Sunday, April 27, 2003

Camino Interlude
Passport Stamps
Rabanal- Santiago

Saturday, April 26, 2003

October 27, 2001
Santiago (sunny)

Last night we had a celebratory dinner and it was not until I stood up at the end of the meal that I realized I was very drunk. This morning I figured out why. First, J brought each of us two scotch on the rocks before we reached our table. Next, we split a bottle of wine with dinner. Then we started talking to a couple from Mexico at another table and they joined us and we shared another bottle of wine. A lot of wine for someone who is a light drinker.

This morning I wake up early and feeling fine. B, J, and I had decided to try the free breakfast that is offered to pilgrims by the Hostal de los Reyes Catolicos. When I knock on J's door it takes him a minute to answer and when he does he has a, "Why are you bothering me so early?", look on his face. No, he does not want to go to breakfast. B and I go alone and wait with the other pilgrims at the hotel parking garage for an employee to take us to the main entrance of the hotel and then to the kitchen. As we wait, huddled together, I feel like a drug addict waiting for the methadone clinic to open so I can get my fix.

The kitchen employees are very kind to us and bring a pot of coffee, plain rolls, sweet rolls, milk, sugar, plates and cups that we help carry down to the employees dining room on the floor below. We eat our simple breakfast there. They also serve a pilgrim lunch and dinner but since the hotel only takes ten pilgrims at each meal, I am sure you have to get to the garage early. Since I don't think a free meal is worth standing around for a couple of hours for, I decided not to try.

After breakfast B and I head to the post office to pick up the stuff B and T had mailed ahead. We run into J who is coming back from the post office after picking up the things he has mailed to Santiago. We tell him where we are going and then plan to meet after and go to the Pilgrim Office and get our final stamp and our compostelas. The compstela is the Cathedral's certificate of pilgrimage.

When we get to the Pilgrim Office we see the Spanish woman and her mother and we all give one another big hugs, smiles, and congratulations. M from Canada, another pilgrim we have run into on our walk, is there too and we give her a big hug, smile, and congratulations. Then AE and AG walk in and again, big hugs, smiles, and congratulations. I am delighted to see all these people, something I did not expect to happen. Walking the Camino makes you war buddies and we are the survivors, the ones who made it to the end. We all understand what it takes to get here and revel in each others accomplishment.

When it is my turn I walk up to the counter and hand my passport over to the young man sitting behind the counter. He examines it thoroughly and then stamps it. The next step is the compostela. When they fill out the compstela they translate you first name into Latin and write that name down along with your last name. They have a list of first names in a paperbound book that they use to search for name translations. First the young man looks on a list that is made up of about 25 pages. He doesn't find my name there so he goes to another book that has hundreds of pages. I do not think he will find a Latin form of my name and I try to tell him he won't because my name is a word in another old language, but I don't think he understands English. He keeps looking in his book and then closes it with the air of someone who has found what he is looking for and starts writing on the blank compstela in front of him. When he finishes he hands me my passport and the completed compostela. I thank him and step away from the counter and over to the other side of the room. On the compostela is written my full name, no translation into Latin, just my first and last name as I spell them. I laugh. Well, I was right, there is no Latin translation of my first name but I am touched by the diligence of the young man.

B knows about a English bookstore so after we finish at the Pilgrim Office we decide to go there. When we get there I notice a sporting goods store across the street and after the bookstore we walk over to it to see if I can get a pair of sandals. I find a pair I like and tell the salesperson that I would like to try them on. She asks me what size I wear but I am not sure what the European size would be but then remember my boots have the European size listed on the label sown on the tongue. I squat down and look under the tongue and see the boots are a size 37. She brings a pair of sandals that size but when I put them on they do not fit. She goes and gets a size 38 and they fit perfectly. Ah, crap, now I see, my feet have swelled up and are a half size larger. They have been hurting because I have been wearing boots that are now half a size to small. I thought the pain was because of the pounding my feet had been taking every day. I am naive.

Funny, even though my feet hurt, when B asks me if I want to walk to the Mall with her I say yes. I can't seem to not walk. I need to walk. Besides, wearing the sandals makes walking a lot easier. When we get to the Mall we go to the McDonalds and the place is packed. As we wait I read the menu (written in Spanish) and decide what I want to eat. When I reach the counter I am going to order in Spanish but instead I hear myself say, "A hamburger, fries, and a Coke." Then after a second I add, "Por favor." The woman looks at me for a moment and then smiles and punches in my order. Standing in a American fast food restaurant and ordering American fast food in any language but English seems absurd.

Tonight B decides to buy some food and eat dinner in her room (I think she is running low on money) instead of going out to dinner with J and me. But before I meet J for dinner I have an hour so I go sit on the ground in the Plaza del Obradoiro and look at the Cathedral. It is dark and the Cathedral is illuminated by large searchlights that reflect into the sky and turn it to a dark cerulean blue color that glows. The church is like an over decorated six layer wedding cake and at first I try to examine every detail but soon I am overwhelmed by the number of things to look at so I just let my eyes roam over the building face. I sit there staring at the church and letting the crowds of people swarm around me. I am at peace sitting here and wish this moment could last forever.

Friday, April 18, 2003

Blog Break
I will not be writing anything for a week. I will be back next Friday to continue my tale.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

October 26, 2001
Arzua- Santiago de Compostela (sunny/cool)
24.0m/38.4km - 467.6m/748.2km

Santiago draws us like a magnet. We were going to walk as far as Arca today but when we get to where the Camino crosses the N547 near Santa Irene we see our first road directional sign that says Santiago. It is so intoxicating that we don't stop at Arca but keep going.

Santiago 13.9m/22.2km away.

We are so giddy with the thought of being closer and closer to Santiago that we get a little goofy. J puts his right fist up as if he is holding a microphone and interviews me. I answer in a high pitched hesitant voice.

J: How do you feel, knowing the walk is almost over?
Me: Umm, OK.

J: Are you going to ask for absolution for your sins?
Me: Umm, yes.

J: Are you happy you will receive absolution for your sins?
Me: Umm, yes.

J: So, how many sins do you need absolution for?
Me: Umm, I don't know. I haven't gotten there yet.

We reach the airport and then the stone signpost that marks the outer edge of greater Santiago. We reach Monte de Goz, over looking the city. We can see the towers of the Cathedral. It is after 700P when we reach Santiago proper, to late to get our passports stamped but we head for the Cathedral anyway. We feel our walk is not over until we step into the church. We walk through the city and then pass through the Puerta del Camino into the old city. We walk through the maze of streets in the old city to the Cathedral.

When we reach the Plaza de Inmaculada outside the Cathedral, J give a big yell and rushes toward the side door into the church. B has been walking a little ahead and she yells after him that we should walk in through the main doors but by then J has gone through the side door. I tell B I will walk with her to the main doors but she says we should stick together and we walk to the door J disappeared through. When we get inside the church it is quiet, cool and dark. We drop our packs next to J's against a large pillar. I walk over to a pew, kneel down, and say a prayer. We have been in a lot of churches during our walk and this is the first one that has a spiritual feel to it. All the other churches were like being in an empty barn but this one is different. It is filled spiritual power.

After my prayer I get up and go look for the Tree of Jesse. When we find it there are two women standing at it. One is touching the marble column, while the other one waits to be next. We get in line behind her. When it is my turn I walk up and, when I am close enough, reach out my hand. At the same time I reach my hand out I see a spirit hand and forearm floating above my hand and forearm reaching out too. When my fingers are a hand's length away from column, the spirit arm moves forward and touches the column and it's fingers slide into the finger holes in the marble. When this happens I hesitate and stand with my hand in the air because I know that to touch the marble column I will have to put my hand through the spirit hand.

Then I am horrified by the realization that the spirit hand is not the only one. There are hundreds of hands and to touch the column I will have to put my hand through those hands too. I know I need to put my fingers in the finger marks. This is what I came here to do. I move my hand forward and it feels like I am putting my hand in a glove made of flesh. The instant my fingers touch the marble, the hands disappear. I stand there with my forehead against the marble, my hand resting on the column, my finger deep in the holes and wait for something miraculous to happen. You know, the sound of harp music, angels singing, a celestial beam of light illuminating me, but nothing happens. I stand there oblivious to the fact that what has just happened is miraculous. I am so naive.

