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Learning to Walk (Through Life), Monday, November 7, 2022

Someone whose blog or social media posts I follow, some wise person, recently wrote about Tennessee Williams’ line, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers”, in A Streetcar Named Desire, saying something to the effect that it is a shame this line was spoken by a character, Blanche DuBois, who was incapable of managing life at all and thus the line has a negative connotation. I am sorry I cannot remember whose post I was reading that got me thinking about this, and cannot give them credit. My deepest apologies to you, whoever you may be.

The truth is, we all depend on the kindness of strangers. If strangers were not kind to each other, didn’t help each other out, this world would be a much harder, more unpleasant, downright miserable place to be. Much more so than it currently is. This truth is one of the things that has become more evident to me as I undertook this solo adventure to walk across large swathes of France and Spain over the last two and half months. Along the way, strangers have interpreted for me, helped me find doctors and medical care, given me directions, said, “Bon, courage!”, when the day was getting long and the path was challenging and I seemed to be moving painfully, or painfully slowly. Strangers have gotten me ice and ice packs for my feet and ankle; stopped, unbidden, to make sure I knew I had missed a turn and was not at all on the path, stopped to help me figure out which way the path went when the markings weren’t clear; strangers have welcomed me into their homes turned into gites (pilgrim accommodations in France) and fed me multi-course, home-cooked French meals. The lovely couple who own the Air Bnb I am in left me a brand new ice pack and even left crutches should I need them. They brought my friend Amanda and I small gifts to take with us, and have checked to make sure I was okay over this week. Strangers have smiled and said Bon Chemin/Buen Camino over and over and over again. I’m not sure pilgrims would make it very far without the support and help of strangers. We depend upon their kindness.

Several weeks ago, I was talking with someone, a stranger who either was sharing my table or staying in the same gite, about NYC. They were talking about how very helpful they found New Yorkers, commenting on how the stereotype of rude New Yorkers is undeserved. They said whenever they needed help or directions in the city, New Yorkers always stopped to help them. If they had their map out, someone would always stop and ask if they needed help finding something. I agreed that I had found the same thing in all my years of living in the city. New Yorkers may not always look you in the eye, smile or say hello, but if you needed something or were in trouble they were right there to help you.

When I fell and sprained my ankle I had to deal with it on my own since I was not traveling with anyone. I admit, it would have been nice to have company at that point. But I wasn’t really alone. The staff behind the bar of the restaurant downstairs gave me ice whenever I asked for it. They called the emergency clinic for me on Sunday morning to ask if they were open and would see me. They called a taxi for me. The clinic evaluated me, gave me an anti-inflammatory injection and charged me nothing (thank you taxpayers of Spain), the same taxi driver returned to take me to the next town. My hosts there provided an ice pack and got it for me whenever I asked for it, invited me to join them for their family lunch the second day I was there, made an appointment for me at the physiotherapist (who worked on my foot, ankle and knee for an hour and a half and charged me all of 30 Euros. Again, thank you Spanish tax payers.) And a friend I made while crossing the Pyrenees, part of the “Camino family” that was together for just four days but became fast friends, offered to leave her Camino and come help me if I needed her. If I had broken my ankle and was unable to walk at all, I probably would have accepted her offer. I knew it was sincere.

One of the learnings of this time is not just that we all depend on the kindness of strangers, but that most of us (perhaps true narcissists are the exception) want, even need, to offer that kindness. And, I don’t know that much about narcissists/narcissism, but I guess if showing kindness fed their self-image, even they would have a need to show kindness! Humanity is a big web; we are woven together. That is hard to see sometimes because we are so fractured and divided politically. But even when we are on polar opposite sides of an issue, you can often still see this deepest impulse to respond to each other when we are in need—remember the story of opposing protestors stopping to help a man who had a heart attack or had collapsed for some reason?

That is something I want to hold on to from this sabbatical time. How everyone supported each other, how total strangers were eager to help, how everyone recognized that we are all on the same path—whether we are walking or providing hospitality and support for those who are walking. We are all pilgrims learning to walk through life, helping each other on the way, walking each other home, as Ram Dass said.

Sharing a common meal in the Pyrenees—the warmth of a company of strangers on a cold, foggy, rainy night.

