Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Days 20 - 23 Move on down, move on down the road

Day 20 was a short walk as MK needed the rest. We hiked up a steep hill to a beautiful panoramic view of the countryside.  We reached Ventas de Naron and checked into the albergue. After showers and laundry, we walked to the other side of town (about 5 buildings in total) to the chapel. It was operated by a blind man who was quite a character. He made a big deal about turning on the lights for us and then had us guide his hand to stamp out credentials. We then went back to our albergue for dinner and to watch EspaƱa vs Italia in the Euro 2016 Copa.
Day 21 - We left in a misty fog the next morning. We walked through some truly beautiful villages. All of the buildings and gardens were covered in hydrangeas and roses. Just gorgeous!
Since I'm trying to give a true impression of the Camino, I wanted to talk toilets for a minute. We basically judge all of our stops and breaks based on the quality of the toilets. We have seen toilets with seats, toilets without seats, and once there wasn't even a toilet - just foot treads and a hole. (Thanks, I'll just wait until the next village.) We’ve seen handle flushers, button flushers, weird knob flushers, and even the old school Nellie Olson style pull chain flushers. We are happy when there is toilet paper, excited when there is soap, and can't believe it when there are actual real live paper towels. (Score!) Seriously, we get excited about these things. (Germophobes, the Camino may not be for you.)
Somewhere along our hike, a local stopped us to ask how far we were going today (Completely in Spanish I might add - my comprehension is getting pretty good.) He said we really needed to go all the way to Melide so we could eat the pulpo. We did actually decide to go all the way to Melide - 26.4k! (16.9 miles!!), but we weren't feeling up to pulpo that night. We actually ended up at a Kebab place where we had felafel and kafta. Not exactly regional cuisine, but it hit the spot!
Day 22 - This was another shorter day (14.5 k). It was either that, or go another 8k as there is not another albergue any closer. Plus, this leaves us with two 19k walks for our final two days.
We are still walking through beautiful, mostly rural, hilly countryside. Much of the path is also through forest.
We finally tried pulpo at our lunch stop. We had it along with calamari, lentil soup, and local cheeses. Yum!
We stopped in Arzua and are now tucked into our albergue. It is full of teens and twenty somethings and is pretty loud and rowdy. This is often the reality as you near Santiago. There are lots of folks doing the pilgrimage lots of different ways for lots of different reasons. It takes some patience sometimes, but life is like this really. Everyone is on their own path doing things their own way. We just need to extend patience and grace towards one another.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Day 19 - 200 miles down, 56 to go

Today was a better day. We could feel the prayers lifting us up and strengthening us. We also have a cheerleader. We keep running into Mary Anne from South Africa. Although our encounters are brief, she always has a cheerful greeting for us and words of encouragement. We love seeing her!
Now that we are past Sarria, the Camino is very crowded. Many people with only a short amount of time only do that last 100 kilometers. This allows them to still get a certificate of completion called a Compostela. We have also noticed many families walking this part together. We’ve heard that many children walk this part with their families as part of their preparation for first communion.
We are also still in a very rural part of the country and saw horses, cows, sheep, goats, chickens, donkeys, and even an ostrich today.
We are staying in Portomarin and once again were led to our lodging by a local. We are in a pension, and for 45 Euro, we have our own room with 6 beds and a private bathroom.
The final walk down before we reached the city was a narrow stony pathway that was really difficult to maneuver. We then crossed a bridge that led us over a lake and then up into the town.
Tomorrow we set out again.

Day 18 - Mind Your Manners

We left Triacastela and began walking down the trail once again. After not too long, we began to hear a loud ruckus behind us. Then, for the next hour and a half, we were passed by group after group after group of Spanish teenagers. There were at least 150 of them that passed us in droves. A few were polite. Most just barreled past us hollering or blaring music.

Now, we are getting closer to “the finish line,” and we’ve heard it will get louder and more crowded. Pilgrims who have gotten used to the peace and tranquility really have to work to not resent the newcomers. We have to remind ourselves that everyone is experiencing their own Camino, and we have to give people permission to do that their own way.

However, there are some “Camino Manners” that people should follow to be courteous to other pilgrims. Here are some examples:
In albergues:
Don't pack things in plastic bags. The rustling is annoying to others who are resting.
Don't talk loudly.
Don't hog outlets.
Take quick showers.
Give bottom bunks to the injured and the elderly.
Make phone calls in public spaces.
On the trail:
Move to single file if someone needs to pass.
Use headphones if you want to listen to music.
Do NOT leave trash on the trail. This includes Kleenex and TP.