After we leave the church we walk through the tunnel that leads to Plaza de Obradoiro and the front of the Cathedral. As we walk we look up at the Cathedral. It is so majestic. We need to find places to stay and none of us want to stay at the refugio. B has read about an inexpensive hostel off the Plaza on Rue Raxoi so we head over there to see if there is a room available. J and I sit and wait for her on the steps outside the hostel as she goes inside to check. While we are sitting there I pull my whistle out and start playing a song. It is Ode to Joy and when I finish J asks if I had planned all along to play that when I got to Santiago. I say no and start playing it again.

When B comes back out she hums along and then says she is all checked in. Now J and I have to find rooms. We make plans to come back and get B for dinner after we have all rested, showered, and changed clothes. J and I walk down another street that is just off the Plaza and look for hotel signs. We find one that looks good, is not too expensive, has rooms with their own baths, and check in. No more sharing for me. After we check in we walk up four flights of stairs to our rooms and the first thing I do after putting my pack down is fall face up on my bed. I have done it. I walked across Spain and lived to tell the tale.

Monday, April 14, 2003

October 25, 2001
Palas de Rei- Arzua (sunny/warm)
17.9m/28.6km - 443.5m/709.8km

I have been walking for 28 days and it still feels like a dream. I feel I am walking in the space between dream and reality. I know this is real but at the same time I move through a dream. Every day as I walk I question why I am here. What made me come here? I have finally figured it out and the reason is simple, so simple it sounds stupid to me. I have come to put my fingers into the finger marks in the Tree of Jesse column. This is why I have walked almost 500 miles, to be worthy of putting my hand on the Tree of Jesse column. Am I crazy?

The closer we get to Santiago the harder it is to keep walking. My mind is in Santiago and not here where I walk. It is the same trouble I had with Leon. I grit my teeth and plod on.

When we reach Melide we stop for lunch. B carries the section of the Michelin map of Spain that shows the Camino route. Every once in a while she pulls it out and we look and see how far we have traveled since St. Jean. The distance from St. Jean to Santiago measures about 25 inches on the map. B has drawn a thick line across the map marking the route. Each time I look at the map my eyes start at St. Jean and follow the line to where we are that day. Each time we look at the map we marvel at how far we have walked. Today when I look at the map my eyes follow a long thick line that slithers across the map and stops two inches short of Santiago. We've walked that far? We've walked almost all the way across Spain? Incredible.

Somewhere around Ribadiso do Baixo we stop at a cafe on a hill for a Coke break. There is a group of Australian tourist there. It's funny, after a while you can tell the tourists form the pilgrims. Tourists seem to be louder and travel in large groups. They also give off a different vibe, as we used to say.

The refugio in Arzua used to be the old School of Music and the inside looks spanking new after the remodel. There are steel rafters in the sleeping area and the upper bunks are so high you can touch them while sitting on the bed. The rafters are so close I use the one by my bed to hang my wet laundry on. When I take my boots off tonight I realize I dislike them intensely and decide to throw them away when I get back to my sister's house. When I look at them all I remember is pain. I brought flip flops to wear instead of my boots at the end of the day, but these are thin and almost as uncomfortable to wear as my boots. I think I will buy some sports sandals when we reach Santiago.

Sunday, April 13, 2003

October 24, 2001
Ferreiros- Palas de Rei (sunny)
19.4m/31.0km - 424.5/681.2km

We get as far as Portomarin, which is 5.6m/9.0km down the road, and stop for the morning. Portomarin is across the Rio Mino. There are two Portomarins, the new town and the one under the river. A reservoir was built in the 1950's causing the river to rise and the original Portomarin was drown. A new town was built higher up. When we walk across the bridge to Portomarin we look down and see some of the ruins of the old village and the remains of the medieval bridge that once spanned the river. We are so high up that birds are flying around below us. As I stand there looking down I spit into the river to see how long it takes for the spit to hit the water. I lose sight of the spit before it is anywhere close to the river.

When we get to the Portomarin side of the bridge we find we can either walk up a street that meanders around on its way to the main street through town or go straight up the stone steps to the Chapel of the Virgen de las Nieves. We pick straight up. Half way up the steps I wish I had picked the street. We walk to the center of town and the plaza in front of the Church of San Nicolas. San Nicolas is one of the buildings that was taken apart and moved to the new town. We see a bar to the left of the church that is just opening so we go there and order Cokes.

While in the bar we decide to buy groceries and have our lunch in a small park we walked by at the other end of town. J wants to stop at a bar we passed that has Internet access and I want to give my sister a call, so we split up after agreeing to meet at the park. I find a phone booth and call my sister. She is surprised and happy to hear from me. As we talk she asks me about the walk. I don't know what to tell her. I can't seem to talk about it. I tell her it has been fine but I can't tell her anything about it. It's as if there is a black hole inside me where the walk has gone and I can't pull it back out. When I hang up I feel a deep weariness and a deeper longing for home.

I buy some food and walk back to the park and find B already there. She has finished her lunch and is stretched out on the ground. I start my lunch and when I am almost finished J shows up. After I finish my lunch I sit back and relax. J eats his lunch and after he finishes he sits back and relaxes. As I sit there I listen to the birds and watch the leaves in the trees gently moving in the breeze. I know I don't want to leave yet and since the others aren't moving either I guess they don't want to leave either. Finally, we get up, throw away our trash, put our packs back on, and start walking. It is 100P and we have 13.1m/12.0km to cover before sundown.

We reach Palas de Rei at 700P and check into the refugio. This one is three stories tall with the sleeping dormitories are on the upper two floors. After we pick our bunks J and I go to take showers. Most of showers we have been using have been communal, a few haven't, like the ones in O'Cebreiro and Ponferrada. They all have had doors or curtains for privacy. As I walk down the bathroom corridor, J right behind me, I notice that all the shower stalls we walk pass have a little changing area in front of them but there are no curtains between the stalls and the changing areas. There are also no curtains between the changing areas and the corridor. When I reach the last shower stall I stop. J stops at the one next to me. We stand there looking at the two stalls and then I turn to J and say, "You stay on your side of the wall and I'll stay on mine," and step into the shower. Some things you've just can't worry about.

After my shower I go down and do my laundry. There is a washing machine but it has a line of people waiting to use it so I hand wash and then hang my clothes out on the line to dry. After that we go to dinner. We got here so late that for the first time we do not have to wait for the restaurants to open before we can eat. To celebrate the fact that we are only two to three days away from Santiago I order langastinos for dinner.

Can this almost be over? I feel like I have been walking forever. What is it going to feel like to stop?

Saturday, April 12, 2003

October 23, 2001
Triacastela- Ferreiros (cloudy morning/sunny afternoon)
19.4m/31.0km - 405.1m/650.2km

I now know why I wanted to sleep in my sleeping bag last night. I woke up this morning with bug bites all over my legs. Before I put my sleeping bag into my pack I turn it inside out and shake it . Someone said bed bugs stay in the bed so I hope I don't have any in my bag.

The country we are walking through is beautiful and almost as green as Ireland. We enter the town of Sarria and have to climb a steep stairway of stone. By the time we reach the top my legs are shaking. We decide to stop at a bar for lunch. We have reached the point in our walk where it is harder to get going again after we have stopped. I am so tired I have to push myself to keep going.

We are following the Camino out of the city and are walking down a street that curves around a hill. There is a wall on the inside of the road and above it a house and backyard. I hear the sound of a dog barking and whining above us. I look up and see a dog at the end of a long rope that is attached to a clothesline. The dog has his head and half his body thrust through a hole in the chain link fence enclosing the yard. The rope is the only thing keeping him from falling into the street. He is so happy to see us he is wagging his whole body and keeps imploring us to come over to pet him. I want to cry when I see him. This dog is starved for affection. I don't understand people who buy a dog and then keep him tied up in the yard. Dogs are social animals and need to be with other dogs or with their people. J and I go over to him and reach up to pet him. He is so happy he cannot decided which hand to lick so he keeps switching from my hand to J's hand. We give him a good rubdown where we can reach him and then walk on. This dog stays with me a long time.

Later we are walking on a tree lined path on the other side of the village of Barbadelo when I see that the path up ahead is under water. It must have rained here a lot the last two days. The path has a high bank on either side of it and the water stretches from one bank to the other. How are we going to cross it without getting wet? When we get closer the path opens a little and I see that a stone walkway has been built across the water to the left of the path. Things aren't always what you think they are.

We reach Ferreiros later in the day and find the refugio. Back at the beginning of the walk when we were walking through the mountains I stopped to rest under a bush. A woman sat down beside me. She looked tired and kept rubbing her shin. After a bit I got up, said goodbye, and started walking uphill. Coming down the hill was a Spanish woman who asked me in English whether I had seen her mother. I knew she was talking about the woman back under the bush and I told her that her mother was sitting there. She asked if her mother seemed OK and I said yes and she turned around to go back up the hill. Then I remembered and I tell her I think her mother was having trouble with her leg because she was rubbing her shin. She stops and tells me her mother is developing a shin splint but does not want to complain. She starts down the hill again. I met the daughter again in the refugio in O'Cebreiro and asked about her mother and she told me her mother was doing fine.

