Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Day 2 - slept in Roncevalles - June 29

Woke up at 6:30, left the alberge by 8:30am. Someone was snoring all night, turns out it was the mother Anigrette from Finland, who had apologized in advance the night before! "Yes, this is how it was going to be." The morning was tough, I washed my face, brushed my teeth and had the dry heaves for a minute. My body was still jet lagged and my mind was anxiously wondering what lie ahead. I fumbled around for a bit and, not being able to pack my new sleeping bag, I looked at the gorgeous sunrise over the mountains out of my window and went down for breakfast.

The breakfast, if that is what you can call it, was nothing more than coffee or tea, and bread with butter and jam. That's it, no fruit, no protein, basically just bread. Normally I'm a coffee drinker but they don't have my beloved half-n-half and the coffee is extra strong, so in every effort to be gentle on my system and take care of myself, I picked tea again with a splash of normal milk. And forced myself to eat a little bit of bread.

I sat next to Esther from Holland and she revealed what a delightful creature she is :) I was telling her about how I cannot seem to roll my new sleeping bag into it's tiny little bag and she said "don't bother rolling it just stuff it in there." So when I went back upstairs, lo and behold, I was able to fit that entire liner into that tiny bag just by "stuffing it in there." I felt a little better having drank something warm so I got dressed in my still damp jeans and packed my bag. Because the next leg is a serious climb up one side of a mountain and a serious climb down the other side of the mountain, a group of us decided to send our packs on to the next alberge (good call Erin). My bag was heavy and I already knew I was going to have to reassess it, so I tagged my bag and put 5 Euro in the envelope for the service.

I was the last one out of our dorm room and one of the last ones to leave the alberge. When I came down the place was empty except for Jean-Jacques who thought I had already left and he was so happy to see that I hadn't gone without saying goodbye. I said of course I would say goodbye and he said he was sad that he had to sleep alone last night, wink wink. Playing along, I just shrugged my shoulders. He smiled and then gave me the proper kiss on the right cheek then kiss on the left cheek like they do in France, but then looked into my eyes and slowly moved in to kiss me on the lips. It felt nice so I kissed him back. As soon as we looked at each other again he was as excited as a schoolboy and took my hand and led me into the kitchen. We must've made out for a full 20 seconds ;) He was so adoring but gratefully he kept himself in check. He asked if he could get me anything before I left and I said "how about a glass of Champagne?" "Mais bien sur, cheri!" It was music to my ears. I sat a few minutes longer and sipped it with him and then, like countless girls before me no doubt have, I turned and walked out of the door. He wished me "Buen Camino" my best Buen Camino yet.

  So there it was in front of me, a mountain to cross. While I knew this was one of the most demanding walks of the entire route, I was clearly full of adrenaline and the sense of adventure ahead. The bread and the Champagne gave me enough carbohydrates and sugar, what I forgot to do was stretch. So I stopped several times along The Way and oh my poor legs, they are already starting to hurt like nothing I've ever known before. My thighs, the muscles in my thighs from going uphill were killing me, and I could feel a blister on my left foot forming. I didn't have my First Aid Kit with me because it was in my pack and so gingerly forged ahead.

The surrounding nature was exquisite. The sound of cow bells echoing through the valley and the sight of the black-faced sheep made me supremely happy. Several times I saw shepherds with their herds, and one stopped to try and talk with me. When we realized we couldn't converse, we kissed on the cheeks and he reached out to touch my hair (something that seems to happen everywhere I go). I could tell I had crossed over into Spain (there isn't a sign like in the movie The Way) because he didn't speak French or anything other than Spanish. There were many birds, the big majestic kinds like Falcons, and there were groups of birds who were apparently migrating. There were also the most beautiful wildflowers like orange poppies and blue iris and the intoxicating smell of narcissus. The panaromic view on top of the mountain of the Pyrenees was truly spectacular.