We found respite from the hoardes of students at a cafe that was about 50 meters off the trail. After being surrounded by bunches of really loud kids, it was nice to retreat back to a quiet, uncrowded space. After ordering coffee and coffee cake, Dad realized that he’d left his wallet in the laundry room of our last albergue. The lady at the cafe called our albergue for us, and the hospitalero at the albergue offered to drive Dad’s wallet to our destination that day. It is simply amazing how hard people work to support pilgrims on their Camino!

The weather was overcast and 60 degrees. We were comfortable if walking, but cold when we stopped. Also, our 18 mile hike from two days ago combined with two 13 mile days afterwards meant we were really fatigued. We were hitting the wall.
We found our way to Albergue Casa Peltre in Sarria. The albergue was this cool old building, and we had an upstairs room. There was also a common room upstairs with exposed beams and antiques - very neat!
Even though there was a huge festival going on in Sarria (concerts, parades, food trucks, and cannon fire?) we showered, napped, ate, and then went to bed. Just too tired to do anything other than take care of basic needs.
Six days to Santiago.

Day 17 - Down is Hard!

The fog rolled into O’Cebreiro overnight. It was very thick when we woke up, so we decided to wait to see if it would lift. By 9:30, when the end of the fog was nowhere in sight, we decided to leave.

The fog was so thick that we were covered in water droplets as we walked. We had a harder time finding the waymarkers, but it was kind of fascinating to walk in such a thick fog. Good thing this part of the trail was not along a busy road!

We found an 8th century church along the way called San Esteban. We went inside and got sellos. Sellos are stamps in your pilgrims’ credential. The credential is like a passport with stamps that show the places you have been along the Camino. You get a stamp every night when you check into an albergue. They are also available at most churches and bars. When you enter into Gallicia (starting about 120 kilometers from Santiago) you must have two sellos a day.

At one of our snack stops, we had local cheese topped with honey. We also had an empanada atune (tuna and veggies in a bread pocket). We really try to find out what the local fare is and have that to eat. Some stuff is great (cheese!) and some is not (squid in black ink sauce), but we can say we’ve tried the regional dishes.

Most of today’s walking involved descending from the climb the day before. One might think that descents would be easy, but they are a lot of work! You have to roll your foot to keep from stomping down the trail which is a knee wrecker. You are also using leg muscles that, at least for people from Texas, rarely get used. You also have to work a lot harder at not falling. The terrain is usually rocky and sometimes treacherous.

The area we are walking in is very rural, and livestock seems to be the main economy. This means most of the day is spent dodging cow plops (or actual cows) and swatting flies. The smell is pretty “earthy” too.
When we reached Triacastela, we were led by a local woman to a brand new albergue called Lemos. It was very nice and even had an elevator, a happy sight for tired legs!
We ventured down the road for dinner to Complexe Xacobeo where we had excellent steak and local sausage (with potatoes and bread of course). Everything along the Camino is served with potatoes and bread. Seriously, everything.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Camino Reflection -How Heavy is Your Pack?

On the Camino, your backpack is like your home. You carry all of your possessions in it. It is organized in a precise way (at least mine is) that allows you to find things quickly and efficiently.
Most pilgrims overpack. You bring what you think are the necessities, and then you throw in the “I might need”s, and finally you make room for the “what if”s.

As you begin your journey with a fully loaded pack, you begin to reasses what is essential. The weight of everything you carry becomes burdensome and you look for ways to lighten your load. You start to cast off the unnecessary, you discern that you don't need the “I might need”s, and you realize that the “what if”s can be taken care of locally IF they happen at all. You allow yourself to let go of things you brought for comfort and you learn to trust that your needs will be met. As your pack lightens, you are able to walk farther and ache less.

Our hearts are like that. We cling to things for comfort that are unnecessary, and we carry heavy burdens we weren't meant to carry. Through Christ’s death, we are freed from carrying those burdens, yet we often choose to do it anyway. We sometimes cling to things instead of trusting God that He will take care of our needs.
And when we lighten our loads, we are better able to go farther, to ache less, and to look up and see the beauty that is before us.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11: 28-30

How heavy is your pack?