When we step inside the refugio I am surprised to see the daughter. When she see me she smiles and come over to say hello. I ask her how her mother is doing. She says her mother is lying down in the other room on her bunk. I go find her and say hello and ask how she is doing. She says she is dong fine but I can tell she is very tired. I respect her for still being on the walk. It must be hard but I can tell she intends to finish.

After a shower I sit outside in the sun and relax. It is hard to believe we now have less than 62.5m/100km left to walk.
October 22, 2001
O'Cebreiro- Triacastela (wet/wet/wet)
13.5m/21.5km - 385.7m/617.1km

What a miserable day. The wind is blowing and it is raining hard. By the time we reach Padornelo, 5m/8km beyond O'Cebreiro, my pants are soaked up to the waistband, even though I am wearing my rain poncho. After Padornelo we start climbing up the side of a cliff to Alto de Poio. The rain is so bad we are walking in a miniature river than runs down the middle of the path. My boots are so wet I am walking in two warm puddles of water that have formed inside them. This is so bad J gets mad enough to stop and rage at God. I stand behind him laughing. I know exactly how he is feeling. After he finishes we plod upward.

At the top I am relieved to find a bar and we quickly head inside. The place is packed with other pilgrims and the woman operating it is letting people huddle around the big old fashion wood-burning stove in her kitchen. The stove squats in the center of the room and pilgrims sitting in the chairs placed around it are sipping hot drinks as they try to warm themselves up. One man is carefully putting some of his wet clothing on the top of the stove to dry. Every couple of minutes he turns them over to keep them from burning.

We pick up hot drinks of our own at the bar and join the pilgrims around the stove. I cannot believe how accommodating this woman is. She is trying to make sandwiches for the people out in the main room and all these people sitting in her kitchen limits her ability to move freely around but she just ignores us and goes about her business. I for one am sitting as close to the stove as I can without burning myself. If I could, I would wrap my arms around it. I am chilled to the bone.

Soon people start drifting back out to the Camino and we go out to the main room and sit on stools at the counter. Jb is there with a girl named A from Germany. There is a Foosball table at the back of the bar and J and Jb talk B and A into playing a game against them. J refers to the game as the World Cup Final between Britain and Germany. Britain wins.

After the championship game is over we head out. I am still cold and my wet pants feel clammy. When I take two steps away from the building I am hit with a sheet of wind blown rain and I stop. That's it. I quit. I tell B and J that I cannot walk anymore today and I am going to wait for the bus. B and J say they understand and that they will meet me in Triacastela. I go back in the bar and find the only other person there is the woman running it. I wander around the silent bar feeling lost and scared. I don't know when the next bus is. I don't even know if there is a bus. With B and J gone I feel like I've lost an arm. I walk over to the front door and look out. I see a girl walking by who is barelegged under her rain poncho. If she can do this, then so can I. I put my pack on, pick up my stick, yell, "Gracias, adios," at the back of the bar and charge out before I can change my mind.

I walk very fast and finally see B and J up the road. B has crossed the road to where the Camino leaves it and has turned around to watch J cross when she sees me. She says something to J and I see him turn around and look in my direction. They both stand there for a minute and then J throws his hands in the air and yells. They wait for me as I walk up. When I get closer I answer J's unasked question, "I knew I would hate myself in the morning." As we talk B pint looks behind me and says, "Look." I turn around as the bus zooms passed us.

When we get to Triacastela J and I decide not to stay in the refugio, I think it is going to be crowded with other pilgrims like us who started out for Sarria but will decide to stay here to get out of the rain. We drop B of and, after making plans to come back later, head into the town. We find a hostel and get a room with the bathroom down the hall. J strings a laundry line and, after I take a hot shower, I wash and hang all my wet clothes up. J says he wants to take a nap after his shower so to give him some privacy I head down to the bar.

I order a hot chocolate and sit at a table watching a telenovela (Spanish soap opera) on the TV. It makes me homesick because I can see it was filmed in Miami. Something from home. The owner's three-year-old daughter comes over to me with her wooden puzzle and we put it together. This means I put a piece where it does not belong while asking, "Si?", and she answers no, with all the contempt of a three-year-old dealing with a stupid adult, and then moving the piece to where it belongs. We play this game at least three times until her mother takes her away for her nap.

After that I walk back down to the refugio and meet B and we walk back to the hostel. On the way we meet Ian and R coming out of the grocery store. We have not seen them since Ponferrada. Ian says they had stop off somewhere and there were so many gay men they were surprised by it. They thought that they would be the only ones. I ask if the place was mentioned in the Gay Handbook and Ian laughs and says he didn't think so but he would check, maybe he missed that part. B and I hang out in the bar the rest of the afternoon and later J joins us. This is always the boring part of our day, waiting until it's time for the restaurant to open so we can eat.

Jb and A are staying here too and we all eat dinner together. My appetite is gone again and A splits my chicken with me. After dinner J and I walk B back to the refugio and then return to the hostel. We find Jb and A still in the bar so we all play a game of pool. Jb is very good, J is good, A, who has never played before learns fast, and I am OK. The locals at the bar watch us play. We stink but we are entertaining. Jb wants to play another game and J and A are up for it but I am too tired so I say goodnight and go upstairs to bed. Before I get into my bed I think about sleeping in my sleeping bag on top of the bed. Then I think the idea is stupid and cannot figure out why I had it. This will be the first time I will be sleeping in a bed with sheets in a long time and I think I should enjoy it. I do pull my open sleeping bag on top of me in case I get cold during the night.

Friday, April 11, 2003

October 21, 2001
Villafranca de Bierzo- O'Cebreiro (cloudy/rain in afternoon)
18.7m/30.0km - 372.2m/595.6km

There are three routes out of Villafranca, one that follows the highway and two that take you higher and up over the mountains. We pick the high route. Leaving the refugio without my pack feels strange, like I am forgetting something. The hike this morning is like hiking through the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. I am enjoying it immensely. I am moving a lot faster without the pack. From where we are walking we can look down at the new highway as it slices its way through the valley below.

After 9.1m/14.6km we reach the town of Ambasmestas and stop for lunch. After Ambasmestas I start slowing down. The last 5.0m/8.0km is the hardest. It is very steep and I don't see how pilgrims carrying their packs do it. Some of it is on winding paths that are also used by the local people to move cows to and from the pastures. I run into cows heading down from the upper pastures a couple of times. Once I am standing in a deep cut and I have to walk as close as I can to the bank as the cows pass. These cows are huge; my head just reaches their shoulders. One cow decides she wants to walk where I am and starts pushing me into the bank. I put my hand on her side and say no, the instant my hand touches her she shies away. The woman guiding the cows aologizes but I just shake my head, smile, and laugh.

I am hot and sticky as I climb and I try to concentrate on anything else to keep my mind off how uncomfortable I am. Any time I walk alone my mind wanders and I start thinking about things I don't normally think about. Like the mysteries of the universe. Why are we here? Where do we go after we die? What is the purpose of life? Why do Polka music and Mariachi music sound the same?

By the time I reach La Faba, 2.8m/4.5km before O'Cebreiro, I have fallen so far behind that I can no longer see B and J. I do meet a French man who we have seen at the refugios before and walk with him. This man is so sweet, he does not speak English, and he is always singing. We slowly make our way up the path. We come upon a stone marker that shows the boundary between Castile and Galicia. On it is carved the distance from the marker to Santiago, 152km (95 miles). My walking partner asks me to take a picture of him with the marker so I do.

When we reach O'Cebreiro B and J are waiting for me in front of the church. O'Cebreiro is a village of nine stone houses set of top of a mountain and is the highest point in walk. It's all down hill from here. Well, not really, it's all up and down from here, just not as up anymore.

We walk down the main street of town wondering where our packs are when we run into Tony. He tells us he spent hours looking for where our packs were left and just found them. It took him hours in a village made up of nine houses? And didn't he tell us he walked the Camino before? He should know were the packs were dropped since he has been here before. I don't want to talk to this guy anymore.

The refugio is large and packed with people waiting to sign in. After we get our beds I try to take a shower but when I turn the shower on and put my hand into the stream of water I can feel the heat rapidly dissipating. I quickly stick my head under the water and start washing my hair before all the hot water is gone. Then I step out and get dressed.

