Friday, August 2, 2013

Pre-arrival on the Camino

FYI: In order to navigate this blog, I had to post the dates in reverse order so they would appear in choronological order on the website (and on the mobile version). The Camino took me 34 days so there is a page for each day plus a pre-arrival page and a post-departure page. The actual dates are in the title of each post. When you're finished with each post, click on "Older Posts" at the bottom to go to Day 1 (or right hand arrow), then again "Older Posts" (or right hand arrow) to go to Day 2, etc... enjoy!

Hi my name is Erin and I'm from California. I first wanted to do "the Camino" as a teenager in Kansas City when I read Paulo Coelho's book The Pilgrimage. I remember writing it on my "positive futures matrix" and effectively making it a "bucket list" item in my early twenties. Years went by and I didn't really think of it too often until Shirley MacLaine's book The Camino came out and I listened to the book-on-tape and I loved it. Then years later the movie The Way with Martin Sheen came out and I thought, I better do this thing now before it gets too popular. It is a journey than can take 5 weeks so setting aside the time is a challenge, but as it turns out, now was the perfect time to do My Camino. I left my job in New York City, put my stuff in storage, and set out to live one of my lifelong dreams.

And like most dreams, when it finally came true, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

After a 10-hour car ride with my Mom, Ellen, to Chicago (where I wasn't feeling well and even got sick on the side of the road, hello?), I arrived at my cousin Andrea's to spend the night and take the plane to Paris the next day. They all went out but I didn't. I felt sick, hopefully it was just a 24-hour bug, but I couldn't help thinking it was definitely nerves too. Truth is, I was not very prepared. Sure this was a lifelong dream I was finally undertaking, but in terms of "backpacking across Europe" I was a novice at best. My cousins said I should get "wicking" material this and "quick dry" material that, and all I had were cotton tank tops, linen shirts, and jeans. My first pangs of panic, oh well, all I could do at this point was calm myself down and try to rest.

The next morning I felt better and after spending some time with my family, Ellen took me to the airport. At this point I just wanted to get going, the time had come to set off on my own. I resisted my normal tendencies to buy a guidebook and maps because I wanted this to be a different kind of experience for me. I wanted to release everything, and just carry the clothes on my back, and follow the yellow arrows, and live off the kindness of strangers. It was only on the plane that I finally wrote down my over-arching reasons for doing the Camino: for the adventure travel, for the physical challenge, and for the spiritual community with others and myself. I had a one-way ticket to Paris and had to figure the rest out from there!


The Camino is known as The Way of St. James (el camino de Sant Iago) and it was one of the most important Christian pilgrimages during medieval times. Unlike the several other pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela, the waymarking on the French Way (Camino Frances) is well marked with yellow arrows and is supported by a series of small towns with water fountains, places for pilgrims to sleep (alberges, hostels), and cheap pilgrim menus. In order to stay and eat at pilgrim prices (usually 5-10 Euro to sleep and 10 Euro for a two-course meal with bread and wine :) and to receive the compostela (certificate of completion of pilgrimage to Santiago) you need to provide proof that you have walked the route by way of a pilgrim passport (credencial), impressed with the rubber stamps (sellos) by the wardens (hospitaleros) in the alberges, hostels, hotels, cathedrals, churches, bars, restaurants, and town halls along the way. (The guidebook everyone had is John Brierley's book "A Pilgrim's Guide to the Camino de Santiago.")

The route I took is the Camino Frances from St. Jean Pied du Port to Santiago de Compostela. It is 790 kilometers (490 miles) and begins in France, crosses over the Pyrenees mountains into Spain, and then goes through the Basque region, the Rioja wine region, through the large Castilla y Leon region, and ends in the Galicia region at the famous city of Santiago de Compostela. It is an ancient trek divided into 34 stages at about 26 kilometers per day, each stage containing thousands of years of history and culture!

