Sunday, July 31, 2016

Jekyll & Hyde

What a day, y'all. I'm exhausted, and a touch homesick, and when I took off my bandages tonight part of the protective skin on the (now large) blister on the bottom of my foot ripped off leaving it raw, painful, and susceptible to the "blister in blister" phenomenon. 

In a word, I am cranky. 

I do not want to write this post. I don't not want to, Sam I Am. (hey, just being honest) 

Today I walked from Rabanal to Molinaseca. That's 31.6k (19.6 miles) including a lot of uphill and a lot of steep downhill. And it was on hell of a workout. Let me tell you how hard every muscle in your body (or at least the waist down) works to stabilize you. HARD. Know what that means, now? I am firmly in the camp of those unable to ever be comfortable. Everything aches, in every position, after mere seconds. 

What makes me especially grumpy about all of this is that today started SO WELL. I should have known...

I slept so well at the charming little albergue and awoke to my feet feeling the best they have since I started. I didn't wind up leaving early since the weather was in the 50s and it was quite windy. I departed at 7:20am.  For the first 6k of the morning (which was uphill by the way) I had zero foot pain. 

I climbed on to Cruz de Ferro, the highest point on the Camino and was there for about 20m. The atmosphere was celebratory. Everyone was taking pictures for one another a top the massive pile of rocks and leaving their own behind. Me included. 

And so I trekked on through a track narrowed by billowy brush which was butterfly haven. So many of them perched on flowers and I was able to get a few pictures to show you. The weather was perfect with the sun now out and a light breeze blowing. And now that my pack was less the bag of rocks I brought, I felt like I was flying. Life was oh so good. I made it a little further down the way and stopped briefly for a granola bar and a few sips of soda. At 10k- and agressive 10k at that- this was a little longer than I usually go before taking my first break to let my feet dry out. But when I stopped this time, I didn't let my feet dry out. (This is where the music changes to something ominous)

The next 7.5k were horrid. I don't know what else to tell you. Steeply downhill (and I mean steep!) my steps were shortened to 6inches since downhills are not only the biggest cause of injuries (think knees and ankles) but also because they are also one of the bigger causes of blisters. All of that downward sliding in your shoes can wreak havoc on your feet. I know from personal experience and I was determined not to repeat my mistakes. The trail was garbage. Rocky and almost never even, causing you to criss-cross aimlessly to find the best footing and adding God knows how many steps in the process. Totally inefficient. It could be worse I kept telling myself. It could be hotter, or worst of all-- it could be WET. Then you have a real potentially-dangerous disaster on your hands. So I took my time. But every muscle from my belly-button down worked overtime to stabilize my steps while my eyes darted in my head constantly searching out the best possible foot placement. It took me nearly three hours to cover 7.5k. 

And at the end of now 17k I knew my feet had long been pruned. You know how your fingers get when you've been in a pool too long? That's how my feet were. Which is an especially bad combination since wet skin stretches and causes friction. When I finally arrived in the next town, I was genuinely scared to remove my socks and bandages, fearful that I had acquired new blisters. Thank God, I had not. Taking my time had paid off. Sort of. 

Only 3.5k to the next town. It was relatively easy going though by now the ache and pain in my feet was setting in pretty good. 

The next town is tiny and I stop and get some more water. I can't drink enough water. Can't ever seem to quench the thirst. CRAP. The guidebook says that the next 6.5k are steeply downhill (again).  Oh hell no. I check the map in my guidebook. I pull up the maps app on my phone. No service. Welp...I'm making an educated guess that this town is connected to the next by one of those smooth black things...called a road. I took out my sandals and slid my bandaged feet into them to see how they would respond. Tinder to be sure but not unbearable. Better than the hiking sandals by a lot. Ok! Showtime! 

The next 6.5k would take 7k by road but I was willing. Honestly it didn't even feel like a choice. I had to do it. But I wouldn't recommend it under normal circumstances. The switchbacks down the mountain created hairpin turns that were dangerous with no shoulder. I managed ok but I did get yelled at by one man. Listen buddy, I realize that this isn't recommended but I'm vigilant and frankly I don't have the ability to do this another way. 

I made it in to town and beelined for the first church. No mass. Beelined it to the second church. No mass. Ugh. If you think mass can be hard to find on the Camino (when you actually need it) good luck finding confession, or someone who will hear it in English. 

One of my other big concerns all day (besides missing mass on a Sunday) was that there wouldn't be a pharmacy in Molinaseca. But again, God provided. They didn't have exactly what I was looking for of some things but they had enough and I'll be able to make do, I think. 

Turns out that Molinaseca is a charming town with a river that you're welcome to swim in and nice grassy banks for sunbathing. How do I know? I think the whole town was out. Really quite fun actually. 

So after running around town to the churches and pharmacy it was time to find a bed. A room overlooking the river would be nice. "Completo" she told me. But she did recommend a hotel at the far end of town. I looked it up and found out it was a 4-star with room service and air conditioning and wifi. Sold. So I walked. Well, hobbled was more like it. I hobbled past restaurants, and grocery stores, and I hobbled past little stores, until I arrived at the edge of town. And there it sat: New, modern, and beautiful. I went inside and inquired about a room. He'd give me a single for 50 Euros (pretty good considering everything I saw for it online started at at least double). And then the kicker: it's Sunday evening so the restaurant is closed. No food. No room service. 

I'm not starved so although this makes me grumpy, I'm glad to have the lesser price and I'll make do with a granola bar or two. Plus that will lighten my load tomorrow. So I make it up the stairs (the elevator is out) to my room, which is nice. I thank the guy and shut the door and do as I usually do: collapse. Unsnap the pack, drop it on to the floor and sit. It really doesn't matter what I sit on, but I usually hope for the ability to sit and then lay back all the way. So this means the bed or the floor but I'm usually so gross that I try to avoid the bed. So I laid there for 10m, not making a sound. Dreading looking at my feet. Dreading already the stinging I know the shower will cause on my blisters. And definitely not enjoying the way I smell. So I get up. 