Then it was downhill, straight downhill. Normally I like going uphill better, it's harder on the respiratory but easier on the legs. This particular time, I liked going downhill but it was definitely a huge challenge. The path was rocky and I was already thanking my Pilgrim Officer for recommending my walking sticks. It was also slippery, there was a fog and a misty residue covering everything. While I mostly walked the day alone, (except for this older man who kept mysteriously passing me at odd intervals, he must've been taking many breaks), I met up with a few pilgrims at the top and fortunately followed one couple down the other side. We were warned at the Pilgrim Office to take the path to the right, not the left, but several people went to the left anyway. I followed the newlyweds from Australia, I don't remember their names, down the right side but it was all I could do to keep up pace with them. By now it had turned very foggy and I could hardly see the path, in fact, I couldn't see the path. There was a road that you could take that serpentined around the path but it was twice as long, the challenge was that you had to stay on the path. I honestly think that if I wasn't following them, I would've gotten lost. They were my angels for the day! By the time I could no longer keep up with them, we had hit the main road into Roncesvalles and it was a straight shot from there.

I walked 18.5 kilometers today, all uphill then all downhill, it was intense. When I finally hobbled into Roncesvalles I was so happy I burst through the door of the only cafe in town and said "Aloha!" The entire room, mainly older local men, turned and looked at me like I was from Hawaii or something and I blushed and said, "I mean Hola." I made my way to La Posada, the alberge we sent our backpacks to and asked if he spoke English, he did not. The one sentence I did learn in Spanish before the trip was "Tienas uno cama por la notche par favor?" Which means "Is there a bed for the night please?" And he said "complete." Which in my mind meant, "yeah completely, we've got a bed with your name on it no problem." But no, complete in Spanish means "we're full."

Suddenly I thought I was going to have to sleep outside on my second night, something I was not prepared to do, especially since I was wet with sweat again and silently freezing. He told me to go back to the cafe and ask, so I did. Not speaking the language was already proving to be a hurdle, fortunately that man who had been passing me on The Way was sitting on the corner bar stool and even though he didn't speak anything other than Spanish, he helped me figure out that this pension was also full and I should ask at the fancy hotel. He walked me over there and I was greeted by a woman who spoke a little English; she said the hotel was full! I was nearing panic because it was already after 7pm and I knew if I didn't eat dinner soon, I'd miss it. She walked me over to the monastery, the last option in town, which fortunately had beds left. Apparently there was some bicycling convention in the small town of Roncesvalles and beds were sparse. I checked in with the warden who explained that curfew is at 9pm so I'd better be back by then or I'd be locked out. I nodded acceptance, got a bottom bunk, and headed to the shower before dinner.

The showers in the monastery were good - women-only, private no lock, plenty of hot water, no time limit. I then headed back out to the cafe where I had initially burst in, and reserved a space for the pilgrim menu. I was seated in the dining room with Laura from England and we ate mixed salad, some kind of garlic soup, then trout and fries. The fish came out with it's head and eyes and whole body and, not being one to get involved with my food, I didn't really know how to eat it so I followed her lead. Then yogurt or ice cream for dessert and all of the bread you can eat and wine you can drink :)

When dinner was over I took my last glass of wine to the same corner bar stool where that man had been sitting and just as I settled in to the realization that I had eaten and I had a bed for the night, three young girls burst in straight from the Camino looking all flustered. It was nearly 8:30pm, they had done the whole first day in one stage (not splitting it up in two like many of us did) and so they were exhausted. This is when I met Anna from Denmark, Lauren from Washington state, and Crystal from Colorado. I found it serendipitous that I was sitting on the same stool that the man was when he helped me, and I promptly finished my glass of wine and walked them over to the monastery.

