135 miles walked, 365 miles to go!
Day 11: The evening before was a very interesting Pilgrim’s dinner. There were just 7 of us: the two Germans in my same room, I think named Barbara and Doug, but their English was limited and their accents strong, so I’m not sure if I have that right. There was a nice couple from the Bay Area, the husband described himself as a hippy, and his wife’s grandmother was from Germany so she could understand the Germans a little bit. There was a young woman from Hungary who spoke heavily accented English, a guy Vic from western Australia, and a Spanish guy Javier from Barcelona who spoke no English. The dinner started out pretty silently because there wasn’t a common language at the table. But soon the Germans were talking together, and the rest of us who could all understand English started to have a conversation, and I translated for the Spaniard, so he wasn’t the only one left out. The guy from the Bay Area was telling us how he liked to go to festivals like Burning Man and he was wearing a tie-dyed concert shirt from a festival inspired by the Grateful Dead. He said at these festivals he likes to take ecstasy and LSD, and I translated drawing surprised smiles from Javier. I tried to explain what Burning Man was, a temporary art-inspired week long festival with a lot of electronic music, no money exchange and a focus on community, but was getting some blanks stares from the Europeans, so I pulled up pictures on my phone. Everyone was very fascinated by the bizarre looking gathering of people in the desert wearing costumes, body paint or nothing at all, the other-worldly art, the vehicles that shoot out flames, and the 40 foot tall “man” at the center of it all which goes up in a huge inferno at the end of the festival.
I’m not sure if we helped or hindered their views of Californians :).
After dinner, everyone left the table and Vic, Javier and I chatted for another hour and a half. When Vic would talk, I would translate everything he was saying into Spanish, and when Javier would talk, I would do the same and translate everything into English. And when I told a story, I’d say a sentence in English then translate it in Spanish, then another sentence in English then translate it in Spanish and so on, so no one was sitting there for too long not understanding. It was a linguistic workout. It turned out that the guys had a lot in common. Both were avid hikers, both liked doing solo backpacking, and both were walking the Camino logging in long days of many kilometers. Vic was going to do the Camino in 25 days. Following the Camino guidebook many use here, the walk is broken into 33 stages (days) and that’s going at a good clip without taking any rest days. It was really cool to be able to bridge communication like that and find that these two guys who couldn’t even communicate had quite a bit in common. Makes me wonder how often this must be true not just between people who can’t communicate but even between people who just don’t.
In the morning I got up, stuffed everything into my backpack, said auf wiedersehen to the Germans, and headed back out onto the Camino.
On this day, I walked for 5 hours with a really amazing Australian man named David. He’s a couple of years older than me, married to an Italian woman, has twin girls who are 18, and lives in Brisbane in Queensland. He was very intellectually curious, self taught and well read, and we ran the gamut of topics. First he asked if he could ask me why I was doing the Camino. I told him about my sabbatical, and I also shared the personal changes going on for me recently. He shared that he was here for a spiritual recharging. He and his wife had left the Jehovah Witness religion 10 years before, and he was simplifying what religion meant for him, and felt that truly what is most important are love and compassion. He demonstrated this as we walked along. Every Pilgrim we passed, he warmly greeted, introduced us, asked where they were from, and since he speaks English, Italian, and French, was able to directly connect and share some quick but genuine and friendly exchanges. His openness and kindness were infectious. He was a good listener, intellectually challenging, spiritually probing, and 5 hours never went by so fast.
As we walked and talked, I still managed to take pictures to capture the ever changing Spanish countryside we were walking across or what David referred to as “a beautiful assault on the senses”:
We, stopped in one town called Nájera for a snack.
We carried on together to the next town where I was staying called Azofra. He was pushing on, so we said goodbye. It was a relatively brief friendship connection, but I won’t forget him. I feel the imprint of the different people I meet here each day. The people here and their kindness is a beautiful assault on the senses.
Day 12: Happy mother’s day! So of course I called my mother and she was very happy to hear I was safe and sound, and she was happy she could follow where I was on the blog each day. I left Azofra at 8:30 a.m. and the skies were bright blue, definitely no rain today, and there were streaks criss- crossing in the sky overhead.
I walked all morning by myself enjoying an audible book and taking pictures of the gorgeous countryside.
The weather so far had been really good for this trip. The first day when I walked over the Pyrenees, it was cold at the top and it rained a little bit and there was snow on the ground in one part, but I heard the next day it was snowing and raining and it was a really brutal crossing for those who went the day after me. Since then there was a day or two with some light rain, but so far nothing too bad. For the past week, it had been nice and brisk in the morning, and warm in the afternoons. Having lived in Spain before, I knew that summers would be too hot to do a walk like this with temperatures in the upper 90s, so I’m really grateful that my school had given me this amazing opportunity as I wouldn’t have been able to do it during my summer vacation. Also, since it was spring, it was very green and wild flowers have been everywhere.