I undo my bandages and although I seem to have gone without any new additions (thanks be to God), the little incident I told you about causing my worst blister now to be raw and vulnerable occurred. I cry. 

Not out of pain mind you, but out of sheer frustration. COME ON I yell, throwing the bandages. And then I feel them. The tears that slowly begin to drip down my face. I've been sitting here for about 60seconds now and my hips begin aching their slow, painful ache. I topple over sideways, shoulders falling to the floor like a hammer. "That's actually a little better" is what I actually thought...until that position too began hurting. 

I put my body through a meat-grinder today. I know I should be grateful that I didn't sprain an ankle, turn out a knee, get hit by a car, get badly sunburned, or get any new blisters. But I'm still feeling slighted. Why couldn't I just get through today with my blisters healing? Why couldn't I just get the food at the hotel, as advertised? Why doesn't the wifi work?  Why can't I just take something that will completely alleviate the aches?  Why must I miss my husband so badly in this moment? Why the hell did I ever think it was smart to come down this again? 

Today isn't the worst day I've ever had on the Camino, but it wasn't fun. Well those first 10k were. But the rest, those sucked. It was a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde kinda day y'all. 

So it's 8pm, I've washed my clothes in the sink, taken ibuprofen and tylenolPM on an empty stomach and I just want this day to be over. I'll deal with my feet in the morning and although I have a strategy for how to bandage the bister situation from hell, I'm clueless as to how I'll actually walk on it. 

But that can wait for tomorrow, too. 


Sent from my iPhone

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Upward and Onward

Hola Fellow Travelers,

As I begin the time is 8:00pm and I'm eager to get to bed since the day that lays before me is a difficult one. But let's get caught up!

I left you having arrived in Astorga and the truth is that each day is such a blur that I can hardly remember how that day went. Save for the fact that it was a long one (31.9k) and my husband deserves a medal.

Generally speaking Lino's idea of "roughing it" is a 3-star hotel. This is something I've never given him grief for because, well, I like a comfy bed and room service as much as the next girl. So its what that in mind that I tell you that although I'm pretty sure he thinks I've lost my mind by returning to the Camino, he has been so incredibly supportive. And I made that 30+ day in large part because of his encouragement, especially those final, brutal, rocky, uphill, 11kms.

Since before I even left home he's told me to "enjoy your walk". Before I took off, I kept focusing on the "walk" part. Because let's be clear: "walking" is defined as the act of lifting one foot and putting it in front of the other, always having one foot on the ground. The Camino de Santiago is decidedly NOT a walk. It is in the truest sense a trek. "Trek" is defined as a long, arduous journey, typically on foot. Yes. It is THAT. The latter.

Webster's Dictionary aside he always reminds me to enjoy it, and that sort of hit me as I made my way in to Astorga. At one point I realized how hard my body was working to keep a certain pace, and then asked myself why. Besides the obvious desire to get out of the heat, to be finished for the day, or to avoid inclement weather, why am I not keeping a pace that is one notch down from that? At a speed that is 1km/HR slower that my "trucking it" speed, I'll add an hour or so to my day. Maybe it is indeed time to chill out a bit and enjoy it a little more. Of course sometimes the best way to alleviate the pain from blisters is to stomp them into submission...

And so with a new mindset about enjoyment, I checked myself into a 3-star hotel, ordered room service (don't kid yourself, it wasn't like at home) and streamed Netflix like it was my job.

The next day, which I took off, was mostly more of the same. The video which I took walking through town for some reason can't be posted here. So I understand that if were not Facebook friends you can't see it BUT I'm working on getting a YouTube link for it. So hang tight and I'll be happy to provide it.

With the exception of that little stroll, I mostly stayed off my feet and left them open to the air to heal. Some progress was made...and some of that progress was undone by today's walk. What's a pilgrim to do?

My night in Astorga ended with my hotel room (which overlooked a charming square) actually giving me a front-row seat to a parade and festival that was happening in town. Astorga, it turns out, has a rich Roman history which is being celebrated this weekend.

When I waked in late Aug through early October in 2013 I came across several town festivals with a similar vibe. In the summe you've got your Watermelon Queens and the Spanish have their festas, too.

So after 24-hours off, I got back in the saddle. And I've got to be honest, it wasn't fun. I chose not to stay at the hotel in Astorga which had a spa because I figured that if I treated myself to that extent I probably wouldn't go back out on the Camino at all. That thought was confirmed for me during the first 5k this morning. I felt rusty in almost every way. I think there's something about the centripetal motion they propels you down the Camino. Like a shark, keep moving or die.

Today there was quite a bit of elevation change as we entered the mountains but it happened so slowly over the 24k that there was never a climb I would have described as steep. That's my kinda climbing!

At the first town of the day I met a father and son pair from the Washington, DC area. We chatted and strategized together given that the forecast threatened rain right about the time that we would reach the final town for the day, as suggested by the guidebook. I kept a pace a little slower than theirs but one that brought me into the subsequent villages only about 10-15m behind them. So we caught up a long the way.

What was nice was that today was the first time it felt like there was a pack of us. I wouldn't call it a herd because there surely wasnt enough of us to use that term. But there was clearly a group of about 15-20 different pilgrims starting and stopping at the same places today and so we all saw each other throughout the day. It was really nice to have that kind of ability to recognize a friendly face, smile and wave even if you couldn't share a conversation because of language differences. It was the knowing smile of enduring the experience together. And THAT feeling, that experience, which I loved so much about my last Camino, and which has been lacking until now, made my day.