Learning to Walk, Learning to Stop Walking. Friday, November 4th, 2022. Finisterre/Fisterra

Here is my view as I type this:

If you are a friend or family member or connected with me on FB, then you know I had to stop walking almost a week ago. Last Saturday (was it Saturday? I think so), I made the climb up to O Cebreiro, the highest elevation I had to tackle since the Pyrenees. It rained all day. And it had rained all the previous day. The path was very wet and muddy, and it times it was like walking up a very shallow stream. I made it just fine. Then, when I got to O Cebreiro, I fell down the two wet stone steps into the restaurant of the hotel where I was staying and sprained my ankle. On the one hand, I am glad I did not fall on a remote path and have to be rescued because I couldn’t walk to the nearest village. On the other hand, it seems the height of irony to have walked for almost two months, with all the rocky, tricky ascents and descents I had, and then fall on the steps going into the restaurant. I knew at the time it was probably a Camino-ending injury, but at first I hoped I might be able to start walking again after a couple days rest. The staff behind the bar supplied me with ice that evening and the next morning, and called me a taxi to take me to the nearest medical clinic 4 km away. They examined my ankle and knee, which I also wrenched, saw no sign of a fracture, gave me an anti-inflammatory injection and told me I could start walking again in an hour and a half. I knew better. The same taxi took me to my next destination—Triacastela—where I already had a room booked for the night at Casa Simon. If you are a planning a walk, please consider staying at Casa Simon when you get to Triacastela—it’s a pension rather than an albergue, but if you would like a lovely single room in a beautiful space with welcoming hosts, I highly recommend it. They were so kind. I ended up staying two nights while I figured out what to do, and while I was there I saw an amazing physiotherapist who worked on my foot, ankle, knee and leg for an hour and a half. I am convinced that the reason I am healing more quickly than I would have thought is because of all the work she did. She also confirmed that it was indeed a serious sprain and I could not continue walking.

To say I was disappointed is an understatement. Though I already knew that and had accepted it, I burst into tears when she confirmed it. But, onward. Ultreia and suseia as they say on the Camino—which roughly translates to onward and upward, or further and higher. It usually refers to continuing to walk, but in my case, it meant onward to plan B. I just had to figure out what plan B was. I knew I needed to rest my ankle and knee so that when I flew to Paris on 11 November I would be able to walk around the city. My close friend of forty years, who is like my sister, is joining me in Paris for ten days before I return home for Thanksgiving. I did not want to be in Paris for ten days unable to move around the city.

I decided what I needed was a week at the ocean. I have always found the ocean to be the most restorative place —especially rocky coastline—so I started researching Air BnBs in Finisterre and Muxia, and found this beautiful place with this spectacular view of the water and the mountain across the bay. Finisterre is where many people end their pilgrimage. As its name says, it is the “end of the earth”, the farthest west you can go in this part of Spain. I haven’t walked to the lighthouse yet, where pilgrims end their pilgrimage if they go beyond Santiago. But I hope to be able to do that before I leave. I have been walking down the hill to the village each day, and that’s probably enough for now. But there is an old fort/castle in the village, right on the water, and below it are rocks with crashing waves. Perfect.

I took a bus from Triacastelo to Santiago on Tuesday. It felt very strange to be entering Santiago de Compostela by bus rather than on foot. I went to the square to see the Cathedral, since I stayed in the former monastery that is right there. I decided that even if I cannot get the Compostela—the beautiful certificate that says you completed the pilgrimage, I have earned the photo in front of the Cathedral since I walked across France and part of Spain. I don’t like the one I took last Tuesday, so I’ll get a better one when I return on Wednesday. But here is the Cathedral at night:

It is massive.

When I learned that my friend Amanda from Canada, who I met in the first week in France, and who has been on a similar schedule as me, including foot injuries, was also looking at places to stay in Finisterre, since she also had to quit walking, we decided to combine forces and she has been here the past couple of days. She will leave tomorrow, and I will have a few days on my own, reading, writing, reflecting, staring at the water, and healing. And enjoying this amazing, charming German bakery:

I can’t promise how much blogging I will do the next few days. There is wifi, but not the best, and it takes forever for photos to upload to WordPress. But I’ll try to catch up a bit. I am grateful to all of you for following along and for your words of encouragement. Several people have suggested I write a book. I’m not sure the world needs yet another book about the Camino. But I do want to do some writing of some kind. Maybe just more blogging. If I’m going to continue this in some form, I should probably learn more about what I’m doing. Tech stuff is not my forte.