Apparently the monastery was now full too, but there was a run-off room (the same big room that was shown in the first scene in the movie The Way.) The warden told me that the monasteries and churches and even the alberges are "required" to help a pilgrim find shelter for the night, even if it is on a mattress in the courtyard. I thanked him and was glad I wasn't sleeping on a mattress in the courtyard. Before heading to my bed, I noticed there was a lost and found table where one could take anything one needed and leave anything one didn't want. Since my jeans were still damp and getting rigid with the cold night air, I tried on a pair of hiking pants that fit me perfectly. I brushed my teeth and went to the bathroom and what do you know, I got my period. Ugh, normally I get it in the morning but my time clock was still off. So in went the Miami earplugs and off went the lights in the Spanish monastery promptly at 9:05pm. Hopefully no one would snore tonight.

"The thing has already taken form in my mind before I begin. The first attempts are absolutely unbearable. I say this because I want you to know that if you see something worthwhile in what I am doing, it is not by accident but because of real direction and purpose." 
- Vincent Van Gogh

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Day 3 - slept in Zubiri - June 30

Woke up at 7am, got kicked out of the monastery at 8am. Ugh, it was the worst of mornings. I had just gotten my period and I was still jet lagged and all I wanted to do was lay in my bed for a little while but no, I was unceremoniously ordered out. I peeked out of the window and it was all misty fog, cold, wet, and miserable looking. Everyone was already out the door with their raincoats on and their rain gear over their packs and I was wishing I was anywhere else but here right now. I made my way to the bathroom to wash my face (and I ended up leaving my face wash, abandoned item 3), brush my teeth, and have the dry heaves for a minute again. It was all I could do to pack my things and put on my rain coat and rain gear for my pack. On the way out, I left my jeans, 2 tank tops, 1 bra, and 1 linen shirt on the lost and found table (abandoned items 4-8).

The drizzly morning did nothing to revive me. I could've, should've had a quick bite and warm drink before setting off but I myself was in a fog so I just started walking along. It was flat to begin with but then gently started going uphill. Thankfully I had no cramps, but I had absolutely no energy and my heart was beating so hard I could feel it in my chest and hear it in my ears. One step in front of the other, an endless cycle that slowly pushed me further and further into total exhaustion, and it wasn't even 10am yet. I had to sit down. There were many pilgrims at this point merrily walking past me but I didn't care. I would trudge a bit further and then I had to sit down again. What did I care, I didn't have anywhere to be today, my "to do" list was clean. I told myself all I had to do today was find food, water and shelter and I had all day to do it. So take your time. 

I sat there by the side of the path and decided to abandon a few more items right on the Camino. Out went the yoga pants (I had brought two pair, what was I thinking!), out went the other two linen tops and another cotton t-shirt (abandoned items 9-12). An elderly pilgrim man offered me a cupcake and I refused but he insisted so I took it. The sugar actually made me feel a bit better and I trudged on. The path was pretty at this point as it ran along the Rio Erro. The fog cleared and the sun came out and I made it to Gerendiain, an ancient hamlet and the beginning of stage II of the Codex Calixtinus. By the way, whoever says Spanish is a lot like French has not been to Northern Spain, it is nothing like French, and here in the Basque country it looks even more like Greek (why didn't I take a Spanish class!).

Just as I was eating my first morsels and wondering why I didn't go to the islands instead, I was making the lovely decision to stay there for the night (it was only 11am) but a group of my extended family came around the corner and stopped at the cafe with me: Dee, Anna, Lauren, Crystal, Esther, Jenn, Phyllis, Anton, they were all there. They had gotten a late start after lingering awhile at breakfast. Turns out Jenn was excited about the yoga pants she found that someone had abandoned along The Way; they all got a kick out of it to find out they were mine. We laughed and I led them in a series of sun salutations, crazy pilgrims. They definitely cheered me up and insisted that I go on with them. They were my angels that day! They literally lifted me up and kept me going.

The next stretch was beautiful but tough. It was mostly natural pathways but it kept going up and then down and then really up and then really down. There were several gates that you had to open and close while you were going through the farmland. A group of us headed up the next mountain and eventually lost one another. That's how it seems to work; you head out together, everyone has their own pace so you end up walking alone, and then at some later destination you may or may not meet up again. I was walking up the mountain and a melody kept coming into my head, it was the same beat of my footsteps and by humming it over and over, it kept me going. When I arrived at the top of the mountain, Anton and Esther were there. I was describing how much better I felt and humming the tune and Esther said the song was "Carmen" - here I was channeling a Spanish opera on the Camino! 