While my hope had been to push on beyond Rabanal to the next town, which I know to be a very steep climb, the weather had me thinking better of it and my body subtly told me that it wasn't prudent. Better to start at that climb tomorrow morning with fresh legs.

And honestly, I'm glad I stayed. My research told me that the Albergue Guacelmo in Rabanal was well liked and so I sought it out. I am not disappointed. It's an albergue run by the British national association of pilgrims and it is a charming mountain cottage with unrivaled hospitality. They warmly welcomed everyone as they arrived, sat you down (!), and then ran you through their drill.

They informed us straight away that they have 2 buildings and they group pilgrims by the time they plan to depart. The "early risers" and the "not", so that either way your morning in unimpeded by the other group. BRILLIANT, I tell you. They informed us that they're an all volunteer organization, identified who was working so that we knew who to approach, and told us that there was no fee, just a donation box. They said that one of their workers was a medic and that if you have any ailments you need him to look at that he'd be happy to do so. They asked about bedbugs. "This is a delicate subject", she said in a hushed tone. "Do you have any reason to believe that you've been bitten by bedbugs? We make it a point to stop them at the door, so we can help you out if you have any reason to think you might have an issue". She went on to inform us that there was a kitchen available for our use and that it's well supplied with pots and pans, olive oil, spices and the like. All you have to do it go to one of the little shops in town and get the main ingredients. (At this point I am already more than impressed). Finally she said "oh, and there's tea at 4:30". The woman next to me looked a little confused and the woman (Anne is her name) said "you know. English tea. Biscuits (cookies) and the like. Nothing big but if you'd like to join us out here, we'd love to have you. Otherwise do make yourself at home".

I don't even know what to tell you guys. SHUT THE FRONT DOOR. This place is amazing. I put what I thought was a generous donation in the box after she got us all checked in, but I think I'll be going back to make another contribution. They've been so friendly and accommodating, I'm just beside myself. What a wonderful pilgrim experience. (So if you're planning your Camino, do take note of this place. You'll be thrilled that you did).

So I settled in, took a hot shower, hand-washed my laundry and then put it in the "spin dryer". It's basically a salad spinner for clothes and I was shocked and what a remarkable job it did getting everything nearly dry. Which is especially wonderful given that it's threatened to rain all afternoon (but hasn't except for the light sprinkle I walked in for about 15 minutes).

I never cook on the Camino. I love to cook at home but it's just not worth the hassle especially since kitchens are typically so poorly equipped. But since this wasn't and I really was made to feel so at home, I wound up making a red sauce and pasta. And even though I made so much more food that I needed, it was a nice treat.

So now I'm getting ready for bed and mentally preparing for tomorrow. Cruz de Ferro (the highest point of the Camino) is about 10k from here, but it's a steep climb. I've chosen to stay with the early risers. My thinking is that even if I'm not a 5:30am starter tomorrow, I'll be woken up and be on my way earlier. Which will be a good thing.

It is cooler at this altitude of course and tomorrow morning I made need to start the day wearing my rain jacket as an extra layer. The high is forecasted to be 75. So if the rain holds off we should really be in business. Plus, I'll be reducing my pack weight by leaving the rocks I've been carrying at Cruz de Ferro. I'm really looking forward to that.

Blisters still suck, body hurts, but the mind and heart are strong. And so we carry on.


Allllright....(eye roll)

I have tried and failed twice today to post a complete update along with a little walking tour (video) along The Way within the city of Astorga. 

I am...annoyed. Doubly so because while I have soaked up every moment of my 24-hours off, there is a threat of rain tomorrow which means I need to start early. 5:30amearly. Yuk! 

My feet seem to have appreciated the opportunity to chill out but they're still tender and I'm under no illusion that I'll be walking on air tomorrow. My mind on the other hand has gone a bit stir crazy and even a touch homesick without a full day's "work" to do on the Camino. It hasn't been without some cool stuff though including a huge festival with parade right in the square my hotel room has overlooked. I can't wait to catch you up, and I apologize for the seeming radio silence. It has not been for lack of effort. 

Right now though I'm beat. Kinda like when you go on vacation and then need a vacation once you've returned. Either that or I'm still just tired. Haha. Maybe a bit of both. 

Before I sign off on this "proof of life" post, let me ask you about something. I know a lot of folks who read Camino blogs are people who are considering or planning to do it. Would be if of interest to you to do a Q&A post? Periscope and Facebook Live have their limitations, namely that I never know exactly when I'll have service and the time change makes it difficult to find a feasible. But would you be interested in posting questions in the comments section and my answering them? 

I'm just so exceptionally grateful for all of the support and prayers you've given me. There have been a LOT of butterflies (in new colors, too!) and they really have lifted my spirits along the way. And I'd like to give something back, if it's at all of interest. If not, no biggie. 

For now, it's time to say goodnight and wish you a very happy weekend! This weekend includes a lot of climbing and Cruz de Ferro, which you're definitely going to want to hear about, so stay tuned! 


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Typical...For a Pilgrim

As I sit in a very nice albergue (read: sanitary) which I happened to stay in on my last Camino, I'm trying to think about the theme that sums up the last 24 hours. I have settled on "typical...for a pilgrim". 

Picking up where we left last night, it turned out that the woman who ran the place did in fact cook for me, her lone pilgrim. God love her for it. When I inquired about dinner she asked if "insalada mista con pollo" would be acceptable. I nodded, grateful for anything at all. So when the mixed salad (oh so typical on the Camino) arrived and had a hunk of canned chicken (instead of the usual tuna) plopped in the center, I figured this is what she meant. It was...less than ideal but I was grateful for it and proceeded to eat as much of it as I could, which was nearly all of it, even if I did gulp down the slimy canned chicken like a pelican swallowing a fish whole. So you can imagine my surprise when an entire piece of baked chicken and fries appeared. "Oh God. Now I'm full on slimy stuff and need to eat this thing so as not to offend her", I thought. So I sat and did my best to eat most of the chicken (San skin-- slimy seemed to be a theme) before I politely begged off. 10 Euros poorer I headed to bed. Maybe it was the full stomach, maybe it was the willful desire not to think about the bedbugs, but I was out cold w the assistance of some TylenolPM and the eye mask from the plane that I arbitrarily saved. 