We decide to eat dinner at the bar where our packs were dropped off. When we leave the refugio it is cold and foggy with a mist of rain falling. J leaves after the soup because he is doing laundry in the washing machines at the refugio and needs to get back before he loses his place in line. When the main course arrives I'm not sure if B and I can eat it all since it is an order for three people. The main dish is Beef Burgundy and I eat like someone who is one meal behind the rest of the world. I have not had such an appetite in a long time. B is eating like I am and we finish everything. This is another great meal.

When we are leaving I notice a crate holding a bunch of walking sticks. They are hand made and all unvarnished. I go to look at them because I've wanted a stick for a while but have not seen any I like. I don't like the looks of these either but I want to see how some of them feel in my hand. In the center of the crate is one stick that is stained and varnished; someone must have left it behind. I pull it out and know it is the one for me. I now have a stick.

When we get back to the refugio we find J sitting with Jb (J from Britain) and I walk up to them singing, "I'm singing in the rain, just singing in the rain." Then I ask them if they can tell I'm a little drunk. They laugh and I go to bed feeling very happy.
October 20, 2001
Ponferrada- Villafranca del Bierzo (rainy)
14.4m/23.0km - 353.5m/565.6km

Leaving Ponferrada we walk through a residential section of town. The houses and the wide streets lined with trees remind me of the city of Bogota in Columbia. We lived there when I was five and walking these streets puts me back there.

When we reach Cacabelos Tony is sitting on the front steps of the church. We try the church door but it is locked. The church is also a refugio and when we walk into the courtyard we see sleeping quarters build against the stone wall surrounding the courtyard. They look like connecting sheds with one long tin roof covering them. The back of each shed is missing, so that wall is the stone wall of the courtyard. Each one sleeps two people and there are no windows. I am glad we are not staying here. I cannot imagine being sealed in one of those rooms for the night.

We go to the refugio office and ask the woman there if we can go into the church. No, it's not open and it won't be open again until Mass on Saturday. I am so disappointed. I was so looking forward to seeing Baby Jesus playing cards.

When we come out of the courtyard Tony is gone. We start making the trek up the road out of Cacabelos. As we walk I realize we should not have seen Tony back at the church. He said he was staying at the refugio in Manjarin. We did not see him in Ponferrada and since he does not walk as fast as we do, he should be somewhere behind us. How did he get to Cacabelos before us? He must have ridden the bus. I tell B and J what I think. J thinks Tony may be taking the bus because we never meet him on the road as we do other pilgrims, we only see him at the refugios. B thinks he could be walking and the only reason we never see him is because he starts so early.

In Villafranca we stay in the famous private refugio run by the Jesus Jato family. This place is great. Remember when I said the refugio in Manjarin reminded me of a bad hippy commune? Well, this is a good hippy commune. An old building is the main part of the refugio and it is used as the dinning room. Three long tables with benches are lined up side by side against on wall; one end of each table touching the wall. There is also a bar. Since this is the only place to sit, people are hanging out here and either drinking something hot or cold, or reading, or talking, or writing in their journals.

Part of the refugio burned down and what is left is covered with clear plastic sheets. There is a patio and couches and this area has been made into a smoking area. Up the stairs is the bathroom/shower and then to the left are the sleeping rooms. The rooms are divided by age. Those over 40 to the right and those under 40 straight ahead and up another short stairway. B and J tease me, saying I'll have to sleep in the over 40 room. I say at least it will be quiet because older people are not as wild as younger ones. B says maybe so but the younger ones don't snore so I should come sleep with them. I tell her I'll take my chances.

When I get into the room I am surprised to find a lower corner bunk open. Those are the best because you are up against two walls and only have one bed next to you. Won't be stuck between two snorers there. There is a backpack sitting on the floor between the two bunks but since it is not on the bed I want I pull my sleeping bag out of my pack and spread it out on the bed I've picked. Tony is here and comes up to me downstairs and says I took his bed. I tell him I couldn't have because I picked a bed that did not have a pack or sleeping bag on it. He says his pack was next to the bed. Sorry, the unwritten rule has been, any bed without a pack or sleeping bag on it is open. He is out of luck and he knows it.

Later B comes up to me and says she now thinks Tony is taking the bus. The last section we walked was very muddy so our boots are dirty but she noticed Tony's boots are clean. We do not care if Tony is taking the bus. We don't like the fact that he is lying about it. Whenever we see him he talks about how hard the walk was that day. We are insulted because he thinks we are not smart enough to figure out he is not walking.

The dinning is communal with dinner offered to any pilgrim who wants to pay for it. So a lot of people come here for their evening meal. This room is cold and if anyone coming in leaves the door open behind them someone yells out, "Cerrar la puerta!" One time Jesus comes in and leaves the door open and I turn in his direction and mutter, "Geez, Jesus, were you born in a barn? Shut the door!" J is sitting right beside me so I end up muttering this into his ear. As soon as I realize what I've said I collapse into laughter and so does J. I cannot believe I said that.

Tomorrow we make the climb up to O'Cebreiro. B and J have decided to let Jesus take their packs too. I am looking forward to walking a day without my pack. It should be enjoyable, like a day hike in the foothills outside Denver.

Thursday, April 10, 2003

October 19, 2001
Rabanal del Camino- Ponferrada (cold/rainy)
20.0m/32.0km - 339.1m/542.6km

Last night I had a strange dream. I dreamed I was lying in my bunk and that I woke up to find myself in the middle of an earthquake. I heard people screaming and saw a man being tossed through the air. The man in the lower bunk next to me was trying to hide under his bed. Someone else was trying to get out of the room before the building collapsed.

This morning I learned it wasn't a dream. Climbing into the top bunks can be a little difficult. The man in the top bunk next to me was trying to get back in his bunk, so he stepped on the edge of my bed to help him, while at the same time boosting himself up by putting his hand on B's bed above me. B woke up and saw a man looming over her and screamed. This startled the man so he pushed off both beds and propelled himself into his bunk. At the same time the man in the bunk below him was pulling his mattress on to the floor to sleep because his back was hurting. And some guy happened to be walking by on the way to the bathroom. My life is turning into a Three Stooges cartoon.

Beautiful walk today through off-and-on rain showers. We walked through the ruined village of Foncebadon and it is a creepy experience. The streets had been made of stone and the cycle of heat and freezing cold in the passing years have caused them to rise up, making what had been the main street a path of jumbled rocks. The town is not deserted, we see a couple of dogs and a man standing in the doorway of one building silently watches us as we walk by.

We climb up to the top of a pass where the Cruz de Ferro is and take a rest break. A cross has been up here for centuries. It was first put here to help pilgrims find their way through the mountains. The one here now is small and made of iron. It is attached to a three-foot long wooden stake that is thrust into a huge pile of rocks. It is a tradition for pilgrims to bring a rock from home and add it to the pile. I did not know this so I find a rock near the road and toss it on the pile.

We next reach Manjarin,another abandoned village, and again stop. The only thing in this village is a refugio. This refugio is not an official refugio and is operated by a man named Tomas. At one time the government was going to cut off the electricity to the refugio because they did not approve of it. Tomas went on a hunger strike until they backed down. After seeing the refugio I can see why they wanted to shut it down. It is somewhat like a bad hippie commune from the sixties and does not look very clean. We meet a girl who spent the night and asked her what she thought. She hesitated and then said carefully that is was different.

On the other side of Manjarin we reach a two-lane highway and have to make a choice. The path goes to the left alone the road but across the road we see a yellow arrow pointing to dirt and rubble slide that leads to the top of the mountain. We decide it would be quicker to just go straight up, since the path must follow the highway around as it weaves its way to the top. Climbing this is tricky and hard. We spread out so we do not knock rocks and dirt into each other's faces. J is the first one to the top and I hear him swear loudly when he gets there. When B gets there I hear her yell out loudly. When I get there I see why. We are at the top of the mountain but the highway does not come here. The top of the mountain has a military radar station on it and the road from it leads back down to where we left the highway. I think the local kids painted the yellow arrow as a joke. My life is a Three Stooges cartoon.

Just before Molinaseca we stumble across a man living in a tent. He puts the tent up in the Spring and stays until the end of Fall. He gives foot massages and fixes the feet of the pilgrims that pass by. When we walk up he motions to us, asking if we would like a foot massage. We say no. He points at my feet and makes a motion to come. This guy knows feet. He can tell just by the way I am walking and standing that my feet hurt me. I hesitate and then shake my head no. I am afraid he might hurt me.