So on Monday, June 24 I left Chicago and it took 9 hours and 2 planes to get to Dublin then Paris, then a train to get to the Montparnasse station (in my old neighborhood of Paris :) to then board another 8-hour train to Bayonne in southern France. In the little research that I did do, I knew I had to get to Bayonne (or Biarritz) in France in order to take a train (or bus) to St. Jean Pied du Port to begin the Camino. By the time I arrived in Bayonne, I had been traveling for 19 hours. Here's a video of part of my train ride through Bordeaux on the way to Bayonne.

 I checked into the first hotel I saw, the very cute "Hotel Cote Basque." As soon as I closed the door behind me and realized there I was, in my first room, I came down with a serious case of the giggles! It was so much fun to be back in Europe, and here I was, embarking on this once-in-a-lifetime journey. I'm here! I was so tired but so happy. I looked out of the window onto the square and had a nostalgic feeling of what it was like when I lived in Europe so many years ago.

It's not just the sights of a city or place, it's the smells and the sounds that stay with you. That unique smell at Charles de Gaulle airport really took me back, as did seeing the African sights and the hearing the Muslim sounds at the airport. I unpacked, crossed the street and ate a nice meal, and slept, thanks in part to my new earplugs which I recently acquired in Miami by chance. They completely blocked out the sounds of the village life in the square. I put on the white nightgown I reserved for hotel rooms only and enjoyed what I knew to be my last bit of luxury for awhile.

The next day I was jet lagged and ravenously hungry, a situation I've often been in before, and when one is hungry one would like to eat, but no. I had forgotten about the schedules of Europe. C'est incroyable! One cannot eat dinner anywhere until 7:30 at the earliest, 9:00pm is normal. You can get ice cream, cake, coffee, crepes, you can drink and smoke but you cannot get anything warm, not even a croque monsieur at a brasserie or cafe when you are outside of Paris. It's the same with La Poste, the post office is closed, uh let's see, all afternoon. Here I am walking around starving, reflecting on this, observing this France again, but now I'm here as a future pilgrim and I think it is not such a bad thing. Already the universe is making me work for it, and I like it. It imposes structure and discipline and a schedule. It makes me wonder that Americans have too many choices, everything all the time, anything anytime, and too much personal freedom to take care of themselves in a way that many Americans at least, left to their own devices, can't seem to handle. There's something nice about this old world consistency, predictability, adherence to time and space. There is a rhythm here and there is unity in the community.

I am already falling in love with Europe again. By The Way: I typed up my notes when I got back so if my stories don't make sense or my pictures are too small, it's because basically this blog is for me, so I can remember everything. It's my virtual photo album :-)

I have to say, my first impression of the French is that they are not as rude as they used to be, someone explained it to them or they got the memo or they just became more globalized, but they really were more friendly. Even on the SNCF train from Paris, they were "customer friendly" (quelle horreur), giving us water and treats and apologies because the train was running late. It's a new phenomenon. Ever since I arrived, yesterday, I've been speaking nothing but my tentative French. I'm a creature of habit and so I ended up going to the same restaurant both nights in Bayonne. The second night I spoke more confident French with Audry for hours! It was so much fun, my French-speaking Mother would've been proud. As I thought of her and her life in France and our lives together I realized that I've become this sympatico, fun to be with, multilingual, world traveler in part due to her. I've been to France more than 50 times since I was 16, thanks Mom!!

But there is definitely a fear, not for my safety, but for a feeling of the unknowing ahead of me. Normally I am not a fearful person but I remember feeling this same angst on my first plane trip to France when I was 16. My Mom and I were going on a tour and she was so sweet on the plane, she is actually the first one to teach me meditation that day "...picture a silver ball full of light circling your body, take deep breaths, and watch it slowly as it calms you down..." I had that same scary feeling about this trip after I went to the sports store, I was overwhelmed. I'm having that anxiety now too. It's a different feeling than when one gets overwhelmed "by life" in fact I don't like that quote anymore "do something each day that scares you", no. No one needs to be scared, challenged yes, but not scared... do something each day that challenges you in some way definitely, but not this or any kind of scary feeling. What I am beginning to realize however, is that I am having to make so many decisions outside of myself that I have little time to ponder my inner feelings. I have entered the realm of needing to act in order to get to the next step by the end of each day. "If a shark doesn't move, it can't breathe."