At 6:00am I was sleeping so soundly that I did the math on how long it would take me to get to Leon (I figured 3-3.5 hrs) and opted to go back to sleep until 7am

As I walked out of my albergue I uncharacteristically began chugging water (from my Platypus) and realized almost immediately that I was out. Good thing I figured this out now as there wasn't much between me and Leon at that point. So I stopped into a bar where I picked up a couple bottles of water and had a typical breakfast for non-coffee drinkers, called ColaCao. It's hot chocolate and the only hot chocolate I've ever had that's better than ColaCao is Ghirardelli. And for 1Euro it even came with a small elephants ear! 

So with a liter of water now in tow and a small sugar rush to boost me, off I went to Leon. And what an impression Leon made today. She's the last big city on the Camino. There are some small cities left but Leon is grand. The hike in however, is described as "a slog" in the guidebook. Until you reach the outer city limits its a rough, rolling terrain. When I got to the top of the toughest hill, what would I find but a donativo table. These don't appear frequently enough to call them common, but you do see them every now and then. And maybe it was that it caught me off guard, but seeing it, and reading the note (posted in English and Spanish) made me emotional. The spirit that drove someone to lug these things to the top of a remote hill, and to make an effort to keep these items fresh and cold (!)...THIS is typical Camino. 

Paralleling the Way for much of this climb, was fencing. For about a mile stretch, people had stopped to make crosses out of twigs and whatever was laying around. You see a lot of these from Sarria in to Santiago. (I have to believe it's all the religious groups that make the final 100k trek and collect a Compostella). Regardless of who put them there or why, they are touching. 

Less touching, more funny is the fact that when you enter big cities you begin to see not only the commercialization, but the *western* commercialization that lives there. Case in point...

I would also pass a "KFC Auto" (drive-thru) and a McDonalds but I wasn't tempted. I had other plans...

As I reached the actual city limit of Leon, I was greeted by the Civil Protection Unit. This group of *volunteers* is there to help tourists (but mostly pilgrims) with anything they might need. They are celebrating their 50th year and they couldn't have been any more kind. The young woman on the left (I gathered them for this photo) saw me coming and got up and came to me. She spoke English and began to ask if I needed a map, directions, medical treatment, etc. I was (again) deeply moved. THIS (spirit) is so very typical on the Camino. 

On the other side of the bridge behind them I switched into flip flops since I knew it would be all city sidewalks on my way to....the cathedral! Burgos wins the prize for best cathedral on the Camino, but Leon comes in a close second. It's glorious. 

I arrived early. Too early. By 10:45am I was in the city and going to give my old plans a try (of waiting out for a little while until walking my final 5-10k for the day). 

Once I reached the cathedral I went in search of a restaurant I ate at in Leon which brought me such joy: Peggy Sue's American Food. It's a 1950s diner that is exceptionally well done. It doesn't feel like it's trying too hard, it just hits the mark. So I searched "American food" on my Maps application and found something called "Taste of America". Oh boy, I had to see this. The logo bared an apple pie and this was the first thing I saw j side the door. 

That's right! Jif peanut butter, Oreos, Aunt Jemima, Duncan just went on and on. 

I've never met an American who actually eats Squeeze Cheese, but there it was in four flavors no less! And then there was this:

That's a snickers milkshake in a squirt bottle. And they came in Twix, and Mars varieties too. Not that I've ever seen such a thing at home. And then there was the beer. Plenty of American beers including this gem which reminded me of home. 

So what did I buy? I bought water (not American, strictly speaking), a pack of small snickers bars, and BEN AND JERRY'S! Heck yes "Taste of America" I will gladly buy your overpriced American goods. I applaud you, sir. Uncle Sam would be proud. 

The only shade around was in front of this gorgeous building. Gaudi's masterpiece actually. Check out my Facebook page for a bubble image (you can use your phone to have a complete 360+ degree interaction of this place, seeing exactly what I saw in every direction). 

This got me to 11:45a and so I decided to see if there was a noon mass. Oh, of course there was! So me, and about a dozen older locals attended the fastest mass on the planet. How long was it? I'm not sure exactly but after it was over and I sat praying for a few minutes I looked at my phone. It was 12:22. I report. You decide. 

Peggy Sue's American Food wouldn't open until 1:30p, so I found some shade in a side street that had a nice view of the Cathedral and began to examine my feet. For those of you who can't stomach feet, this is the part where you need to turn away. But fair warning: feet are the biggest topic of conversation on the Camino. They are the necessary evils which get us where we are going and Camino foot surgery is done in the open and without second thought. 

So I sat down to give me feet a good once over. The blister on the side of my left foot that I picked up yesterday, while down this morning (pre-departure) was back with vengeance. I decided to draw a line around it with a pen to see if I could keep track of its growth. I'd also discover several small blisters on the edge of my toes (from toes rubbing together) AND some deep blisters on the bottom of my feet (Ball-of-the-foot area) presumably from wearing my flip flops for the 4K or so into the city. Damned if you do, damned if you don't I tell ya...
So I bandaged myself up and headed for Peggy Sue's. 

Did it open on time? This is Spain. (Asked and answered) But it wasn't too long before the glorious smell of hamburgers and chicken fingers was wafting through an open front door. And there I sat, with decent onion rings, mediocre chicken fingers, and wondering what the hell a New Mexico burger was. I texted my friend Heather (who is from New Mexico). She tells me that unless it has Hatch green chile on it, she calls BS. 

