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.


  1. May God bless you and walk with you on this journey. Be safe Jill

  2. This is like being there. Very funny about Trump. God Bless, stay safe.

  3. This is like being there. Very funny about Trump. God Bless, stay safe.

  4. Jill, I do not think I could ever take this adventure myself, so I am excited to live vicariously through you! I hope your strength and enthusiasm stay with you throughout your trip and will pray for your safety. Looking forward to your next entry!

  5. God bless you on your endeavor! Donna Gregory