As we continue walking to Molinaseca I brood on my decision. Why was I afraid? When I reach the edge of Molinaseca B and J are sitting on the sidewalk and leaning against a railing waiting for me. I sit down and tell them what I have been thinking about and berate myself for being afraid. I am in pain but I refused someone's offer of help because I was afraid. Why? I feel a great sense of loss.

We stay at the brand new refugio in Ponferrada. It is run by the church so for the first time we are separated by gender. Men to the rooms on the left. Women to the rooms on the right. When I take a shower I find plenty of hot water. I also find more water pressure than I expected. After I step into the shower stall I look up at the shower head as I turn on the water. A blast of water hits my face so hard it knocks me back and nearly drowns me. B is next in line and she can the shower head over the shower stall door. When she hears the noises I make she figures out what has happened and I hear her laughing. I laugh too.

We go out for dinner and find a fancy Italian restaurant and order a good wine with our meal. Again we are too early for most of the locals and only have a man and his son as dinning partners. During dinner J mentions that by next Friday ( a week from now ) we should be in Santiago.

When I go to bed I notice that almost all the pages in my guidebook are gone. This experience has been such a dream that this fact (the missing pages) and the stamps in my passport are the only way I know that what is happening is real.

I am looking forward to tomorrow. I read in my guidebook that the church in Cacabelos has a picture of Baby Jesus playing cards with St. Anthony carved into the altar. How could I not stop to see that?

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

Camino Interlude
Passport Stamps
San Juan de Ortega- El Ganso

October 18, 2001
Astorga- Rabanal del Camino (cool/foggy)
12.2m/19.5km - 319.1m/510.6km

Back in Villadangos we met a pilgrim from New Jersey named Tony. B could not stand him from the first, saying he is to friendly and that she did not trust him. I told her he did come on a little strong but to think of him as a big overgrown puppy who doesn't know its behavior is annoying. Well, Tony is here in Astorga in the bed next to me and for some reason he now makes me uncomfortable too. He is to friendly and does try to hard to make people like him. I try politely to ignore him.

One thing about sleeping in a refugio, you seem to have at least one person who snores. This can be irritating. Last night I woke up because there were two men snoring loudly and they both happen to be sleeping on either side of me. Stereophonic snoring. Tony was the loudest, Tony was so loud I wanted to hit him to make him shut up. So, I did.

I normally would never even think about hitting someone but after lying there for a few minutes and listening to both men I got angrier and angrier. What the hell is wrong with these two? Don't they have a clue to how loud they snore? I look over at Tony and he is lying on his back, no wonder he is snoring. I quietly lean out of my bunk and give him a quick punch on the shoulder and then swiftly lie back down and pretend to be asleep. I hear him move and when I look back I see that his is lying on his side and his snoring has stopped. Silence from that side of my bunk for a couple of minutes and then he starts again, just as loud as before. Great, I'm sleeping next to an equal opportunity snorer. I've got to pick up some earplugs.

We leave Astorga and walk through land that gets greener and greener. We are heading into the Leon Mountains and will be walking through them for the next several days. At one point a man driving a car honks at us, smiles, and then gives us a thumbs up. The car is a rental so we figure he is someone who walked the Camino and is driving back over it. Maybe we should do the same thing when we get to Santiago.

One of the most interesting places between Astorga and Rabanal del Camino is the Cowboy Bar in El Ganso. It is right on the Camino and looks like it used to be a garage. It has two large wood barn-like doors that open to the street and one is propped open today. Inside there are a couple of table with benches lined up along the left side of the building, while on the other side there is a pot belly stove that does not put out enough heat to heat to warm up anything more than ten feet away. It does put out enough smoke to create a haze that floats over the room. We walk to the bar in the back where a man is drinking a small brandy and order hot drinks and then sit at a table. As I sip my drink I look at all the cowboy stuff hanging on the walls; Cowboy poster, horse bridles, spurs- actually so much stuff I can't absorb it all. After finishing the drinks that do not warm us up because it is so cold in there, we go our way.

We are just outside Rabanal when we see Tony, who is sitting under a large beautifully shaped oak tree that is just off the road. We aren't going to stop but he come over and starts talking, telling us the tree is called The Pilgrim's Oak and that for centuries pilgrims have rested under it. I guess Tony is the only one who is going to sit under it today because he was the only one over there.

The refugio we stay in is run by the Confraternity of St. James and used to be part of the church next door. We arrive by 130P and have plenty of time to take showers and do laundry. After that we join the other pilgrims out in the side yard and either sit or lie down in the sun. As I sit there I get that antsy feeling that means I need to walk, so I get up and walk around the yard. This is what is hard for me now, being tired but at the same time wanting to keep walking

On the Camino today I heard rumors about people panicking is the States because there is a smallpox epidemic spreading across the country. I also heard that terrorists are targeting Americans overseas. Some people say we Americans should not tell anyone where we from but to say we are Canadians. I don't know, I haven't felt the need to lie to anyone and when I do get asked, I don't get a big reaction to my answer. The rumors do bother me so I call my husband and he tells me they are not true. Someone has mailed letters with Anthrax in them to some government officials but there is no panic. He has not heard anything about terrorists attacking Americans overseas either. After talking to him I feel better and sad at the same time. I miss him.

After dinner tonight we sit in a large room called the library. One of the women running the refugio brings us tea to drink. J is sitting next to the fire and talking to her husband. Today we found out that when you reach Villafranca de Bierzo a man will take your backpack up to O'Cebreiro for you. The walk between Villafranca and O'Cebreiro is said to be very strenuous so I am going to let him take my pack for me. B and J say they are going to carry their packs themselves. Anyway, the husband says not carrying your own pack is cheating. In fact, sleeping in the refugio, he says, is technically cheating too.

All alone the Camino I've heard pilgrims say the things other pilgrims were doing on the walk was cheating. You were cheating if you traveled by bike instead of walking. You were cheating if you did not walk alone. You were cheating if you took the bus. You were cheating if you did not stay in the most basic refugios. You were cheating if you stayed in a hotel. You were cheating if you ate in restaurants. There was only one "right" way to do the Camino. The way the original Middle Ages pilgrims did it, by walking alone and suffering.

My take on the whole thing. I'm a pilgrim, not a martyr, and the "right" way to walk the Camino for me, is the way I am doing it now. I am sure that earlier pilgrims hitched a ride on an ox cart anytime they could. The way someone else is doing the Camino is the "right" way for him or her. I have used the phrase "I'm a pilgrim, not a martyr" on this walk before. When ever I thought I was being ask to do something, or was thinking of doing something, that would make the walk more difficult for no other reason but to make it harder I would say, "I'm a pilgrim, not a martyr." I am delighted to hear J say quietly to the man, "We are pilgrims, not martyrs." I think I've made a convert.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

October 17, 2001
Villadangos del Paramo- Astorga (rainy)
16.3m/26.0km - 306.9m/491.1km

Pleasant walking today. The land is greening up and we are out of the desolate plains. We stop for lunch in Puente de Orbigo. We are early so the choices are limited. Tapas are usually the easiest thing to get in a bar if you are there before the local lunch hour, so we order a tortilla. The bartender says it will take 20 minutes and we say fine. Then after thinking about it we realize that our tortilla is being freshly made. When it is set on the table it looks like a quiche and not like the omelette P was served back at the beginning of our walk. When I bite into it I find small pieces of potatoes. This is so good I think I could eat it every day. It is also so large that J, B, and I cannot finish it. We do tell the bartender (who is also the owner) how much we are enjoying it though.

After we finish what we can, J leave for the restroom and while he is gone the man's mother, who made the tortilla, comes out of the kitchen and sit down with us. She asks us how we liked the food. B and I tell her it was wonderful and thank her for cooking it. She points at the remaining food and ask who did not finish their dinner. Uh-oh. I can tell by looking at this woman that she is the kind of person who, if you do not eat all that she has cooked for you, will be insulted. I look at B and see she thinks the same thing. Neither one of us wants to insult her but we also cannot eat another bite so I point to the back where J is. When he gets back she encourages him to finish what is left and sits with us until he cleans his plate. J is not happy that he had to eat so much and we tell him (even though we were to chicken to do it ourselves) he could have said no thank you. Besides, everyone knows the person not there always gets picked for the job no one else wants.

When we reach the refugio in Astorga it is raining and the first thing I do is take a hot shower to warm up. This is one of the largest refugios we have been in. I think there are 40 people in this room. The bunk beds are set so close together you can roll over, reach out, and touch the bunk on either side of you.