We are going to walk up the hill to see the sunset on the other side of this peninsula. Don’t worry. It’s a short walk. Shorter than the walk down the hill into town. Here is how the light has changed since I took the photo at the top of this post:

Learning to Walk, Day 59, Tuesday, October 25, Santa Catalina de Somoza to Foncedabon, 17-18 km

Today was a gorgeous walk, starting with the sunrise as I left Santa Catalina. I’ve been waiting at least until it is light enough to walk rather than hard dark, which means later and later starts—8:30 this morning. You have to remember to turn around and check on the sunrise since you are always walking away from it on the Camino.

At first the mountains seemed so far away. I thought, “surely I’m not going to cover that much ground in one day? They have to be more than 17-18 km.” But I did, in fact, reach them—at least the beginning of them. The second half of the day was a steady uphill, but not very steep except for a couple of short stretches. It felt good to be climbing again, and my feet did SO much better because there was very little pavement today, almost entirely dirt road and dirt/stony path.

Looks like it will have to be one photo at a time again, and less of them. Those last three took forever to load. Sigh.

This was in the village of El Ganso. So many of the little villages I am walking through the past couple of days are a mix of inhabited houses and ruins. In some of the villages there are clearly efforts to restore them. And many “se vende” (for sale) signs—sometimes on habitable houses, and often on ruins.
The front of this was beautiful, but behind it was a ruin.
The famous (or infamous?) Cowboy Bar in El Ganso. Closed. But I found a lovely place open for a cafe con leche at the far end of the village. With a very kind old man who came out and helped me with my backpack when he saw me struggling with it, then made sure I didn’t leave my poles behind. Because I stayed “off stage” I was walking alone for the most part for the first couple of hours—everyone else who stayed further back hadn’t caught up with me yet. I was his only customer, but I imagine more came through as the morning went on.
Another locked church. And my daily stork’s nest photo.
Yes. I’m going to start into those mountains by the end of the day.
Starting to climb.
People had stuck branches in the fence to make crosses all along the path here.

I stopped in Rabanel del Camino for lunch, and to get out of the rain. And, drum roll, there was an open church!! I think because it was associated with the monastery across the street. You can stay at the monastery if you want time for reflection, but you have to stay at least two nights. Which makes sense. There not a whole lot of time for reflecting when you arrive, eat, do laundry, and have to get up early and start walking the next day.

The church was very old and simple. Could have done without the carpet. But since the monastery uses this church most days, I’m sure the carpet is warmer than the stone floor in the cold weather.
Not sure I would trust this balcony!
Some blue peeking through!
Looking back.
Foncebadon, where I’m staying tonight, was nothing but ruins until about 2000, when people started rebuilding. Now there are a few albergues and restaurants. Here is what my guidebook says about it: in the 10th century a church council took place here, and in the 11th century a hermit, Gaucelmo founded a pilgrims’ refuge. This village was an important station on the Camino centuries ago, but was abandoned and fell into ruins until 2000. If you have read Paulo Coelho’s book on the Pilgrimage/Camino (I don’t actually recommend it. There are far better books on the Camino, and I find much of the spirituality in his books questionable and a bit shallow. Sorry if you are a big fan!) this is where he fights his demon dog. Apparently some guidebooks and novels (Coelho’s included) have led to Foncebadon having a reputation for rabid dogs. That is no longer a worry.

Tomorrow I climb a bit more, 2 km to one of the most famous and significant points along the Camino, Cruz de Ferro. This is where pilgrims place the rock they have carried with them, often signifying a burden they are leaving behind. I have carried two small stones with me to place there—one from the coast of Maine and one from Iona—two places that are the most dear to my heart and renewing for me. I wanted to leave something that symbolized renewal and rest and gifts from the ocean, which never fails to restores my mental and emotional health—which is also the purpose of this sabbatical after a few challenging, stressful years! Maine, Iona and walking across France and Spain, they all represent Sabbath for me (well, I worked my butt off on Iona, but it is still a place of renewal)— taking a real break from work and daily life to rest, remember, reflect, gain new perspective, and be restored by God’s creation, both nature and the people you share those breaks with, whether they are old friends or new.