Tuesday night June 25 and Wednesday night June 26 were spent in Bayonne; my first order of business before setting off to St. Jean Pied du Port on Thursday June 27 is to leave behind the suitcase. My Mom had an old suitcase that my pre-packed, green backpack and sleeping bag fit into perfectly so I used it and checked it to Paris and took it by train here to the hotel. Now I asked the delightful older man behind the desk if by chance he wanted it or knew where I could leave it. He took it and was very happy about it :) (abandoned item 1) I then headed out to the bus station with my backpack on really for the first time. There was a group of pilgrims, you could see them, waiting like me. Bags go under bus, occupants on top. We rode through beautiful countryside for over an hour to get to St. Jean Pied du Port. I collected my pack and again, checked into the first hotel I saw, "Hotel Continental" (which later I learned is the hotel in the first scene of The Way where Tom walks out and goes one way and all of the pilgrims walk by him going the other way). It was the perfect place to launch from.

In the afternoon, I went to the Pilgrim Office and checked in and received my passport, my scallop shell, and two pieces of paper - one listing the towns and distances and accommodations and another showing the 34 stages and elevations of mountains or hills.

Like I said before, one of my intentions on this trip is to simply follow the yellow arrows, and receive what people are going to give me as part of the journey, so if the Pilgrim Office gives me these two papers, then that's all I need.

The Pilgrim Office personnel are comprised of a lovely group of volunteers who have done the Camino in the past. They were a varied bunch of folk, as were the pilgrims checking in. My host was from Sweden and he explained that the first day (tomorrow) is the hardest (you can see it in stage 1 on the image) and he strongly advised me to cut it into two days. I agreed (good call Erin). I decided on the spot that if anyone had advice for me, I would take it. He also told me to get walking sticks and that by the time I got to Santiago, I would be thanking him. Everyone was smiling. I signed my documents and left to explore the medieval town. I went to the pilgrim sports store where I got my walking sticks and found a very small, lightweight sleeping bag that, the lady said, would suffice for my summer pilgrimage. I also got some fruit, pastry, saucisson, and wine at the grocery store and then went back to my room and took stock. I promptly took my 5-lb flannel, bulky sleeping bag (what was I thinking!) down to La Poste and mailed it back (abandoned item 2).

My room was great that night... double bed, bathtub, balcony, all was packed and prepared for the big day tomorrow!

"A journey of a thousand miles (or 500 miles) begins with a single step." 
- Lao Tzu

FYI: In order to navigate this blog, I had to post the dates in reverse order so they would appear in choronological order on the website (and on the mobile version). The Camino took me 34 days so there is a page for each day plus a pre-arrival page and a post-departure page. The actual dates are in the title of each post. When you're finished with each post, click on "Older Posts" at the bottom to go to Day 1 (or right hand arrow), then again "Older Posts" (or right hand arrow) to go to Day 2, etc...

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Day 1 - slept in Orisson - June 28

Woke up at 6am, left hotel by 7am. The older male receptionist was the same guy from last night and he was so kind. I had tea with bread and oranges and he wished me my first official "Buen Camino!" I was off.

The Camino takes you through the main town of St. Jean Pied du Port and over the river as you immediately head uphill. Straight uphill. For kilometers. I went 7.5 to be exact. The first day (or two days if you divide it up) are the most strenuous (you can see on one of the pieces of paper the Pilgrim Office gave me). It goes from an elevation of 200 meters to 1400 meters! I didn't really realize that, all I knew was that I was ready.
The route was a strenuous uphill walk but with stunning views in all directions. It was mainly on the paved road at first but then veered off onto a trail through steeply wooded countryside that gave way to open hill and moorland dotted with beech trees. I only saw a few other pilgrims, 3-4 others walking alone like me, another group chatting away. I had my first real feeling of how fantastic it is to be out here alone, but still see others along The Way.