When the others made it to the top they were complaining complaining complaining. It was true, even though the first two days were the hardest, this day was the third hardest! We stopped for lunch and had sandwiches (bocadillos) and cerveza grandes (large beers). The local shepherd tended his flock down the main street (picture) and once again, no one at the cafe spoke anything but Spanish. We headed out again, destination Zubiri, and this time Dee and I were the slow pokes at the back. We took our time, she smoking now and then, and me taking puffs and tending to what was now a full-blown blister on my left toe. By the time we made it down the never-ending, slippery, rocky hill to Zubiri, we were hobbling in and could barely cross the bridge. 

We had talked about staying at the Municipal Alberge but Dee and I decided to get our own room at a casa rural (which is basically a room in someone's house, like a B&B) so instead of paying 10 Euro there, we each paid 12 Euro here and shared one room (with shower down the hall). Turns out Lauren and Crystal did the same thing and had the room across from us. We met the others and all went out to dinner on the opposite side of town. It was a nice family-style place (even though the bartender was rude). I watched Italy beat Uruguay :( on Spanish soccer television and we all ordered the pilgrim menu. Some of the clan were teasing me because there was this outspoken American woman in the group and they kept calling her "my friend." I realized what my Mom had told me, "they tease you because they like you." Sure enough, they weren't teasing her because they didn't want to engage with her, they were teasing me because they liked me. And so it began, my ability to be teased forever changed and now it doesn't bother me! It's a miracle.

They were also teasing Anton, who got lost by going down the left side of the trail on the mountain yesterday and got "attacked" by a sheep. It kept nipping at his legs, so much so that he dropped and broke his cell phone and today, his backpack strap broke. They dubbed his new nickname to be "Running with Sheep." We all headed back to the main square and Dee and I chatted for awhile with Steve from Indiana. He was a mechanic and his wife and most of 4 others were doctors and he said they were surviving because they had a traveling pharmacy. This is when Dee introduced me to Brian from Ireland, who was sitting with Walter from Germany. She and I had no curfew that night because we were in the casa rural so we stayed out until 11pm. It was a strange scene, like something out of an old foreign movie, the whole village seemed to be out and it was still light outside and the church bells still ringing loudly.  I walked 21.5 kilometers today and I was grateful to finally get back to our two-person room even though the creaky bed left much to be desired.

"The most empowering relationships are those in which each partner lifts the other to a higher possession of their own being." 
- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Monday, July 29, 2013

Day 4 - slept in Trinidad de Arre - July 1

Woke up at 7:30, left the casa rural by 8:30am with Dee. It was nice to have our own room but ugh, all we were doing is complaining about how we didn't want to get up and go. Her ritual involves having a cigarette out the window first thing in the morning. My ritual involves leaving to brush my teeth, wash my face, and have the dry heaves for a minute again. What causes it? It feels like my body is just rejecting the notion of the physical challenge, plus the angst of not knowing where I'll lay my head tonight. I also have the distinct pleasure of rubbing Vaseline all over my feet every morning.

We headed out to find coffee and tea. The walk out of town first went by a beautiful stream but then continued through a bleak industrial complex. Once we got passed that, we came across a series of small towns (hamlets) that were absolutely darling. The architecture and the brick roads and the flora and fauna and the fountains were so beautiful. In Osteriz, Ilarratz, and Esquirroz I walked around in amazement. While we were at one of the fountains, we watched this fun-loving Basque pilgrim man entertaining a group of Spanish pilgrim ladies, while a young reggae looking pilgrim boy was boiling his own coffee and cooking his own breakfast at the fountain. One energetic Spanish pilgrim woman was doing a few stretches and when she was done, she turned to us and said in a satisfied manner with a heavy accent, "as brand as new." That had us a rolling with laughter and so the quote of the day became "as brand as new."