On the way to dinner I stop in a store and buy a box of mint chocolates. I want to eat the whole box by myself but I know it will make me sick so I offer a piece to every pilgrim I see. We find a restaurant near the refugio that resembles a American non-chain fast food place and order a pizza. One person I give a piece of chocolate to is a English girl who lived in the States when she was small. She and I talk about the treats she used to get in America and still misses. Most of them are chocolate related. I try to tell her about a chocolate mint cookie that I think she would like but I can't remember the name of it. It's made by Pepperidge Farms but I just can't think of what it is called so I ask Z, who is eating at another table. "Milano Mints," she says. That's it.

Later when we are leaving Z calls my name and when I turn to look says, "Sausalitogenevacheseapeakebrusselsschessman." I am confused by what she just said and I ask, "Are you speaking English?" She laughs and says those are the names of other Pepperidge Farms cookies. Oh yeah, Sausalito, Geneva, Chesapeake, Brussels, and Chessman. I could eat a box of each tonight.

Monday, April 07, 2003

October 16, 2001
Leon- Villadangos del Paramo (cloudy & cool/warm afternoon)
13.6m/21.8km - 286.6m/465.1km

T stopped by at breakfast to say she is going home. She plans to come back and finish the Camino next year. I agree to pick up the things she mailed to Santiago and bring them home with me. I am sorry to see her go.

Hard to get back into walking this morning but after our 1000A rest break in Virgen del Camino it gets easier. Most of this section is along a highway and when we reach Valverde de la Virgen, we take another break. We are sitting at a bus stop and I am hungry so I reach into my pack and pull out a box of Melba Toast and start eating them. I pass the box to J and pull out a can of tuna pate, open it, and start dipping a piece of Melba Toast into it. B and J join me. J reaches into his pack and pulls out a can of ham pate and a container of olives. B pulls an apple and dates out of her pack and we have a meal. I can't believe how delicious and enjoyable this meal is. We are sitting on an old splintery bench six inches from the roadway with the food spread out on the bench seat, while cars and large trunks speeding by buffet us with the wind created by their passing, and we are having a great time.

When we get to Villadangos and the refugio we are surprised by how run down it looks. My guidebook describes it as a luxury refuge. Maybe five years ago but it has had hard use since then. I planned on taking a shower but there is no hot water. The refugio does have a kitchen and we decide we are tired of eating in restaurants and walk to a grocery store to buy food. The choices are limited so we decide to make spaghetti with tomato sauce for dinner. J finds a large bar of chocolate and mimes the question, "can we eat this" by pretending to eat it for the young lady behind the counter. She nods yes and we buy it too.

Even though there is no hot water, I do some laundry when we return and try to take it out to the backyard where I see a clothesline but I find the back door locked. I go out the front door, walk around the building, and hang up my clothes. When I come back in I do the same thing in reverse. When J is done with his wash he pulls a chair over to one of the back window, sets his laundry on the sash, climbs out the window, picks up his laundry and walks over to the clothesline. Why didn't I think of that? To get back in he puts another chair he finds out on the patio beneath the same window and we use this entrance the rest of the day.

Z, who is from Boston, is staying here too. She is one of several people we keep running into on and off on the road. The last time I saw her was in the refugio in Sahagun. We invite her to have dinner with us, and she contributes some vegetables that she has to the salad. After we finish eating J pulls out his chocolate bar and breaks off pieces and pass them around. There are two men sitting at the other end of the table eating their dinner and J offers them a piece too. When I first bite into my piece I am not sure about the taste so I take another bite. No, my mouth was right, this stuff is terrible. Everyone agrees. Is this very old chocolate? J examines the wrapper and then, with a disgusted look on his face, passes it to me. On the back of the wrapper are little cartoons showing how to use the chocolate to make that very thick bitter hot chocolate drink they have here in Spain. Our mistake gets a big laugh from all of us.

Around 800P the woman who takes care of the refugio come by to collect our fees and stamps our passports. By 900P we are in our sleeping bags for the night.
October 15, 2001
Leon (cloudy/cool)

Went with B this morning to a English language bookstore that she knew about and bought a book. I spend most of the morning reading it. I also write letters and take a walk up to the Cathedral. In the afternoon I stay in my room and finish my book.

I've been thinking about how hard the last few days of walking have been and I think I have figured out why it was so difficult. Since leaving Burgos my mind has been thinking ahead to here, Leon. Before Burgos I went day by day. There was no yesterday, no tomorrow, no today either, just now. I have unconsciously been fighting this dream state I walk in. I have not been going with the flow. From now on I will not struggle against this "living dream" feeling I have. I will let go and let be. I will stay in the present and just be where I am, day by day. I will slide back into the river of dreams and go with the flow.

Sunday, April 06, 2003

October 14, 2001
Reliegos- Leon (cloudy/rain at night)
15.3m/24.5km - 272.0m/446.3km

This day is a blur of walking for me until we are 6.2m/10.0km from Leon. We are walking on a path close to the main highway into Leon when I see a large billboard that says "Leon! Ten minutes ahead." Yeah, by car. We have at least a two to three hour walk left.

B and J are not in sight when I reach the village of Archueja so I start looking around for a bar knowing they will be inside waiting for me. I walk up the main street glancing down any side street I cross until I see a bar sign up one street and there I turn. When I get to the bar I try the door but it is locked. B and J must have tried here too and when they found it locked kept on going. I turn around and walk back to main street. When I get there I hear someone yell behind me and I turn to see J holding the door to the bar open and waving at me. It seems the door sticks and I did not pull hard enough to open it. We eat lunch and then continue on our way.

When we reach Leon we check into the La Posada Regia hotel, which is close to Leon Cathedral. We have decided to stay two nights. My room is on the top floor right under the rafters. It has a TV, a bathroom, and no window, just a sky light. When I open the skylight I can hear the sounds of traffic on the street. The first thing I do is take a shower and the second thing I do is take a long hot bath. After my bath I turn on the TV and watch a rerun of the old TV series Charlie's Angels where I learn something very interesting. You can watch an episode of Charlie's Angels that has been dubbed into another language and still follow the story completely. While I am watching, I get two phone calls, one from B and one from J. Each asks if I want to go walk around the city. I pass on both offers because both times they call I am lying on the bed with my feet propped up on the wall hoping this will make them hurt less. I do tell them I will meet them for dinner.

When we meet downstairs for dinner T is there. J ran into her at the Cathedral. She tells us she is either going home or jumping ahead because she just heard Swiss Air may be going under and, unfortunately, she has tickets home on them. She has also heard that the other airlines will honor Swiss Air tickets if the airline does go under, so maybe she will just jump ahead. I tell her ,as a former airline employee, I would not trust anything that is being said right now. My experience had been that once an airline stops operating the other airlines will not accept their tickets. If she does not use the ticket now she has to be able to afford the price of a new ticket if Swiss Air does go under before she finishes the walk. T says she will think about it and decide what to do tomorrow. We ask her if she wants to eat dinner with us but she has other plans and so we say goodnight.

We find a small local restaurant and J orders frogs legs, something he has never eaten before. While we are waiting for our food J gets very nervous, he is not sure he made the right dinning choice. When his food arrives it turns out to be a plate full of what looks like small pond frogs. J looks at them and says he can't eat them because they look like the lower half of Pinocchio. He is also unsure how to eat them so the waitress comes over and picks one up and eats it to show him how it is done. Finally he works up the courage to try one and then finishes the whole plate.

As we walk back to the hotel I think about how glad I am that we are staying in Leon two nights. I need this break badly.

Saturday, April 05, 2003

October 13, 2001
Sahagun- Religos (cloudy/humid)
18.9m/30.2km - 256.7m/421.8km

I found out two things last night that made me happy. First, 7.8m/12.5km after we left Carrion de los Condes we officially reached the half way mark between St. Jean and Santiago. Second, T is here. When I came out from the showers I found T sitting at the table in the kitchen area. I was so happy to see her I gave her a big hug. We all started out walking the Camino together but we kind of lost T after Granon. I think she decided to do most of the walk alone at that point, which is OK, but I do miss walking with her. I was delighted to hear she is sleeping in the same cubicle as us. Just like the good old days.

This morning I'm not sure if I want to go on, yesterday took a lot out of me. We are walking through the streets of Sahagun and I am agonizing about whether or not to keep going or to quit. In my head I plead for someone to tell me what to do. Do I go on or do I stop? A couple of minutes later, on the back of a stop sign, I see a yellow arrow pointing up with the initials of my name written underneath it. I take this as a sign to keep going.