Either way, I was happy to have some grease in my system before heading out. It was 2k to get out of town. My feet were hurting and I had 6k more to 85 degree heat. To say I wasn't looking forward to it was an understatement.  But Leon would give me one last smile before I went on my way. 

This is San Marco square and it is home to the most authentic artistic depiction of a pilgrim on the Camino. At least in my opinion. There is a LOT of art of the Camino, which is wonderful. And there are plenty of statues of pilgrims, but in my estimation none beat this peregrino. 

This is the real deal. He sits at the base of a cross. In its shade. Sandals off. Bandaged feet. Admiring the beautiful building in front of him with a look of contentment and exhaustion. He makes me cry. THIS is the typical pilgrim. 

So as I left town, out to my hot, uphill, slog, I began to thank God. I try to thank God all day every day on the Camino but this time for the ability to get on a plane and go home. The pilgrims in the day of this statue would have been walking from their front door to Santiago. But perhaps what's more impressive is that once they arrived and sufficiently rested they would have had to walk back. Just gnaw on that a while...

Some 2.5hrs later, with a few stops to mend my wounds, I arrived at my albergue for the night. The Big Bertha blistered on the side of my left foot now so filled with fluid that it threatened to burst. And why is that such a bad thing? Aside from the pain, losing that outermost layer of skin is damning because the raw skin underneath will then be exposed and entirely without protection. So Camino surgery was indeed in order. 

I'll spare you the details but ALL of my blisters have been drained and Big Bertha now has thread running through it. (This prevents the blister from closing and refilling and also serves to help wick moisture out.) 

At present I have 7 blisters in total. Oh, and 2 abrasions from the straps on my flip flops. And although this is typical for a pilgrim, it could be worse. But don't kid yourself, I am DREADING the very special kind of pain that comes bandaging up blisters and then stomping on them for hours on end. 

But it has left me thinking a lot about whether I need to be a typical pilgrim this time around. I had hoped to keep myself "pure" by Camino standards. On my previous Camino I walked for 33 days, often in excruciating pain. I never took a bus, a taxi or a train. I never sent my bag ahead. I never stayed at a hotel. There's no "wrong" way to do the Camino. But for me, not doing those things would have felt wrong. 

My plans have been to maximize the distance I could cover in 17 days of walking. That entailed rushing to Santiago since I was starting little more than a day behind the guidebook (which keeps an aggressive schedule) AND to walk an extra 3 days to Muxia (the other coastal town besides Finisterre). 

As of tonight, I'm beginning to reconsider. Maybe I need to slow down and focus only on Santiago. I can already tell you that there are some hotels in my future. Maybe even a day off here or there. And if I have time, I could always take the bus to Muxia. It's only 2hrs away from Santiago. There's part of me that gets emotional by just the thought of this adaptation, but it is tempered by knowing I didn't start "at the beginning" in St. Jean anyway. 

There's part of me that wonders if letting go is itself a challenge from God. Can I relent? Can I accept something less than my own idea of perfection? Can I take the time to slow down, and just be with Him (but don't forget the burning of calories...that's important). Would that help me find a new kind of maturity? Perhaps one that's overdue. 

And regardless of the answer, I know that seeking out the answers to these kinds of questions, is so very typical...for a pilgrim. 

Monday, July 25, 2016

Training for the Camino (On The Camino)

I think it's safe to say that I "prepared" for the Camino, but didn't "train" for it. Either time; my first Camino in 2013 or this one.

I have only 2 days of walking under my belt so far, but the Camino feels decidedly different. Namely that there's nobody here. In the course of each of the past two days, I've seen 15-20 pilgrims. Tonight, I am staying at a large albergue with excellent reviews in the English guidebook and on the Camino Forum...and I am the only pilgrim here. It seems to be run by a family who are all here (dinner is allegedly in 30m and I'm sure as hell hoping they'll feed me or I'll be going to bed tonight on one granola bar).

Ellen the American I met on my first day (and saw again yesterday and this morning) has made mention of this fact. Apparently it's been like this for her since St. Jean. "Not the experience I was expecting", she said. Me neither.

Maybe it's because of the heat. While (early) mornings start in the low 60s, temps are expected to hit high-80s and even into the mid-90s consistently. I had heard that the high season was shifting more into September (the time when I walked last time) but to find the Camino this quiet is a surprise.

The body seems to be holding up fairly well, save one quarter-sized blister on my left foot. It seems to have been a product of one of my sandal straps since it's not on the bottom of my foot, but rather the side. I am achey of course and stiff when I stop for too long, but I'm doing fine.

I have 17 days of walking available to me. This accounts for needing to get back to Santiago on the 10th of August and flying out on the 11th (early RyanAir flight to Madrid, 2.5hr layover and direct to JFK, for those wondering how one (can) return from Santiago.

My trusty traveling companion John (that's John Brierly, author of the English guidebook) makes from my starting point in Sahagun to Santiago in 15 days plus 5k or so. I need to make it to Santiago in 14 days in order to have 3 days to walk to Muxia. Thus, I have to chase him a bit and make up a full days walk (+5k) over the next 12 days. Today's effort to push beyond the end of the Brierly stage and into the first town of the next day's stage was a first stab at that effort. I'll have to chip away at it.

Which is ok by me if my feet and body will cooperate. Rolling into an albergue at 1p or 2p does mean that I'm not in the thickest heat of the day, but it also means I'm going stir crazy once I've arrived.