Day 16 - The Climb

We started the morning in Villafranca. We left at dawn because we were walking 28.9k today, and the last 8k has a huge climb. This was also the first day we decided to send our packs ahead to our destination. For 5 Euro per pack, there are several companies that will transport your bag to any destination down the road. Today was the perfect day to try it out.

We walked through mountain passes along a river. It was quite beautiful and reminded us of Colorado.
As we were rounding a turn, we noticed a group of men crouched on the side of the road. They had found several four leaf clovers. I'm so glad we came upon them because since we had such a long walk ahead of us, we were walking fairly determinedly and had forgotten to stop and notice what was around us. We started looking for clutches of clover along the side of the road and actually found five more as we walked!

We made our way along the path stopping for snack breaks here and there. When we reached the village at the 20k mark, we knew the climb was next. We stopped first for a rest at a picnic area along the river. We dipped our feet into the freezing cold water and then rested on the benches for awhile. Next, we went into the adjacent cafe for fuel. We ordered a plate of local goat cheese which was served with quince jam and bread. So. Good.

We then started to climb and climb and climb. And then we climbed some more. For 8k, we rose from 530 meters above sea level to 1330 meters above sea level.
The views as we climbed were excellent. We climbed mostly in shade with only the final ascent in the sun. There was a cool breeze during the sunny parts which made the final few kilometers pass more easily.

We finally reached O’Cebreiro, located our packs (they had been delivered to one of the bars), and checked into a hotel. We got two rooms with a shared bath for 65 Euro. We felt we deserved the treat after 28.9 k and an 800 meter ascent!  We had a lovely dinner and are now tucked into bed, ready for a nice long rest.
Buenos Noches!
(There is no wifi - that actually works - in O’Cebreiro, so posts and pictures will be a day or two late.)

Day 15 - Peace, Love, and Kitty Cats

We left our excellent albergue, Camino Frances, in Santibanez de Valdeglesia in the morning and started a slow ascent. We walked most of the morning with a Canadian woman. One of the best parts of the Camino is striking up a conversation with a complete stranger and learning part of their story. The shared experience of the Camino allows people to open up in a much more vulnerable way than if you just strike up a conversation on the street.

About halfway through our morning walk, we came upon a snack shack in the middle of nowhere. There is a couple who live there completely off the grid - no electricity, no running water. They operate the snack shack on a donation only basis (donativo) and will also “read your essence” if you desire. Their home is an old sheep shed which is basically a lean-to. They had planted a garden and had a litter of kittens running around. We weren't interested in having our essence read, but we were grateful for the slices of watermelon and juice.

We then continued on our journey into Astorga. We visited the Bishop’s Palace which was designed by Gaudi. We also visited the cathedral and the Chocolate Museum. Astorga was known for its chocolatiers, and we learned about the process of making chocolate and saw some of the molds and wrappers used in handmade chocolates. The tour ended with samples from various regions.

Next we headed to the bus station where we would board a bus to Ponferrada and another bus to Villafranca. While we waited, we went into the bus station cafeteria to find something to eat. We ordered an ensalada de casa and got this beautiful salad with tuna, shrimp, red peppers, green and black olives, lettuce and olive oil. It was amazing! And from a bus station cafeteria!
We weren't exactly sure of our plan as we knew we needed to cut out parts of the Camino to finish in time, but we didn't have an exact plan. These two bus trips to Ponferrada and then on to Villafranca came about so easily and smoothly that we truly felt we were being led by God to the destination he had planned for us. Once we reached Villafranca, we walked the main drag looking for an albergue.

As we stood in front of a huge building looking for an albergue sign, a man came up to us and led us around the corner. He told us that this albergue was beautiful and we should stay here. It turns out we were standing in front of San Nicholas monastery that had been converted into an albergue. The rooms had four twin beds and a private bathroom. We shared our room with a woman named Mary Ann from South Africa. We ate dinner in the cloisters downstairs overlooking the inner garden. We had a mountain view from our room, and all for 8.5 Euro each.
We learned a little more of our roommate Mary Ann’s story later that evening. Her daughter (now 25) was born profoundly deaf. South Africa does not offer support services for deaf students, so Mary Ann had spent the last 20 years attending school with her daughter to serve as her interpreter. Her daughter had just graduated from university, and Mary Ann’s husband sent her to do the Camino (a life long dream) as her “graduation” gift. What an example of love and service!