Today we go slow and make sure to eat at all major stops. I still hate this plain we are walking through. No matter how long you walk it feels like you have not made any progress. The path we are walking has benches lined up along it and they are spaced so far apart it looks someone put a bench out in the middle of nowhere for reasons know only to them. At one rest stop we are sitting on one of these benches when I glance up the path and see a man about three city blocks away walking toward us.

When he gets closer I see is a big man. He is wearing a pilgrim's hat (a black wide brim hat with the front of the brim folded up and fastened to the crown by a cockleshell pin), a dirty "I walked the Camino and only got...." type of souvenir T-shirt that stretches tightly across his belly, a pair of shorts, and sandals. He is not wearing a backpack but he is carrying a shepherd's staff with hourglass shaped gourd (used for carrying water) hanging from it, in his right hand. He is also surrounded by a yellow glow that shimmers around him like heat coming off a stove. I also "see" sparks shooting off him in all directions like a lit sparkler. As he gets closer I mentally beg J over and over not to talk to him. The look on this man's face is one of either extreme bliss or craziness. J is very gregarious and loves to talk to people but I do not want anything or anyone stopping this man.

When he reaches us he looks nine feet tall to me and I glance down at his feet to make sure they are touching the ground. He walks past us with his eyes focused off in the distance and without saying a word. Whatever he is looking at we can't see. I don't think he even knows we are here. As I watch him walking away from us I know he is walking all the way back to St. Jean and that when he gets there he will turn around a start walking back to Santiago. He will never stop walking. I look at J and B and see that he has disturbed them too but I don't say anything about what I saw because I am not sure what they will think. I haven't told them anything about yesterday for the same reason.

Later, when we take another break, we hear a train whistle and then see a train streaking across the plain off to our right. We know there is a town up ahead so we climb up on the bench to see if we can tell how close the town is by watching the train. Maybe the train is going to the town. Maybe we are closer to the town than we think we are. No such luck. The train just keeps traveling across the plain until it is no longer in our sight.

I hate this. I hate this. I hate this. When is this torture going to end? I am turning into the Glowing Man and will be walking in this nothingness for eternity.

Another rest break at a bridge over a small creek that has widened into a pool. I lean over the bridge and look at the water, I am sure I can see tiny fish. I spit and watch as the spit droplets hit the water. I create a tiny fish feeding frenzy. I tell B and J there are fish in the water and they drop small rocks and pieces of gravel in. Each time they do the fish come up and check to see if what hit the water is food. B goes down to the pool, finds a stick, and starts poking it into the mud. J follows her and starts chucking big rocks into the water to see how big a splash he can make and I keep spitting off the bridge and watching the fish react. We have a great time acting like kids for ten minutes and then reluctantly put our packs on and start walking again.

We finally reach the refugio in Reliegos where we are rewarded for our perseverance. We have a room that sleeps 26 to ourselves. Tomorrow we will be in Leon.

Friday, April 04, 2003

October 12, 2001
Carrion de los Condes- Sahagun (hot/muggy)
26.9m/43.0km - 237.8m/391.6km

Today I had a meltdown. This was the hardest day yet. We are still walking through what seems to be endless plains and the air is so clear distances can be deceiving. My period started yesterday and add that to a cold plus hurting feet and you have the definition of misery. I was doing fine until the last 4.5m/7km.

I am walking so slow B and J are at least a quarter of a mile ahead of me. I can see them but I cannot seem to catch up to them. I feel like Alice in Wonderland, moving as fast as I can but getting nowhere. Pretty soon B and J are so far ahead I can no longer see them, and when I look around I see there is not a living soul in any direction. No people, no animals, just land. I am frightened because although I am walking by myself I am not walking alone. I am surrounded by ghosts. I can feel them brushing by me in both directions as I walk. I can hear the mummer of their voices. What the hell is going on? I want off this path as soon as possible. I walk faster. After a bit the sensation of being surrounded by other people passes. I now have B and J within sight.

I just want to stop walking. I want to quit. I want to lie down on the ground and curl up into a ball. Why don't B and J stop and wait for me? Don't they care about me anymore? Don't they understand how hard this is for me? The more I think about it the more unhappy I am. I am throwing myself a good size pity party here; all that is missing are the balloons. I want to cry but when I try no tears come just a feeling of weariness.

After a while I am no longer mad at B and J. It's not their fault I am stuck out here walking in the middle of nowhere. It's God's fault. I didn't want to come here. I didn't ask to be here. I don't even know why I am here. The more I think about it the angrier I get. The angrier I get the harder it is to walk. The weight of my anger presses down on me, and with each step I take the weight gets heavier and heavier. I have to get this weight off me before it crushes me. I stop and scream at the sky. I scream at God.

"God d**n you! I hate you! I don't want to be here you b*****d! F**k you! I hate you! Why did you make me come here! I didn't ask for this! F**k you! F**k you"!

I look around on the ground for rocks to throw but I can't find any so I yell one final f**k you and then stand there looking up at the sky. Slowly I come back to my surrounding and feel a great sense of peace and relaxation. After standing there for a minute I start walking again. I feel lighter and each step is a little easier and almost bearable. I plod on until I reach the edge of Sahagun where B and J sit waiting for me.

We walk, strung out one behind the other like beads on a string (B first, then J, then me), up the street that leads to the refugio. I am walking with my head down and concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other when I hear a voice screeching up ahead. I look up and see a very tiny old woman standing in the middle of the sidewalk and screeching at B while pointing up the street. As B gets nearer to to the old woman she steps out into the street and makes a wide half circle detour around her, while nodding her head at her. The whole thing is so bizarre I start laughing. I cannot understand a word of what the woman is saying. It does not sound like any language I have ever heard.

She turns, and seeing J, starts screeching at him, and when he gets close to her he also steps out into the street and makes a half circle detour around her while nodding his head. I am laughing so hard at this I feel myself rising out of my body. My spirit-self floats above, with only the spirit-toes of my left foot touching my right shoulder keeping me connected to the rest of my body. As I float there I realize that the reason I cannot understand what the woman is saying is because she is really a cat and the strange language she is speaking is cat. This thought frightens me and and I feel my spirit-self sink back into my body.

When I reach the woman I am looking straight into her face. How can this be? She is only about four feet tall and I am five feet five inches. I should be looking down at her. I say, "Buenos tardes", but she ignores me and then, very quickly, her eyes flick sideways at me and then away. She knows. She knows I know she is a cat. That's why she won't look at me. I walk away with a feeling of satisfaction about not being fooled by her.

The refugio in Sahagun is in the Church of La Trinidad upper floor. The lower floor is an event center. The upper level is divided into cubicles that sleep eight. Each cubicle has four sets of bunk beds, two buck beds set end to end on each wall of the cubicle. They are all enclosed on three sides like railway bunks. There is a large storage area for backpacks at the rear and the first thing J does is string a line across it so we can hang laundry. The next thing he does is head for the showers. He is back within two minutes and seething. The French girls are here. He just met one of them leaving the shower area. How can that be? We saw them this morning in a bar as we were leaving Carrion de los Condes. They never passed us. How did they get here before us? J says the girl told him some story about catching a ride on an airplane. I start laughing. All that agony for nothing.

J and B somwhere between Carrion de los Condes and Sahagun

Thursday, April 03, 2003

October 11, 2001
Fromista- Carrion de los Condes (windy/cold morning/warm day)
12.2m/19.5km - 210.9m/348.6km

Short walk today through rolling hills and past plowed fields of sugar beets and corn. This landscape makes me think of home and when we see a small tractor being driven through one village I am struck by an overwhelming sense of homesickness. We get to Carrion de los Condes by 1230P and are staying in the Monastery of Santa Clara because we have heard the other refugio in town is a dump. It's a peaceful place and we arrive early enough to get a room that sleeps only three. After taking showers and doing laundry we go into town for lunch. I have come down with a cold and B has the sniffles. J thinks the problem is we are not eating enough food so we all order hot meals instead of our usual sandwiches.

J and I have been visiting every open church we can find on this trip and after lunch we step across the street to the church of Santa Maria del Camino. When we get inside and look around I have a feeling of de ja vu- I know we have been in this church before. J and I turn our heads at the same time to look at each other and the second I see his face I know he feels the same way. We were in a church that looked like this a couple of day ago. The only thing different is the painting of the Skateboarding Saint in a small alcove on the right side of the building. She is not really skateboarding, she is floating in the air, but her stance is the same one a skateboarder takes and she floats there holding a sword over her head. This painting is very Bollywood in style and I cannot imagine why it is hanging in a Catholic Church. I like it a lot. When we step outside J and I decide we are now "churched out" and will not visit any more churches the rest of the way to Santiago.