Last time, after growing strong from weeks of walking, I was able to adapt to a new routine. I would get up in the morning at dawn (as I'm doing now) and walk until 1 or 2, typically putting on 20-25k in that time. Then I would find a bar (all the cafes are called bars) and sit there for a couple of hours. I'd let my body genuinely rest, hydrate, and relax before I'd tack on a final 5 or 6k. That was how I began to really pile on kilometers at the end of my last Camino, regularly pulling 30-35k days.

It's going to be awfully hot the next couple weeks but maybe I need to give my old system a shot. The hottest part of the day is in late afternoon, so that kind of sucks but once I'm in the albergue I'm ready to go back out and walk again after a couple hours. PS. The fact that the sun doesn't set until 10:30pm or so is driving me all kinds of nuts. I am in a way training for the Camino...while I'm on it. I Must. Find. A. Routine.

Besides, all this free time has given me far too much time to become paranoid about bedbugs. I sprayed my sleeping bag with Permethrin which basically kills them on contact but I'm scared. I don't remember ever feeling like I had cause to worry last time. Maybe it's the fact that in all this heat it feels like there are a million tiny critters roaming around. The aforementioned albergue where I am tonight is very clean and nice, but I swear I saw a bedbug on the pillow on my bed. I freaked and threw the pillow on the next bed, and proceeded to spend the next 20m using the flashlight on my phone to examine every square inch around me. I'm firmly In that place where the slightest touch (even from my own hair grazing my shoulder) makes me jump. God help me.

Speaking of...I want to sincerely thank everyone who is following along and supporting me with good vibes and/or prayers. I realize it may sound silly, but I keep seeing these small yellow butterflies cross my path and I can't help but think of them as God's little bit of encouragement to let me know I'm not alone in all this.

They say no two Caminos are the same, and so far I am surprised in the ways this one seems to differ from my last.

In the meantime, I'll just keep a grateful heart, an open mind, ...and both eyes open for those dastardly little bedbugs.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

It Was Like a Second Date

Good afternoon my fellow travelers! 

As I begin to write the time is 2:15pm and I am in the town of El Burgo Ranero. I completed my walking some 2 hours ago, having done 17.1 km in just under four hours (including a stop to snack and air out the feet). 

It's been more than 2 years since I've had a second date. (I've been married for 3mos, and with my husband for over 2 years, just in case I needed to clarify.) And although its been a while, today felt exactly like a second date...with the Camino. 

All of the excitement and anticipation was there, but so too was the second-guessing and wondering if the second time would be as good as the first. Would I still feel that special connection? Would it make my heart skip a beat again? 

I planned to do the 17k today knowing that more than 20km would likely be too hard on my body and not knowing how my feet would fare in hiking sandals. The truth is that thanks be to God, the day couldn't have gone any better. 

After I signed off last night the Italian woman and I headed out for dinner. She ran into some pilgrims she knew and we all sat and had something cold to drink while we waited for the restaurant to begin serving dinner at 8pm. Once we made it to the restaurant (a fancy place with tablecloths and obviously patronized by locals) we found two American women seated at the table next to us. It was a mother-daughter team, mom from Tennessee and daughter from Wisconsin. We sat eating a delicious 3 course meal (I opted for a veggie pasta, pork chop and watermelon) and enjoying some vino. As we paid our check (12 Euros each) it hadn't even occurred to me to check the time. It was still plenty light outside but I was shocked to see my phone report a time of 10pm. "No beuno". I barely recalled the woman at the monastery pointing to a sign when I checked in which read "22:00 CLOSE". We hustled down the street thinking surely we wouldn't be locked out for being just a few minutes late. We were wrong. We were six minutes late to be exact and everything was locked down and lights out. We banged on the door and nearby windows for another 10m before the woman (ya know...the woman with the sign) slowly opened the door. I do know how to apologize in Spanish and so we did and scurried off to our room. 

I climbed into bed, downed a TylenolPM, and set my alarm for 6:30am. I slept...poorly. I slept that shallow kind of sleep you have the night before you know you have to be up early and are afraid you'll oversleep. And at 5am when the bag-rustlers awoke my case became hopeless. I laid in bed looking out the window gauging the light and trying to decide when it would be light enough to walk without missing any waymarkers. I have a headlamp and that's all fine and well, but have one bad experience getting lost because you started too early and took a wrong turn, and you too will want to wait it out. It turned out the answer was that it's plenty light enough to walk by 6:30am. So my game plan for tomorrow is to be up at 6am and gone by 6:30a. That'll put me a full hour ahead of what I did today. 

So at 7:20 I texted my husband that I was setting out and I'd keep him posted. My plan was to hopefully reach my 10k point by lunch and finish in the afternoon. So it caught me by surprise when I had done 10k by 9:15a. I took advantage of a shady bench in front of an ancient hermitage and slipped off my sandals for the all important Inspecting of the Feet. Socks are a little damp, I observed but no hot spots, not pre-stage blisters and they felt pretty good. So I stayed there for a few minutes and enjoyed my 2 nectarines and one plum that I purchased at the grocery store yesterday and watched the world go by. 

And what a gloriously beautiful world to watch. The weather was ideal: Sunny, 65, and a light breeze. They don't make better walking weather than that. My path was flat and paralleled a small road on one side (no traffic at all, just the occasional pair of pilgrims on bikes) and crops of various types on the other. There was wheat and young corn, but my favorite was a field of young green grass (no clue what it will become) but it flowed ever so softly in the breeze and made for the most beautiful contrast against a rich, cloudless blue sky, whose only interruption was a waxing moon still visible in shades of grey. I walked for a mile along side this combination just awestruck by the beauty. All I could think was, "You do good work, God. Well produced."

As I approached my destination for the day I began to fervently hope that Mass would be available before the day was out. I passed up the opportunity to attend an 8:30am mass back at the monastery deciding that 9:30am was entirely too late to start the day. I'd be stuck walking in the hottest part of the day and being unsure about my capabilities, I had no idea what time I would arrive. 