Learning to Walk, Day 58, Monday, October 24, Astorga to Santa Catalina de Somoza

I did a relatively short walk today, about 12 km, and that included some extra walking around the village this evening. I got to Astorga yesterday afternoon, hoping to see both the cathedral and the Gaudi Bishops’ Palace before nightfall. But since I also needed a short nap and to make accommodation and baggage transfer arrangements for the next few days, I ended up with only enough time for one of those before dark. And they both need to be seen in daylight because of the stained glass windows. So I chose the Gaudi palace, because I have fallen in love with Gaudi, and I figured I could sneak into mass in the morning and see the Cathedral that way. More on that later.

The Gaudi Palace did not disappoint. It was commissioned after the previous bishops’ palace burned to the ground. The bishop imperiously demanded that he had to have a place for his family (staff) to live and work that was worthy of his stature (that’s the gist of it), so they commissioned Gaudi to build such a place. The bishop died before it was finished, and while Gaudi planned it and started it, he seems to have largely abandoned the project after the Bishop died. Plus, apparently the church didn’t pay him for about four years. It took decades for the palace to finally be finished, and it wasn’t long before they made it a museum. It is glorious. Here are some photos:

Oh bother. The wifi is not strong enough to really do this. Let me try one photo at a time.

The chapel in the Bishop’s Palace.
Dining room.
Chapel from the balcony.
Exterior of the Bishop’s Palace.

The wifi is just too slow. I’ll have to stop posting photos, and hope to do some catching up tomorrow. I’ve got 17-18 km to do, including a not insignificant climb. Time to get my climbing legs back! I’m planning on an early start, but not too early. The time should change this Saturday, but right now it’s not getting light until after 8. And there are wolves in this area. I know they will not want to come near me, and I think it’s exciting they are making a comeback. But still. I don’t want to walk in the dark where there are wolves!

Some musings that don’t require photos: Walking the Camino in Spain is very different from the Chemin in France. I think I’ve already talked about that a bit. One of things that I read or was told was that the Camino in Spain would feel more spiritual than the Chemin in France. I’m not sure why. Now I do not believe you have to be able to visit churches for an experience to have a spiritual element to it. Just look at the glorious, ever-changing countryside I’ve been walking through for eight weeks. That’s as awe-inspiring as anything can be. But one big difference between France and Spain is that in France almost every little church or chapel you came to, whether it was in a village or small town or out in the middle of nowhere was open. Anyone could go in. I loved that. I tried to step into every chapel and church I passed, even if I didn’t have time to stay more than a moment. They were such beautiful, old spaces, even the most simple ones, where people had worshipped for centuries. I loved seeing them, perhaps lighting a candle, saying a prayer, or simply having a moment of quiet. In Spain it is the opposite. Apart from the cathedrals and large churches in the towns and cities, that you need to pay to go into (I don’t begrudge this, I’m sure they cost a fortune to keep up) every single church is locked up tight. All of them. It is such a disappointment. It’s probably because there are so many more people walking in Spain than in France, and I guess not all pilgrims (or walkers) show respect for the spaces. But unless you happen to be somewhere at the time of mass, you cannot get into any of the churches. While I do not need to go into a church to feel God’s presence and wonder at creation or to say a prayer, I miss being able to go into these beautiful, ancient spaces where people have worshipped for generations. At least I can admire their towers that provide homes for storks’ nests:

Learning to Walk, Day 55 (!), Friday, October 21, from Leon to Villar de Mazarife—by foot!!!

It feels so good to be walking again. I’m glad we only had minimal elevation gain today. Even though I have done a lot of city walking in Pamplona, Burgos and Leon this past week, that is not the same as walking on the path, and I can tell I have lost a lot of conditioning. But I managed 21 km today. Gave my feet a good rest with shoes and socks off half way through:

When my toes started turning blue (see photo!) I figured it was time to put my socks and shoes back on and keep walking. It was CHILLY and WINDY today. The forecast yesterday said there would 55 mph wind gusts today. I don’t know if it was that strong, but it was very windy. The last four km were tough—walking on a narrow path by the side of a road, straight ahead for 4 km, into gale winds. But we made it. During the last km my feet really wanted to stop, but I am proud of them. They did much better today.

It was a relatively flat, empty walk, so not a whole of photos for today.

There are two paths to choose from about 7 km beyond Leon. The main route is a path by the side of a busy, 4-lane highway all day. No thank you. The alternate route, which we took, follows country roads. The part of the walk on the dirt road was very pleasant. But there was some not-so-pleasant pavement to deal with as well. Still a better choice than breathing exhaust with cars whizzing by all day.

