The Road To Pau Is Paved With Poppies

February 16, 2015 in The Camino

Walking Travel

I want to see poppies.

That exotic red flower that populates the fields of France and Spain; that stand guard over soldiers graves and who makes cowardly lions and young girls in ruby-red slippers sleep. The reverent and solemn poppy with a mysterious beauty that makes you want to weep for all it stands for. The Helen to the Troy of the drug world, the opiate, she lures you in with her gorgeous red blossoms and yet innocently withers when plucked. Such frail petals has she, soft, silky and oh! The colour! Red. Tomatoes, blood and a vamp’s lipstick, she offers the fruit of temptation and I can’t help but to be lured in to love her, to search for her, inevitably to depend on her when walking the Camino becomes a brow and bone beating endeavour.

Jenn and I are in the Rollerskate. It is a nickname we have attached to our little rental car. It is a tiny, black toy that barely holds our backpacks. Jenn is an amazing navigator as she zips through the narrow streets of Paris. We are looking for the highway that will lead us south through the French countryside to a small village called Pau. It is a beautiful day for a drive. The sun is bright and warm and the few clouds that pepper the sky hang innocuously patient and still.

We find the highway and France opens her arms to us. We drive past rolling fields and grassy knolls. We admire the architecture of picturesque farms dotting the valleys. In the distance high-speed trains skim over the landscape like snakes through grass. Memories come flooding back to the time I spent in France years ago. I was young then but still retain enough sense memory to start salivating at the idea of lunch in the countryside. Fresh baguette, fromage, viande et vin (rouge)!

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This is it. We pull into a service station and I see my first poppies. They line the embankment, waving at us, beckoning us to come over and visit. I leap from the rollerskate and rush into the grass to touch the poppies. They look strong and vibrant but really are fragile. Like people I suppose. And I gently caress the petals and pluck only one to press into my journal. After several photo opportunities with both Jenn and the poppies, me and the poppies and of course the rollerskate with the poppies we then purchase our French lunch and find a quiet table to eat at behind the building.

We find ourselves in a tiny yard full of cherry trees. The breeze is soft and warm and Jenn and I are happy. So happy. Relaxed. Jenn wanders through the orchard and comes back to the table bearing fruit to add to our luncheon. We are so satisfied after the meal we hardly want to move. We take a moment to soak up the sun before climbing back into the rollerskate and driving on.

We are so close to the Camino. As we wind our way further south we see bits and pieces of the Camino trail. We are thrilled and curious. What will the road be like for us? What paths will we cross and what sights will we see when we start walking?

More poppies in the fields and I long to walk among them.

The rest of the drive is quiet. I think about the time I spent in Nice when I was young. A month there with my family, on the beach, up and down the coast of the French Riviera. I wish I had more time in Europe.  We are not quite that far south when we pull into Pau but we are south enough to see palm trees at the bus station where we trade in our little black car for tickets into the little town that will see us launched to St. Jean-Pied-Du-Port.

This trip gets better every day and we haven’t even started walking the Camino yet. I think the poppies are a good omen. I will come to think that they are there for me as I eventually walk through their fields in Spain. They will raise my spirits when the road is long and dry.



Paris: In Which I Meet My Idol And Light A Candle

February 8, 2015 in The Camino

Walking Travel

When I was twelve I landed in Paris for a week. It was the summer of 1986. Madonna was on the radio and according to the graffiti Europe was fascinated by the group Simply Red. My parents made sure we made the trip up the Eiffel Tower, that we toured Le Louvre and that we walked along the Seine. During the later parts of the afternoons we rested in our cramped hotel room where the WC was down the hall. We watched music videos, were introduced to Vanessa Paradis and Raider chocolate bars (which were Twix bars in French). It was a beautiful week.

When I decided to walk the Camino in Spain I knew right away that my plane ticket could land me anywhere in Europe even if only for a couple of hours before landing me in Paris. I contemplated stop overs in Dublin, Zürich and London before deciding that heading straight to Paris would let me have time to examine the city I loved, from an adult’s perspective.