The next stop was at a darling cafe in the middle of nowhere that appeared at just the right time. There was a couple doing the Camino on horseback, we met up with Annigrette and Vega from Finland, and we met Shai from Brooklyn. I remembered passing him because he had a huge backpack and a pre-existing knee injury that was making him walk very slow. He was a talker, and he was entertaining everyone at the restaurant with his magic stick. "Shai's stick" - a ruler-sized sports wand that you roll over the muscles of your legs to relieve pain. He let everyone try it and sure enough, it felt great!

The town of Larrasoana was next up on the trek. It was considered an important pilgrim halt in medieval times because it had two pilgrim hospitals and a monastery. But none of that is evident today, in fact, Dee's feet were killing her and we could not find a Farmacia open. Nothing ever seemed to be open when we walked through these towns! It was another absolutely darling place with a cutesy little downtown but there were no people and no stores open. The place had Jacobean symbols and armorial shields on many of the buildings and so I decided to melt into the tranquility (tranquille) of it all.
We were back walking along the Rio Arga and it was beautiful, plenty of shade along the tree-lined riverbanks and a number of drinking fountains along The Way. I was loving on my water source: I had a 1.5 liter bottle that fit inside a Camelback coozie that strapped onto my waist pack or back pack or belt. It was great because I could easily reach it, as opposed to storing your water on your back pack where you can't get to it on your own. Many pilgrims had the "aqua bladder" (talk about an unappealing name) which is stored in your pack and you drank from a straw. Not my cup of tea.

Before Pamplona is a town that is listed by many different names, I'm still not sure which one is correct. It is known as Arre, Arres, and Trinidad de Arre. At any rate, Dee and I were glad to get there. Like yesterday, it seemed the last three kilometers was a never-ending road in which each step is so painful, one ends up walking like an old man. When we emerged from the forest and crossed the lovely bridge, we came across Robin from North Carolina who was introducing us to an Italian couple. We rested for awhile and listened to her go on and on, and finally headed into town where we came across Brian from Ireland and met Roger from Belgium. It was fun sitting in the square (Calle Mayor) with these guys at the Cafe Paradiso in Arres drinking Albarino wine. The guys were staying in town for the night and had already arrived hours ago and were quite rested by the time we encountered them. Even though Robin was going on to Pamplona, Dee and I decided to stay.

We walked 18.5 kilometers today and there was nothing nicer than sitting here and watching the village come to life. We talked about how the Spanish men are out in the mornings (drinking coffee and reading the paper, when only the cafes are open), the women and children emerge in the afternoons (when stores are open for a few hours before siesta), and everyone comes out at night (and stays out really late). It is fabulous but you've got to think, no wonder this country is going under, nothing ever seems to be open and no one seems to really work! The boys were staying in the convent by the bridge but heading for the pilgrim dinner at the Municipal Alberge so instead of going backwards, we said goodbye to Robin, went to dinner with them, and checked into the Municipal afterwards.

Dinner was fun (even though the place was an eyesore). And the food was pretty good tonight. Same fare: one starter which is usually either soup, salad, or pasta; one main course which is usually either fish, chicken or beef; dessert which is usually either yogurt, ice cream or some kind of flan-looking dish; and all the bread you can eat and all the wine you can drink! Brian and Roger had both done the Camino before and they were giving us all kinds of advice. When talk came around to our feet, which it invariably does every night, Brian gave me a Compeed for my blister. My NuSkin wasn't working and they all said this Compeed stuff is the best, so of course, I gratefully took it. Everyone complained about their feet, whether it was the bones or the blisters, it was unavoidable. I remembered that I had a bad dream the night before about popping my blister and it gushing out, and Dee said "you know you're on the Camino when you're dreaming about blisters."