Rolling into town at 11:20am I beelined for the church. (Almost every town on the Camino has a church. After all they were the first albergues and a pilgrim is always welcome in a Roman Catholic Church on the Camino, no matter what the need: rest, shade, a place to bandage your feet, or time with God). The church was open (no surprise) so I went in and said a prayer of gratitude for the safe, swift, and healthy travels of the day. As I began to exit the small church a young man appeared and I asked about Mass. He told me that yes, there would be mass at 12pm today. JACKPOT!  

I wandered around the tiny town and selected a place to stay. A restaurant that also advertised being a "hostal". Creeping inside the dark cool building I was greeted warmly by an older woman...and Ellen the American from yesterday! For 20 Euros (a real splurge on the Camino), I could have a private room with a private bathroom, and access to the washer and dryer. SOLD. 

I was shown to my room where I dropped my things, slid off my shoes, and plopped on the bed throwing my feet into the air...where they stayed for the next 10 minutes. I can't even begin to describe how grateful I am for unscathed feet. All I needed to do now was let the blood drain back into the rest of my body so that I can rid myself of the tingling sensation that comes from pounding on a dirt trail for several hours. 

At the end of my 10minutes playing Dead Bug (y'all remember Dead Bug, right? At the roller skating rink? I think you know what I'm talking about) I hopped up, put on my sandals and headed back to the church. In my enthusiasm I forgot one minor detail: I smelled. I smelled like sweat and dust and although I'm sure God doesn't mind me showing up like that- and hell, neither do fellow pilgrims, I was going to feel bad if there were locals at this church. But even if there were locals, surely it would be just me and a handful of people whom I could sit far enough from the avoid contaminating their fresh air with my stench. 

Fast forward 15m and I'm in the tiny church and it is now slam-packed with locals. I'm the only recognizable pilgrim. Sorry folks! Don't mind the smelly, blonde girl with her little notebook trying to follow along with the mass in Spanish. (I downloaded a side-by-side translation of the mass and taped it into the same notebook where I keep all my go-to information for the Camino). I foolishly thought I would be able to keep up. Mass is available to pilgrims a lot- not always but very frequently- on The Way. At so many masses I attended on my last Camino I wished badly I could have a better sense of where we were in the run down and be able to at least make the responses. So I came prepared. But nothing could have prepared me for how fast the speaking parts would be. I didn't have a prayer. Ironic, huh? 

After mass, I found a small market. Let's be honest, market is a generous term. It was on par with most American gas stations. I'm not talking a Wawa or a QT, I'm talking a plain run of the mill gas station. And that's par for the course in my experience. I was able to get 2 more nectarines for tomorrow (with any luck I can repeat today's routine) and a can of Pepsi for 2,40 Euros. 

I returned to my digs, showered, checked in on a few things on the home-front and am now going to take a nap. Once I wake up, I'll do laundry and repack my bag to set up a swift exit in the morning, and see about dinner. I'm aiming for an early bedtime and a good night of sleep. 

Today has been an excellent day and my goal is to do 25k tomorrow. I'm feeling hopeful but taking nothing for granted. 

After all, we are literally walking by faith. 

Buen Camino! 

Sent from my iPhone

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Day 2: Get to Where You'll Start

One of my biggest mistakes on my first Camino was made before I even took my first steps on the ancient pilgrimage path. I had done more research than most, been shrewd in my packing, and had the most detailed itinerary you'd ever seen. So where did I go so wrong? I didn't sleep.

In the first 5 days after leaving home, I had slept a combined 12 hours or so. Excitement, anticipation, fear, jet lag, they all had a grip on me. And so when physical exhaustion set in it was ugly. I often think back to "Day 5" as the day the Camino broke me. My feet had held up surprisingly well until the downhill climb the day before and the next day I was left with raw pinky toes and almost no physical strength. I cracked. I did what any self-respecting woman would do. I called my father. And so it was that my dad spent I don't know how long on the phone with me coaching and coaxing me for five more kilometers until I arrived at the next albergue. I did 8k that day and it took me more than half the day to do it. That was a day I'll never forget.

So, with that lesson learned I planned my first couple of days on the ground w plenty of time to rest. I got a few hours of sleep on the plane thanks to some Ambien and was so jet lagged and worn out after my walk around Madrid that I managed to sleep most of the train ride to Burgos. Although I stayed up to watch some of the coverage of the shooting in Germany (God help us) I took a TylenolPM and was out cold thereafter. Knowing I had a train at 12:30p and that I had seen the inside of the Cathedral already I opted to sleep. So I slept hard until 8:30am and then allowed myself to go back to sleep until 9:30am...and then again until 10:30am, when I finally decided I needed to get going.

After a quick morning shower (the last I'll have for quite some time-- I'll explain why later), I packed up and asked the hotel to arrange for a cab. Fifteen minutes later I'm back at the train station and ready to head to Sahagun, the town where I'll begin my Camino.

All the other trains have been quiet and clean and respectful but I should have known this would be different when I saw it listed on the board as "Inter City". It would proceed to be the longest 90m of my life. It was dirty, it was loud, and it was the fault mostly of the 5yo in front of me. Ok, the train being dirty wasn't her fault but everything else was. My assigned seat was behind hers and before you go saying "Jill, why didn't you just change seats or leave that car" I can assure you that this wasn't an option. My husband is skeptical of the idea of having children and thank God he wasn't with me because I would have looked at him and said "you win". She was a terror. Screaming at decibels I didn't know humans were capable of, throwing things, and running up and down the aisle when she wasn't bouncing all over her seat. The best part? Her mother, her father, and her older brother, all just sat idly by. Maybe there's much more to this story that I don't know, but I do know that as non-judgmental as I like to think I am, I was totally judging. Judging and wishing bad things. What? I'm human.