However, as I kept walking, I was getting increasingly tired, my back and hips were feeling tight, and I was worried I might be coming down with something. I had taken some flu medication I had brought with me the night before, and I had a great night’s sleep, so I was surprised I was already feeling run down and it wasn’t even noon yet. I was also getting some small shoots of pain in my left foot, the foot that had the tendonitis in it before I left and why I was still taking anti-inflammatories. Additionally, in the last day or two, the middle toes on my right foot had been starting to hurt, so in the morning I had been wrapping those in Band-Aids and tape along with my big toes, as the blisters were gone but where they were was still tender and a little painful.
I stopped to rest and get lunch in one of the bigger towns called Santo Domingo. I ordered calamari and an ensalada mixta, a typical Spanish salad with tuna, eggs, tomatoes, and other vegetables. As I waited for my food, a local guy in his 60s came in to have a glass of wine. He asked where I was from and I told him California, and we started chatting about the Camino. He said he’s done the Camino three times…in a car. I laughed and he asked me if it were true that the albergues were full of snoring people. I confirmed that there could be a lot of snorers, but occasionally you’ll be in a quiet room. He asked me if I were sure I was from California, because he said I sounded like an Española. I had gotten this a lot as California is next to Mexico and quite far from Spain, so my lisping Spanish accent was unexpected. After years of traveling in Mexico and Central America, I had lost the lisp, but after a day or two back in Spain it was back. They pronounce “Cs” and Zs with a “th” sound i.e. gracias sounds like grathias and the Spanish clothing store Zara, popular in the U.S., is actually pronounced Thara. They also have their own slang and rhythm of pronunciation. A good comparison would be the difference between British English and American English. I told him I had lived in Madrid in the 90s. He said, “Por eso, te invito a una copa de vino rosado de Rioja.” Because of that I’d like to treat you to a glass of rosé wine from Rioja, which was the region we were in. We clinked glasses and chatted as I ate my lunch. Then he said he needed to go meet his wife because today was the celebration of Santo Domingo, the saint that the town we were in was named for.
After I finished eating and walked further into the town, I saw that this celebration had brought the whole town out in mass. As I walked towards the main cathedral in the center of town, crowds of people were lined up on both sides of the street. Soon a religious procession came down the center. First were the religious leaders of the church, followed by young boys in traditional dress dancing, followed by people carrying the thousand year old remains of Saint Domingo on their shoulders like pallbearers.
After the procession had passed, I waded my way through the crowds and saw the beautiful Church where many had just attended mass.
Ready to carry onto the next town, I looked around but couldn’t find any of the markers for the Camino. It was a bit disconcerting to not have yellow arrows to guide my way. I asked a local, and he guided me back. It’s strange, but it was a big relief to find the yellow arrows again. How am I going to adjust back to my real life with no markers to follow? 🙂
As I was walking out of town, I looked in front of me and across the street were Erica and Ben, the fun Germans I had met 2 days before. We had a happy reunion, and they said they read about themselves in my blog, and Erika had sent the link to her daughter, so her daughter could see what she was up to.
They had both stayed an extra day in Santo Domingo because of the religious celebration, and they had attended the mass and Ben, a Catholic, said it was one of the most special things he had ever attended and not just on the Camino. We then talked about how amazing it was that you could run back into the same people even though so many people were walking the Camino at different paces and staying in different places. Erika said she read about David in my blog, and she told me she had walked with him the day before. When David and I were talking, he had had dinner with Craig, the prison chaplain I had met in Logroño. It’s so interesting the criss-crossing that happens even though we’re all heading in the same forward direction. Erica said there are no coincidences but just incidences and that they are a gift.
What is not a coincidence was that we were all headed to Grañón because Erica had recommended that I go there and stay if I could. She said that there is a special church there that the Pilgrims can stay in, make a communal dinner together, and then sleep on mats on the floor in the church all for free and they can donate what they like. There are 3 rooms in the church full of side by side mats.
I’m not that Camino-hardcore (there are 2 bathrooms and 2 showers for what looked like 60 or more people), so I was in an albergue down the road, but I joined them for dinner and it was so amazing. When I walked in, people from all different countries, speaking different languages were singing, dancing and playing music together.
Then Ben, my German friend, sat down at the piano and I didn’t even know he could sing and play, and he started playing songs by request and everyone was singing along with him.
Then they served a dinner. It’s incredible they serve this many Pilgrims every night. No charge, no profit.
Afterwards, we all washed the dishes together.
Such a sense of community. More than I ever expected. Afterwards, those who were interested went into the church for the Reflection.
As we passed around a candle, we each shared what the Camino meant to us. Some spoke in their native language and others shared in accented English, clearly not their native language, so that more people in the room could understand what they wanted to share. Some cried as they were speaking, some shared very personal parts of their lives, and it was a very beautiful and moving experience. At the end, one of the volunteers who helps run everything said, “You don’t just walk the Camino with your feet, but also with your heart.” Then we all went around and gave each other hugs.
Tomorrow, I’ll be walking out of the Rioja region and into the region called Burgos. My feet may be a bit sore and tired, but my heart is full.