Turning fifteen, I fell in love with Jim Morrison. I sang his songs, I wore t-shirts with his image, I plastered my walls with posters of the rock idol lizard king. I read everything I could about him. I read the books he read which took me to Balzac, Camus and Jack Kerouac. Everything I was as a late teen was a result of my love for Jim Morrison.

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Paris. The final resting place of the lead singer of the Doors. For ages I had dreamed of laying down flowers at this site. It was the closest I was ever going to get to him so I was desperate to go. Jenn had already made a visit to Pere Lachaise cemetery on a previous visit to Paris but being so generous she was glad to accompany me to finally meet my idol.

From the airport we had rented a little car and drove straight to our hotel. Once booked in and settled we agreed that we would need to stay awake for the rest of the day to combat jet lag. We readied ourselves and made our way down the winding staircase and out on to the streets of Paris. We quickly found the metropolitan and disappeared underground for a quick trip to the cemetery. We emerged from the shadows of the subway and into the hot sunny Parisian afternoon. The walk to the cemetery was not far and despite my intent and excitement I found myself distracted by the tables set up at every corner selling livres et musique and knickknacks of all varieties. The sounds and smells of Paris wafted around me tempting my senses and sharpening my desire to find Jim.

Pere Lachaise is a beautiful cemetery. It is filled with statues and carvings and mouldings and the most elaborate of headstones. It is part museum part park. The paths took us in circles, through tight alleys and around mysterious corners. We happened across Chopin’s grave which was a delight. I took in the surreal beauty of the place and walked quietly, with respect for those who have passed. Morrison’s grave was a puzzle to find. I had to refer to the map several times and trust my instincts more than once when crossing a path we had already come upon.

Finally we found it. An average sized headstone, simple, quiet this day. The most beautiful, vibrant flowers bend their heads in mourning and the trees standing on guard. There was a simple iron fence surrounding the gravesite, keeping us tourists on our best behaviour.

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A tree stood surrounded by bamboo upon which was left offerings of bubblegum. I was intrigued, slightly grossed-out and left wondering what the meaning was behind this artifact.

My dream had come true. I was at Jim Morrison’s grave. I stood and had a quiet moment, then left as peacefully as I had come in.

Jenn and I wandered through the rest of the maze that makes up the cemetery. I wondered in what direction the Eiffel Tower stood.

We stopped at the Pere Lachaise bar for croque monsieurs and a drink. We walked towards the Seine then crossed the river and wandered by souvenir stands, artists and musicians until we came to Notre Dame Cathedral. The grand cathedral stood boldly by the banks of the river. People, like pigeons, peppered the plaza waiting their turn to enter the great edifice. Heat rose up from the pavement as we waited as well. Once inside we found a cool refuge. Grand arches and stained glass, wooden pews and stone pillars; this was the first of many cathedrals and churches we would encounter on this trip. Jenn and I each lit a candle and paused for a moment to reflect on the magnitude of the journey we were about to take. Lighting this candle was significant. It was a promise of candles to come, roads to be travelled and it was a chance to be still in the small light swaying from the wick.

I thought of my friend Pamela for whom I was carrying a shell to be delivered at the Iron Cross along the Way.

Lighting this small white candle in Paris made me feel like I was in the cradle of a new dawning of my life. Such a small flame to fuel such a great adventure.

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Paris from an adult perspective was very meaningful. I did not have any raiders and I didn’t have time to do much else in the ways of touring but I didn’t need to. More than a stepping stone to the Camino, Paris had a purpose all its own. Paris played to my heart. Paris woke me to the possibilities that travel entails.

I would like to say that one day I will return to Paris but I was lucky enough to have been there twice.

For now I will continue to listen to the Doors and every so often I will light a candle to honour the perspective I gained from Paris.



Preparing For Take Off

January 31, 2015 in The Camino

Prepare for take off.