Now to catch up on Burgos. I loved Burgos, as I have loved all three cities I spent time in this week. The cathedral in Burgos is probably beyond my capacity to adequately describe. Visiting it, using the audio guide, looking at all the chapels and individual elements and works of art is similar to spending several hours in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I probably took hundreds of photos. Which clearly I cannot share here! I will try to edit carefully.

Burgos is beautiful beyond the Cathedral. I love the different colors they paint their houses:

The Cathedral is jaw-dropping both inside and out.

It’s dinner time, and I have added so many photos to this post, I probably need to do a part 2 on Burgos rather than add more photos here. More later!

Learning to Walk, Learning to Not Walk, Learning to Listen to Your Body, etc. Week 8, October 16-20

Goodness. I am in my 8th week of this journey. I think my last day of walking, apart from walking around the cities I’ve been in this week, was last Friday, when I hobbled my way into Pamplona. After a week of rest, I am looking forward to walking again tomorrow. It should be an easy day elevation-wise, but unfortunately, it will be mostly, if not entirely, on pavement. Hoping my new shoes that I’ve been wearing all week serve me well and allow me to finish the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.

It has been an odd experience to stop walking. I’m trying to think of myself as a different kind of pilgrim, but I haven’t really felt like one this past week. I am glad I had the opportunity to spend time in these beautiful, ancient cities: Pamplona, Burgos and Leon, with their centuries-old, sometimes older, architecture and their glorious cathedrals. I will have to come back someday and spend more time in Spain.

First, Pamplona. I shared with you the wonderful nightlife and send-off party we had last Friday. I loved Pamplona—I have loved all three of these northern Spanish cities. Pamplona has a wonderful spirit—relaxed, people out and enjoying themselves. That was probably in part to it being a weekend with beautiful weather, but it was a nice spirit none the less. However I cannot imagine being there during the running of the bulls time.

I’ve been referring to “we” a lot as I write. My Canadian friend and I met about two weeks into the Chemin in France. Then met again a week or so later, and just kept making plans to stay in the same place. We both started having foot problems at the same time and have taken rest days in the same places. We are going to start walking again together tomorrow. It has been nice to have company during these days of not walking. I don’t know if we’ll keep going at the same pace, but I’m grateful for the friendship. That is one of the most precious gifts of the Camino—the people you meet along the way. Some you will never be in touch with again, and some you know you will have as lifelong, if long distance, friends. It reminds me a bit of my acting days. You form such an intense community with your fellow actors during the rehearsal period and the run of the show, then you disband and that close community of folks disperses. There are some you keep in touch with for years, and others who drift out of your life. But we all make an impact and impression on each other, even if our time together is brief.

I’m going to stop and publish this one, and write a separate post about Burgos, and then another about Leon. I hope. I also need to get to sleep tonight since I am planning a 20-21 km walk tomorrow!

Learning to Walk, Day??, Wednesday, October 19, Interlude: A Dispatch from Home

Took the train from Burgos to Leon late this afternoon. I know I still need to post about Pamplona and Burgos, and what it is like to not walk for a week. But I will test this hostal’s wifi with a short dispatch from home. My daughter sent me photos from her gorgeous hike in the Adirondacks last Saturday saying, “Mom, my friends said it’s okay to post these on your blog.” How can I pass that up??? So here are some photos of happy college kids on a gorgeous Saturday hike:

And here is Buttercup, happy in his new, bigger crate at his temporary fall home. So grateful for friends taking care of the cats and dog!!

That’s it for now. If I’m not too tired after dinner, I’ll catch up. If not, tomorrow. Or another tomorrow. Will enjoy seeing Leon, and really looking forward to starting to walk again on Friday.

Learning to (Not!) Walk, Day 50, October 16th, Pamplona to Burgos, 220 km (something like that) not walking

Have not had good wifi the last few days. Even though an albergue or Hostal says they have wifi, often it is slow as molasses and just an exercise in frustration to try and use it.

