.

The albergue is nice, with a hippie-ish vibe, but the town is basically the 2 albergues and nothing else. Not even a small store. Met some nice Germans and talked with them quite a bit; they are doing Camino for real and started in St. Jean Pied de Port. They have been walking 3 weeks. One of them mentioned he had gotten a blood blister early on so I asked him how long it had taken to heal. “From then until…now,” he answered after inspecting his foot. So two weeks or so. Great.

*Spanish ibuprofen is 600mg instead of 200mg, which is a nice surprise after you’ve been downing them all day.

You can read some other points of view from the trip here: http://thecamino.wordpress.com/
You can see my pictures (all landscape-y) from Camino here.

OK, folks, here is a link to some of my pictures from Camino. You should be able to see them, even if you’re not a Facebook user. If you can’t for some reason, and you actually want to see them (BEWARE: they are pretty much all landscape-y or sightseeing-y), let me know and I’ll put them up here.

(Why, Suzanne! Why didn’t you take any pictures of people? Or WITH people? Well, I did – at their request and on their cameras. I figured I could just get the people pictures from everybody else and save myself the bother.)