I am doing the best I can to reconcile myself with the fact that I am finally on a plane. I am sandwiched between a large man from Africa and a small woman from France. It is hot and crowded. I love the heat and am just getting comfortable in my space when the sweaty Monsieur d’Afrique twists a knob on the panel above us and a cold stream of air hisses in my face. He smiles at me. His round face is kind and quiet but soon I find out that my neighbours on this journey speak fluent French and very little English. This is good for me. I have six hours until we reach Paris, plenty of time to practice my French.

The flight attendants are pressed for space. They negotiate down the aisles through arms and legs thrust out and searching for more room. They lean in and press themselves agains the seats when a passenger needs to pass them. I wonder how in earth they are going to get the snack carts to us.

I am not too nervous to eat. I am excited and a little in awe of what I am doing. Not only am I about to embark on an adventure that will see me walk across the northern part of Spain with my friend Jennifer, but I am also preparing to take off, shed if you will, a few layers of myself in order to unearth the parts of me that have been burried under years of childbirth, nursing, schooling, cleaning house and working.

The first layer I peel away is the thick skin of doubt.

Can I do this is not a question I put to myself in regards to walking the Camino. Rather, I ask myself questions that start with when. When can I do this? When do I start planning? And Who. Everything from the simple who will go with me? to the more existential who am I? As soon as I announce my intention to walk the Camino I am pummelled with the why? of it all. The doubt. Why are you going? Why can’t I come?! I am showered with doubt from others. I accumulate a little doubt as I have not yet begun to research the trip. What if I don’t buy the right backpack, the right clothes. What if I get hurt or lost or give up? So many questions but I entertain these thoughts. It is the first step in following my dreams. Dreams that need not die because I have a family and have settled into suburbia.

And so here I sit. On the plane. Sure of myself. For I have researched and planned and coordinated and schemed with Jenn and I am sure now that I am doing the right thing. Score one for me and zero for the onion that is my soul.

I have already congratulated myself on wearing just the right outfit today. I only have three to my name for this trip. I am comfortable in my black yoga pants and blue polyester t-shirt that is promising to keep me cool when I walk. I brought aboard my merino wool sweater and am wearing my merino wool socks and my hiking boots. This outfit was researched and planned and picked out with scrutiny and reserve. It serves me well today.

I turn to Madame Petite and we make small conversation. Me in my broken Canadian French and she with her impeccable European speech and confidence. She found me amusing and suffered to correct me, kindly though.

The engines roar to life and we wheel down the runway.

This is it. We lift off and it feels as though I have wings.

I have to peer past Monsieur d’Afrique to see out the window. Montreal slowly fades from sight and before we know it we are over the Atlantic ocean. I am too excited to read or concentrate on a movie so I spend most of the trip thinking and trying to nap which is not easy considering I can barely move my elbows without hitting Madame Petite, or reach for my bag without kicking Monsieur d’Afrique. We are the proverbial sardines in a can. I get up a few times to stretch my legs, journal a little and flip with wonder through my Camino guidebook. I eat my dinner….again with elbow jabs to my neighbours.

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At last we reach Paris. The view is beautiful. It is early morning and the sun is just rising over the French horizon.

I am looking forward to p’tit Madelaines and croque Monsieurs. I am looking forward to walking along the Seine and searching for Jim Morrison’s grave at Pere Lachaise. I am excited for in a few short hours Jennifer will land and we will be off!

We land and after bidding farewell to my flight companions I step off the plane. I am in Europe! The last time I had been here I was twelve. Things have changed since, especially my perspective.

I wait for Jenn; so tired but refusing to sleep. I have a coffee and a croissant for breakfast and prepare again for take off. This time take off means time to peel away another layer or two. I peel away the rosy layer of light that has blinded me for years. This is a reality. I am doing this. As excited as I am I also must face the fact that I am exhausted, hungry and want nothing more than a hot shower and a cool bed. I must be prepared to watch my budget now. I am in for a bare bones experience. Bare bones, but full bodied like the wine in this part of the world.

I peel away a layer of expectations. I am living this fantasy now. The only thing left is to put one foot in front of the other and collect the memories. And all of a sudden Jenn is coming through the gate. We hug. We grin at each other knowingly.

We are here.