The monastery is build around a courtyard and when we get back B and I sit out there while J takes a nap. She reads a book and I write notes about the walk. When I am finished I get up and start walking across the courtyard. When I get to the other side I glance to my right into the refugio office and see one of the Sister's leaning on the office counter and staring in my direction with an unfocused gaze. She stays that way for a few seconds and then focus on me and I wave at her. She stands up with a big smile on her face and enthusiastically waves back. For some reason this touches me and at the same time makes me want to cry. I return her smile, wave again, and then turn and walk back to where I was sitting.

That night we go into the center of town for dinner and while wandering around run into the French girls. They are talking to one of the Swiss boys and telling him a story about the General. The General is a Spanish pilgrim who wears camouflage clothing. We heard he is doing the pilgrimage in his mother's honor. It seems her dream was to walk the Camino but she died, so he is doing the walk in her place. The General is sweet in a drunken way. He never drinks water and always has a full wineskin with him as he walks. As we walk by we hear one of the girls complaining about the General and saying they let him buy them a meal and now they can't get rid of him. What jerks.

At dinner J says he wants to walk all the way to Sahagun tomorrow, a 25.2m/40.3km walk. He thinks by doing this we will jump ahead of the French girls and hopefully never see them again. B and I are willing and we agree to do a long day. After dinner B decides to call her parents and we stop at a phone booth. When she is finished she tells us she just found out her mother has cancer. We are shocked and offer our sympathy. It sounds like they caught it at an early stage because B's mother told her not to come home right away so B is going to complete the walk with us. As we walk back to the refugio I think about my own mother who has been in ill health for several years.
October 10, 2001
Hontanas- Fromista (cold morning/warm day)
22.4m/35.9km - 198.6m/329.1km

Another hard day. Just past Castrojeriz we start climbing up a ridge to a small plateau. The other side drops down on to a wide flat barren plains. We are out in the middle of the plains, following a wide dirt road, when two fighter jets coming from the north zoom low over our heads. They are flying so low I can see the pilots sitting in the cockpits of both aircraft. The scream of the jet engines as they pass over is deafening and the rumble of it resonates in my chest. As I watch them race south I wonder if they were checking to see if any terrorists were hiding among us.

It is my husband's birthday today and in Itero de la Vega I give him a call to wish him a happy one. It is good to hear his voice and when I hang up I feel homesick. After the phone call we eat lunch in the town square. All the buildings surrounding it are closed with no sign of life within. Where are all the people in these little towns?

We planned to walk only as far as Boadilla de Camino today but when we get there we find the refugio closed. After just walking 18.1m/28.9km this is very disheartening. The extra 5m/8km to Fromista seems like another 100m/160km. We rest for a bit at a water pump just at the edge of town. A stone wall and stone benches have been built around it and a large wagon size wheel set in the wall pumps the water up. After getting a drink B and I lie down on the stone benches and put our feet up on the wall. As I lay there watching the breeze gently shake the leaves in the tree branches above me I play with the idea of sleeping here tonight. It could work. The wall forms a kind of shelter and the stone benches would get us up off the ground. Today has been almost hot so tonight it should be warm enough to sleep outside. I'm tempted to suggest it to the others-anything to keep from walking anymore today. But I know my sleeping bag is not warm enough for outside use so instead, I go with the others to a bar where we order Cokes and then start walking again.

The walk to Fromista is on a gravel road that runs beside cultivated fields. Between the road and the fields is an irrigation ditch filled with reeds and line of cedar trees. A little way out of Boadilla the road climbs up an incline and following a canal. I am enjoying this extra walk. It is late in the afternoon, that time when everything seems to slow down, one of my favorite times for walking.

Since Azofra J has been bedeviled by a French girl he cannot stand. Unfortunately, she like him- I think. She and her girlfriend have decided that the cheapest way to do the walk is by having other pilgrims pay for their food and drinks. Of course they only ask the male pilgrims to do this and ignore any women. J has figured out her game and tries to avoid her whenever possible.

When we reach the outskirts of Fromista we cross the canal by walking over a lock and take a break. B and I are sitting there eating a snack and J is standing up smoking a cigarette when we hear the sound of a car horn across the canal and behind us. As I turn to see who is honking, I happen to glance at J and he has a look of both disbelief and dismay on his face. When I turn completely around I see a small car driven by a tall man and in the back passenger side window the faces of the French girls. Both have big "aren't we smart for getting a ride" smiles. I want to laugh at the look on J's face but I am just as shocked and dismayed to see them as he is. They talk to J for a couple of minutes, ignoring B and me, and then the man drives them down to the main road near the bridge that crosses over the canal and drops them off. When we see them walking toward town we hurriedly get our packs on and race for the refugio because we do not want to be put into the same room as them. We get to the refugio before them and it is so crowded that for the first time since we started we are put in different rooms. The French girls arrive so late they have a bunk that is set up in an alcove on the second floor landing. I guess we should thank them for hurrying us alone because two of us could be sleeping on the landing tonight if we hadn't rushed to get here.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

October 9, 2001
Burgos- Hontanas (cold morning/clear warmer afternoon)
17.5m/28km - 176.2m/293.2km

This morning I wake up homesick, which takes the form of missing my 11 year old niece and my dog. I do not miss anyone else the way I miss them. I have been wondering why this is so and I think it is because they love me unconditional. I love them back in the same way. Why is unconditional love so easy with children and animals?

As we walk through the streets of Burgos, I am thinking about my dog and hear the sound of a dog barking above me. I look up at a balcony across the street and see my dog (same breed) standing up there looking straight at me. Her tail is wagging and she has a big smile on her face. The dog barks one more time and then disappears inside the building. I feel better.

Good walking today, gradual hills and then a mesa. Bleak in the morning but beautiful in the afternoon. J was walking behind us for a bit today and when he caught up with us he asked if we had seen the shepherd a little ways back. We said no but we had heard the sound of sheep bells from the hillside. J tells us he watched a lamb being born. The shepherd was saluting everyone who walked by with a drink to celebrate and since some other lambs had been born already, the guy was feeling pretty good when J got there.

We walk 12.5m/20km this morning and I am surprised by how fast the time and distance passed. We reach Hornillos de Camino at lunchtime and by then my feet are killing me. They were fine yesterday and I think that was because I walked without a pack most of the day. A very hospitable man runs the bar where we eat and we have a relaxing enjoyable lunch. The hour's rest plus the food and drink do me a world of good.

Three miles/5km outside Hornillos we come to Arroyo de San Bol, which has a hot springs that supposedly will cure any foot problems you have if you soak you feet in it, and a refugio. We detour to it but find the refugio closed and the spring to be a small nasty looking puddle in the ground. I am relieved by this because I have been leery about hot springs since my husband returned with a rash on the lower half of his body after taking a dip in one up in Wyoming.

Hontanas is a surprise. Really. It is below the mesa and you are on top of it before you see it. It is another one of those towns that look deserted. No people, dogs, cats, or cars. We make our way slowly down to it and walk a street of shuttered windows and closed doors until we reach the refugio. There the door is invitingly open and a few pilgrims are lounging on benches in front. There are two portable clothes drying racks near the benches and after I see them I decide this would be a good place to do a little laundry.

This place is great. It is an old building that has been renovated and has a kitchen, shower, pop machine, coffee machine, and (best of all) lots of hot water. A two story tall Plexiglas wall has been placed inside the building a few inches from one outer wall and through it you can see the original wall of the building. After taking showers and doing our laundry we join the other pilgrims sitting outside and watch the shadow from our building climb up the wall of the building across the street. We are sitting in the shade and I slowly get cold.

After about 20 minutes J asks if I want to take a walk around town. I'm in. First, because I know it will be warm me up and second, because now once I start walking it is hard to stop. Resting for a bit is OK but I now feel antsy when I am not walking. We wander through the empty village and find a large shallow pool that looks like it may have been used for clothes washing. It is beside a brick wall that has a stone ledge across the length of it and, above the ledge, there are sections of line attached to some of the bricks. I can see the village women gathering here to do their laundry in the past and gossiping on the ledge while the wet clothes they hang up dry. J and I sit on the ledge in the sun with our backs against the bricks and absorb the warmth radiating from them.

This refugio serves an evening meal. We join the other pilgrims on benches around two long tables and are served family style. Plates of food are put on the tables and passed around. I look at the people sitting at my table and wonder if I look as tired as they do, I hope not. After a couple of glasses of wine, I don't care whether I do or not.