Dee was proving to spend much of her time on her iPhone because there was free Wi-Fi (pronounced "wee-fee" over there ;) almost everywhere. All you had to do was ask for the code, and it kept cracking us up, all of these cryptic codes the cafes had set! Too funny. We also spoke with two Spanish pilgrim girls who were sisters and staying in the same Municipal Alberge. When we finally checked in, the warden was talking and walking so slow, it was all we could do to be patient and follow along on her rehearsed, monotone tour. At last, I was at my bed (late again but we weren't too concerned because we knew we had a short day to Pamplona tomorrow) and I hadn't even taken a shower yet. Decent shower here - private, women-only, warm water, no time limit - and the sheets and pillow cases were nice and clean, "as brand as new." There were about 48 beds in the big room and it was all women. Earplugs in, making memories!

"Be the change you want to see in the world." 
- Mahatma Gandhi

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Day 5 - slept in Pamplona - July 2

Up by 8am, out of the alberge by 9am with Dee. We had a mere 3.5 kilometers to make it to Pamplona today so we took our glorious time. Back in the main square at the Cafe Paradiso, we ordered coffee and tea and yummy pastries. Our theory of only the men being out and about at this time held true. We headed out of town and into the suburbs of Pamplona. There were funky industrial buildings along The Way and we had to keep a watchful eye for the yellow arrows once we entered the city limits. After walking through the suburban parts of the city, we reached the bridge and the medieval part of town.

There is an ancient stone cross with a relief of St. James as a pilgrim atop the scallop shell on the magnificent medieval bridge that stands as a gateway to this historic city. Dee turned off to the left toward the alberge where Robin was staying and I headed into the gates of Pamplona to find a hotel. After roaming the streets for awhile looking for an "H" sign, I finally asked at a cafe and they pointed me in the right direction. It was only 11am when I checked in; I promptly took a long bath!

The rest of the day was spent roaming around Pamplona, what an amazing city! You can tell it is a vibrant university city with the old town at it's center. The Camino goes straight through the old part of town, and coincidentally, is also one of the roads where the running of the bulls takes place. The Festival of San Fermin was set to start the following weekend and the city was already getting prepared. I thought about staying to watch it but realized it would be too long to stay in Pamplona. The saying here isn't that Ernest Hemingway made Pamplona famous, the Spaniards say it was Pamplona that made Ernest Hemingway famous. Cute.

I was happy to be an incognito pilgrim for the afternoon and I put on my flip flops and the only skirt I brought and headed to the main square. The conceirge at my gorgeous hotel told me there was an eco-laundry mat in the square so I packed up my dirty clothes and went to find it. It was great, I put everything in and waited for the machines to run their course while I sat out front and had yummy red sangrias with Dee.

We saw a group of our extended family in the square, and I met Alexis from Scotland. We decided to veer off the pilgrim menu and order real food, I had mushroom gnocchi. Then Dee came with me to the pilgrim sports store (the only other one I've seen since St. Jean Pied du Port) and I finally bought the synthetic type of clothes I should've purchased from the beginning! I got two pair of lightweight, quick-dry pants; three wicking short-sleeve tops; one long sleeve top; and a proper jacket (I had brought my Lululemon yoga jacket which was heavy and slow-drying). I went back to my room, unpacked everything, reassessed, and repacked.

My room had this lovely painting in it of a woman emerging from the dirt and river and that was exactly how I felt. I took another glorious bath that night (my legs were killing me unlike anything I'd ever known!) and set aside a bag full of items which I knew I would have to mail back tomorrow, including my digital camera. I learned how to pinch-and-expand and zoom in while taking pictures on my new iPhone and decided that would suffice, thank you Robin Reed!! I also unpacked my Tempur-pedic camping pillow (it was heavy and bulky and all the alberges had pillows) and another assortment of clothes including one jacket, one long-sleeve top and another pair of pants (abandoned items 13-17). I called my Mom for a check-in and had her in stitches with my stories. I told her it was WAY HARDER than I could've ever imagined and that it was NOTHING like the movie! There was some kind of Spanish party going on downstairs in the street so in went the earplugs and out went the lights on Pamplona. I liked having my own hotel room.

"To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, remove things every day." 
- Lao-tzu