Camino Stories

January 28, 2015 in The Camino

Walking TravelAfter a short hiatus I am back and ready to share with you my stories from the Camino.

Walking the Camino was the best thing for me and although I did not journal nearly enough I do have many memories that are sharp and ready to share. I have many stories to tell.

All of the times that I wanted to write when I was in Spain got relegated to the bottom of my to-do list as I was so taken up with the business of being a Pilgrim. Early morning wake up calls from the birds and the backpackers dressing by the light of their ipods, long days of walking with each rest stop needed to rest, not to write. Afternoons napping and doing laundry and showering and exploring…plenty to write about, not enough time to do justice to my experiences. Nights walking through ancient villages, eating late suppers and swapping stories about our sorry feet. Then to bed and sleep only to wake and do it all over again.

Along with my memories I have pictures and momentos and friends to remind me of how I spent my days on the Camino.

I have had time to reflect and to put my days on The Way into perspective.

I can’t wait to start sharing so I will start with a story by the end of the week.

Enjoy, and thanks for reading!



Walking: It’s The Least I Can Do

September 26, 2014 in Jade

Walking Travel

I took a short walk yesterday. It was just around the block, but it wasn’t just a walk really. We were walking for Terry Fox. Yesterday children in every school in Kingston walked to raise money for cancer research on behalf of the late Terry Fox.

Terry started running in St. John’s Newfoundland and made it as far as Thunder Bay Ontario before he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He had to stop running and return home to start treatment. Unfortunately Terry lost his battle just a month shy of his twenty-third birthday on June 28, 1981.

Every year since, we celebrate his courage and demonstrate our own hope by running or walking and raising money.

In my case, I am a teacher. I teach English as a second language to newcomers to Canada. Part of our curriculum is to teach Canadian culture which includes holidays, celebrations and events and values.

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With only a day to prepare I pulled up videos of Terry running. I taught my basic class what cancer was by drawing figures with black dots to represent the cancer. I drew stick figures missing limbs and one in particular without a leg and a black dot in each lung. My students got it. They repeated Terry’s name.  They were looking forward to the walk.

Yesterday the sun shone brilliantly and the air was warm, perfect for a walk around the block. Students arrived at school with their running shoes. One teacher had a Terry Fox t-shirt. We were ready to go.

We headed out. I walked with my students and used the outing as an opportunity to teach them some basic vocabulary. In addition to cancer and Terry Fox they learned the words sidewalk, road, grass, flower, tree, stop and go.

I hope they saw the beauty of this world as I did. A world that so many miss as they struggle with cancer.

We did not plan ahead enough to raise money. Maybe we will do that next year. But at least we shared a message of hope and courage and strength. Many of our students have dealt with their own trauma. They could use a little bright light and a walk in the sun and gentle air. They could use some hope. We all could.

Yesterday I took a walk around the block. It was the least I could do.

Romance Of The Camino…

September 4, 2014 in The Camino

Walking Travel

I WANDERED lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed–and gazed–but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils. ~ William Wordsworth

I am a hopeless romantic. Not in the give me flowers, candy and diamond rings kind of romance, but rather Byron, Beethoven and Romance of the Forest kind of romance. When I say something is romantic I am referring to the ideals and philosophy that some of the greatest thinkers such as Mark Twain, Charles Darwin and Sigmund Freud held in the nineteenth century. These thinkers and their peers allowed for sentiments inspired by imagination and powerful feelings to influence the art, literature and politics of the time. Powerful emotions and acts of creativity were influenced by the feelings brought on by the fear and awe of the unknown. Nature played a large part in setting the atmosphere of Romanticism. The forests and the deep shadows of night or the shining moon hanging low in the sky evoked feelings of romanticism and you can feel it when you listen to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, for example, with its ethereal calm strains of chord progressions that undulate like soft waves on a quiet shore.