Thankfully, we arrived in Sahagun and I was able to get off the train from hell (though it might have been heading to Hell, I'm not sure). Regardless, I was relieved to now be on and for the next 17 days.

My guidebook and research informed me of a monastery in this tiny town (population 2,800 -- which must include everyone from MILES around) which houses pilgrims. I passed it on my last Camino and was familiar with the Benedictine monastery's history here. It was founded in the 10th Century and rose to become one of the most important in Spain and has always given refuge to pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela. And tonight I am one of them.

Before checking-in at the monastery I began to wander the town a little to see if I could find the town square I have such fond memories of, but was sidetracked-- oh so pleasantly sidetracked -- by a grocery store. Manna from heaven! Note to self: do more wandering.

I collected a couple of nectarines and small packages of salami for tomorrow (not too much, I have to carry all this stuff ya know) and a package of turkey lunch meat and a can of Pepsi for my lunch today. Thank you, Lord.

I returned to the monastery and walked in asking sheepishly in Spanish if they had a bed. Must have been good enough because she understood me and began spouting off in Spanish as I stood there with a blank stare. Eventually we pieced together enough pointing and "Si? Si." to pay for my bed (8 Euros), and have her show me the facilities. Dinner is available here tonight, along with Mass tomorrow morning. Mass is at 8:30 which means a late start for the 17k I'm hopeful to complete, but I'm trusting that God will reward my faithfulness to my Sunday obligation. :)

Once she showed me to my bed (in a small room with 2 sets of bunkbeds with a conjoined bathroom) I was greeted by 2 women. Brief pleasantries were exchanged in Spanish and one of the two women then said something in English. "Oh, thank God!" I couldn't help but blurt out. "I haven't heard English in 2 days". (Yes, I realize what a moron I sounded like and no, I do not care. I was desperate.)

Ellen from Seattle started in St Jean on the 5th of July and inquired about me. I explained that I've just arrived but this is my second Camino. We sat for the next half hour or so with her asking questions and my answering them in between bites of turkey and gulps of Pepsi. She had intel too: the Camino doesn't seem crowded, perhaps people begged off given the mid-90s that were forecast but ultimately haven't shown up. It wasn't long before something happened which is typical Camino: Ellen spotted a group arriving that she had met in St Jean, walked with for a few days and then lost. She figured they were light years ahead of her but alas, here they were! So she switched rooms with an older gentleman so that they could all be together.

As he came into the room we did pleasantries in Spanish all over again. This time I gathered that the woman now in the top bunk above me is Italian, speaks excellent English and some Spanish. But it wasn't until we asked where the gentlemen- probably in his early 60s-- was from (Switzerland it turned out) that I leaned she also speaks some French! He speaks a few words of English and so it was that for about 45m we all sat chatting with the Italian woman as the intermediary and us all piecing together three languages to arrive at one conversation. Know what we all laughed about? Donald Trump.

THAT is a classic Camino experience.

I write laying in my sleeping bag, freshly showered with laundry hanging from the line in the quad. Dinner will be held here in a half hour and I'm hopeful that folks are sticking around for it. Either way, it'll probably be my first real meal since leaving home and then I'll be off to bed for another night of sleep before my walking begins tomorrow. And that's exactly what I need to have properly learned from my mistakes.

Day 1: Get to Where You're Going

Hola Peregrinos!

Oof! It's been a long couple days. 

I arrived in Madrid yesterday morning at 9am. By 11am I had made my way through passport control, had claimed my bag (thus breathing a deep sigh of relief), and was on my way to downtown Madrid via the C-1 train. I found it surprisingly clean and easy to navigate and wouldn't hesitate to use it again. 

From the Atocha station I walked to the famed Prado Museum for a couple hours of taking in their massive El Greco and Velasquez collections, but most importantly getting to see "Las Meninas". Las Meninas is one of the very few things I actually appreciated in the art history class I took in college. That's probably because it was discussed on one of the handful of days I ever went to that class. Older and wiser, I'd love to take that class now. C'est la vie. 

After the Prado I walked back to Atocha station in order to take a train to the other main train station in Madrid, Chamartin. It was a bit of a game figuring out how to get from the commuter rail line to the medium-distance trains but I figured it out eventually with some assistance from the Internet. From there I took a 2hr train to Burgos, home of Spain's largest cathedral, burial place of El Cid, and one of the largest cities on the Camino. A que of taxis at this small but brand new station had me to my hotel in less than 15m for just 10 Euros. 

Burgos was hopping on an unseasonably cool Friday night. After a shower and hand washing my clothes I walked the streets in search of dinner. My Spanish has regressed from being able to get around in clubky Spanish back to downright nonexistent. I lacked the energy or enthusiasm to attempt a conversation or discern a restaurant menu so I was looking for something I could point to or just grab and pay for. I looked and looked. Meanwhile I came across the pilgrim's home away from home: the pharmacy. Oddly enough I felt more comfortable in the 4 minutes I was there than anywhere else on my journey so far. Bolstered by the confidence of experience I asked (in Spanish) whether they had RadioSalil and when she began to mimic rubbing it on her hand, I said "Si. Crema." She smiled and showed me the price. I paid her, collected my prize, and off I went now with the saving power of turbo-strength Bengay. 

Just as I was giving up on dinner and conceding to a meal of one of my granola bars, I passed a candy store that also sold chips, popcorn, and the like. Not exactly the warm, filling meal I was (and still am) longing for but better than nothing. A bag of popcorn, a chocolate-covered waffle thing (which tasted like a cake doughnut), and a couple bottles of water later I was back to my hotel room.

I decided the view from my room was the trade off for the pathetic dinner and began to wonder whether these kinds of meals were part of the reason I lost so much weight last time.