After climbing straight uphill for hours, and taking two rest breaks, I finally turned a corner and there in the immediate distance was the Alberge Orisson. I walked inside and, still speaking French, told the man behind the counter that I had a reservation (the Pilgrim Office said it was necessary at this particular place so they made it for me). He was delighted that I had a reservation, took my passport and signed me in. He was cute and he was flirting with me. I was smiling but by the time I arrived, my entire body was wet with sweat, and it was cool outside, and so once I stopped moving, I was freezing. All I could do is ask if "my room" was ready and he ushered me to a table in the common area and said "momentarily." He brought me some white sangria and I sat there silently shivering.

I could see the other pilgrims gathering outside on this beautiful deck overlooking the Pyrenees mountains, it was breathtaking. I could hear them talking, mainly foreign languages but I did detect English both of the Irish ilk and the American twang. There was another language that sounded so foreign, it turns out that a cross between Dutch and French sounds like Danish. I liked it but it was totally new to my ears. As I sat back and took in the scene, the Frenchie came over and introduced himself as Jean-Jaques, the proprietor. He said he was delighted to see me and hoped we could talk more later on, wink wink. I smiled and he said "my bed" was ready and gave me a token for the shower. Merci!

I walked upstairs and into my first "dormitory" - the name they give to a small room that has more than 2 beds but less than 12, usually a series of bunk beds. There are rules in these places, for example, no backpacks on the bed. That night there were 6 of us in that room: a mother and her son, some guy, and two girls from Denmark. There were two other dorms on that floor and then another set of 2 dorms in "the shed" beneath the deck. I gratefully took a bottom bunk and unpacked my clothes, towel and bath bag and took my token and headed to the shower. It was decent enough -private and it locked- but the token only gave you 5 minutes of semi-warm water. It had to be enough. Once I changed, I admired the amazing view I had and then headed outside to meet and greet the others.

This first group of people became my extended family on the Camino. We all felt that way. What are the chances that you end up walking with these people, what if I had not taken an extra day in Bayonne, I would be with an entirely new set of souls. But here we were, destined to begin this journey together. Those of us who had drinks and chatted outside stayed out until the communal dinner was served. Others had gone to their beds for a rest, one South African man (who was traveling with his darling son) came outside in his towel after a shower and I thought "is this how it's gonna be? Yes, this is how it's gonna be." Some of us went to the back to enjoy the afternoon sun, a group of ladies were reading, one woman was napping, a man was hanging his laundry, and I stretched on my yoga mat.

Dinner started at 7:30 and we were all sitting family style at a long table. We ate mixed salad and a garlic soup, then a main paella type of dish with seafood, then yogurt or ice cream for dessert, and all the bread you can eat and wine you can drink. It was fun talking to these strangers. No one really asked any serious questions, like why are you doing the Camino or what do you do for a living, it was more about the moment and learning where everyone is from and just enjoying each other's company. Sometimes the simplest conversations can be deep. That's the thing about meeting people from other parts of the world. It gives you an entirely new perspective.

One of the best parts about Alberge Orisson is the fact that they had us all stand up and say "Hi, I'm Erin, I'm from California, I'm walking to Santiago, and I'm traveling alone." Basically that was all that was needed to be known at this point. You could say it in whatever language you wanted, and many people did not speak English. Many people were not doing the entire trek, and most people were traveling alone. This is when I met Dee from Ireland, Anton from Ireland, Esther from Holland, Jenn & Phyllis from Connecticut, Robin from North Carolina, Julian from Canada, Yana and her boyfriend from Germany, Ann from Australia, Theresa from New Zealand, Anigrette and Vega from Finland, the South African man and his son, and a group of 6 from Indiana who were only going as far as Burgos, among others :)

Talk about a fun dinner! Even though Jean-Jacques was eyeing me, I made a break for it and went to my bed. As a single girl I knew I would probably have a little love affair along the Camino but I wasn't ready yet. So in went my earplugs for the first time and I slept in my new sleeping "liner." The beds were made with clean sheets and a pillow but you needed your own sleeping bag and my turned out to be just fine.

"Whatever you can do, or dream you can; begin it. Boldness has genius power and magic in it." 
- Goethe

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