The three days from Orisson to Roncesvalles to Zubiri to Pamplona did my feet in. The osteopath I saw in St. Jean Pied de Port, before starting over the Pyrenees, said not to lace my boots up around my ankles, because my ankles needed to flex more, but that meant that I couldn’t lock my heels into the back of my boots and my toes jammed into the front of my boots—even though the boots are plenty big—down the mountain to Roncesvalles, and then on a very long, steep, tricky, rocky descent to Zubiri. The walk the next day to Pamplona was one of the hardest days for me, just because my feet were so sore. So, another rest day with two nights in Pamplona. Which is not a bad place to spend two days. My feet felt like they should be black and blue. I bought new shoes, which I will alternate with the boots, or just keep wearing if my feet feel better in them. Today they are less sore. But I decided I needed to make a big jump ahead. So my friend I’ve been walking with on and off for the last month, who has also had a lot of foot trouble, and I took a Bla Bla Car (hitchhiking, essentially, but you arrange for it online and pay something towards gas) from Pamplona to Burgos late this afternoon. The guys we got a ride with could not have been nicer. They were on their way home from five days in the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela (we joked that we could just ride all the way with them), and they drove us right to our Hostal in Burgos. They had both spent time in university in Edinburgh so spoke English very well.

I loved Pamplona, and I love Burgos even more. I am spending two nights here, and may spend a third because it is so beautiful and it seems like there is a lot to see. Since we didn’t arrive until evening we only saw the cathedral from outside, but it is first on my agenda after breakfast tomorrow. I will also spend some time here figuring out where I go from here. Between Burgos and Leon lies the Meseta—mostly flat, treeless, land that pilgrims have a love/hate relationship with. Some skip it all together, finding it tedious and boring. Some love it because of the mental challenge of crossing it, some find it leads to lots of introspection and prayer. Because there’s not much else to do or look at. I will either skip it all together (my least favorite days in France were the ones that were through flat farm land), or walk a day or two then catch a bus to Leon. If I skip it all together, I’ll probably take a train to Leon, then hope to walk the rest of the way to Santiago.

Pamplona was a wonderfully alive city. I could not believe the street scene in the historic center Friday night. The streets were absolutely full of people sitting outside the bars and restaurants, not just at tables, but on the street itself, drinking, talking and laughing. The sound was a roar. We had our own wonderful party going on inside a restaurant. It was a farewell dinner with the group that had formed since Orisson in the Pyrenees. Pilgrims have talked about how you form “family groups” on the way. I did not really experience that on the Chemin in France, but it happened the very first night of the Camino at the refuge in Orisson in the Pyrenees. I made fast friends with three German women I traveled with as far as Pamplona—we didn’t walk at the same pace, but usually met at lunch time and always had dinner together, shared a dorm room, and had breakfast. And there were others we kept pace with and became close to those first three days. In Pamplona I met up with my friend I’ve been traveling with on and off for a month and she joined the group as well. We had about 17 people around the table for a farewell dinner for those who were finishing that night and returning home. There were four men from Ireland, and you know what happens when the Irish start drinking. Yes, singing. Lots of loud, raucous singing. We drove some people out of the bar, I’m afraid, but it was one of the most fun nights I have had in a long time, and I feel like I have made some friends I will be in touch with from now on. My German friends kept walking, so I don’t know if we’ll meet again on the Camino, but What’s App groups are a wonderful thing for staying connected.

Learning to Walk, Day 47, October 13th, Roncesvalles (Spain) to Zubiri

Goodness. It’ been a while since I did a blog post. Sorry. Combination of no wifi and no time! I’ll never adequately catch up on the last several days, but I’ll give you a glimpse.

I’m afraid a glimpse is all I got of my much anticipated crossing of the Pyrenees. Even though I split it into two days, hoping that the second day would be clearer, it was nothing but dense fog. The universe has a cruel sense of humor sometimes. The first day of the climb from St. Jean Pied de Port is an intense 8 km climb to Orisson. I was SO glad I did not do the crossing all in one day (23-24 km) as many people do. I am also grateful that I had already been walking 6 1/2 weeks and was not doing that climb on the very first day of my pilgrimage. That is what people do who just walk the Camino Frances. Their first day is one of the hardest of the entire Camino.

Another good reason for stopping in Orisson is because you get there early in the day—even though it is all uphill, it still doesn’t take that long to go 8 km—which means you get to hang out and talk to people all afternoon, then have dinner with them, and after several hours you have become fast friends. I now have three German friends I am traveling with and it is wonderful to have this little “Camino family”. I don’t know how long we will keep the same itinerary, but I already feel like I have made lifelong friends. I have a couple friends like that from the Chemin. I LOVED walking across France, but it is a very different experience, and unless you speak French you just don’t create the same kind of community.

The fog in the mountains did create a rather magical atmosphere. I’m trying to be positive here. Because the truth is I am really disappointed that I didn’t get to see the amazing vistas from the top that I have seen photos of. The sun came out for a total of about ten minutes. By that time I was well passed the open, treeless area with the really dramatic views at the top. And even if I had turned around and walked back those kilometers, I don’t think it would have made a difference, since the fog rolled right back in. See the photos below.

That’s all for now. Everyone is asleep and I should be, too.

Learning to Walk, Day 42, Saturday, October 8, Harambelz to Mongolos, 15-ish km

Goodness. Day 42. I’ve been walking (and sometimes resting) for six weeks! Today started with this glorious view about a kilometer or two into the walk:

The cloud cover grew thicker and thicker through the day so I really couldn’t see the higher mountains. I found it disorienting. I kept feeling like I was walking north, because I couldn’t tell where the sun and mountains were. I kept telling myself “you are walking south and west” but without the sun and mountains I just couldn’t get my inner compass to cooperate. I think tomorrow will be clearer, so that should help. I hope that forecast holds—I really want to see the mountains as I get closer!

I am trying to wrap my head around the fact that I am finishing the Chemin tomorrow. May people walking this route cross over the mountains and finish in Roncevaux/Roncesvalles, but St. Jean Pied de Port, tomorrow’s destination marks the beginning of the Camino Frances across Spain—the most well-traveled route to Santiago. And it will be much more crowded with pilgrims from all over than anything I have yet experienced. In France, the majority of people walking are French. There are others from Belgium and Germany and Quebec, and very few from the US. There will be many fellow Americans once I get to St. Jean. Most folks from the USA don’t even know about the French routes, but many know about the Camino in Spain and that is what most Americans walk. It is going to be a very different vibe. I will no longer be staying in gites. I will no longer be eating fabulous French food. There will be many more people on the path. I’ve read many posts about the challenges of adjusting to the Camino after walking the Chemin. Many of the posts are from people who long to be back on the Chemin. I am just telling myself, “it will be different,” and trying hard not to pre-judge it. There are others who prefer the Camino—it is easier walking for one thing—crossing the Pyrenees is the most difficult part. While there are some climbs, and some tricky descents in Spain, my understanding is that what I have just done on the Chemin Le Puy is FAR more physically challenging than what I will encounter on the Camino Frances. And many people prefer having more people to walk with and dine with along the way. While I have crossed paths with the same people along parts of this route, it sounds like more “Camino families” form in Spain. I will take it as it comes!

Today was a very solitary walk—I should probably treasure it knowing what’s ahead! Since most people walk in one day what I am doing in two, they stayed about 4 km beyond where I did last night, in Ostabat, and walked at a faster pace to get to St. Jean Pied de Port (SJPDP) today. So apart from one camper who quickly passed and outpaced me this morning, I have been the only one on the path. Well, me and thousands of sheep and cows. You do not want to see, or smell, the bottom of my boots. Gite owners insist you leave your boots at the door for a very good reason. You cannot avoid stepping in it.

I mentioned Ostabat, Ostabat is an ancient, famous stopping place for pilgrims. My guide book says that in the Middle Ages Ostabat could accommodate 5000 pilgrims in its 20 inns. Ummm. Help me with the math here. That’s 250 pilgrims per inn, right? They must have been shoulder to shoulder and head to foot on the floors. And sleeping in the stables. I walked through Ostabat an hour or so after leaving this morning. And was grateful for the tiny epicerie/boulanger where I could buy the usual ham/cheese/butter on a baguette sandwich for lunch and a chocolatine (that’s southwestern France for pain au chocolat) for my late morning snack. I figure I am almost out of France, so I will enjoy the chocolatine and almond croissants while I’m here.

I’m staying tonight in a Chambres d’Hotes, like a B & B, but less expensive than most B & B’s. This one is just lovely, in an 18th century house. Below is my beautiful bedroom. It is a treat! The accommodations in Spain will be different—the albergues will be more communal and dorm-like than the gites in France. But I believe there are also Chambre d’Hotes type options if I need my own room from time to time. And most albergues do not provide wonderful home-cooked meals like the gites in France do. I think most pilgrims eat out or cook in the communal kitchen at the albergue. The restaurants in Spain have “pilgrim meals” where you usually have a choice of a couple of entrees, and appetizer, I think, and dessert. My understanding is they tend to get repetitive—chicken and fries—so many people order off the regular menu instead. The pilgrim’s meal is cheaper. Designed to be filling and affordable, I believe.