I love not man the less, but Nature more. ~ Lord Byron

I walked the Camino for many reasons. I looked forward to meeting people and exploring the rich history built in to the little hamlets and in the churches and cathedrals. What really took away my breath though was the beauty of the landscape. I was not prepared to be in awe of what I was in danger of dismissing as the daily view. The poppies brought to mind rich images of the Wizard of Oz. I was surprised at just how golden wheat really is. It isn’t a dull yellow like I thought. I remembered Sting’s song Fields of Gold and nodded to myself acknowledging the fantastic idea that the beauty of the Camino was connecting me to the greater world.

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To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour. ~ William Blake

Every day was an adventure, another of the Romantic ideals. Every day I set out not knowing where I would end up, who I would befriend, if I would be ok walking alone across the desolate meseta or through the rocky paths of the Galician forest. I was fine of course but there were moments that bred fear and hesitation. My senses were alert as I questioned my intuition too many times for my liking.

But nature; nature was what moved me every day. Nature soothed me. It was the sun rising over misty mountains that pulled me from my slumber and inspired me to walk ever uphill. The pre-dawn beauty was all my own one morning while I watched the sun glow and grow over a sea of mist and while I listened for the cow bells and wondered how close or far away the animals might be.

As cool and glorious as the sun could be in the morning mountains it could also change faces by noon on the meseta and turn into a beastly ball of radiation.

Nature in all her glory toyed with my emotions, beating me down with incessant heat, dry and dusty roads, long days walking without shade and parched, squirming for more water and perhaps a cool place to swim. Or, lifting my spirits when wreathed by cool forest shade and protected by bowers of branches that bled fresh and green with dew and leaves that stirred with the gentle breezes. Nature showered me with her Galician rains, pouring down on me the tears of pilgrims past, rain mingling with my own tears of frustration or joy or despair and sometimes peace and clarity. Rain that washed away the pain of the previous weeks of walking.

I am a Romantic at heart and so it was I found a path to love and peace, through the emotions that nature lulled from deep within me.


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The Camino: Making Do With What You Have

August 24, 2014 in The Camino

Walking Travel

Dust blew up from under my feet as I plodded down a country road in the north of Spain. Surrounding me were fields of green and wheat and great golden haystacks rolled up like shredded wheat. The sun was relentless along the way, beating down on my shoulders, singeing the skin of my neck. As beautiful as the landscape was I could not focus on my trip. My shorts were sliding off my hips as a result of weight loss during my journey. Every time I hiked up my pack my shorts slipped further down. I was desperate for a belt but knew that the next town would not yield one as it was a mere hamlet. My friend and I, delirious from the late-in-the-day heat and with blistered feet and aching knees, considered our options. Weave a belt from the grasses? Jenn had already shown her predilection towards creating crowns of poppies and baskets from wheat. Could she fashion a belt for me?

Our hair was too short to cut and braid into a belt, we had no string for a clothesline as we depended on the albergues to produce those for us, and my wraparound bracelet would not encircle my waist, as diminished as it seemed to me at the time. I had neither scarf nor necktie nor headband to tie up my shorts. I was dismayed.

We walked on, me with one hand holding up my shorts and the other holding my walking sticks. I unfolded my lips into a wry smile every time I heard another pilgrim wish me a buen Camino! Buen Camino indeed! As it was this afternoon I was beginning to tire and thus mired in a grumpy puddle of melt I gave up and sat next to a giant bale of hay that rolled right up to the road.

 You make do with what you have.

With only three sets of clothing for the six-week journey I didn’t have much. I had pitched my doodads and gadgets at the beginning of the trip to shed pack weight. Laundry was taking your socks and underwear into the shower with you as soon as you got to the albergue in the hopes that they would dry before the morning. Circumstances were tough. I began to miss my large fluffy bath towels from home as I had but a handkerchief of a towel to dry off with on the Way. But the further we walked, the more we got used to working with what we had. This day was no exception.

While I sat I took a good look at the bale of hay. I was thinking about the movie The Way, remembering the scene with mad Jack’s monologue in the hay-field, when all of a sudden I noticed a strip of twine nestled into the hay. I pulled at it but it was tough. Then it dawned on me… I could use this twine as a belt! I pulled harder and enlisted the help of Jenn. We tugged and nudged and pushed and pulled the twine until finally it gave and unravelled, reeling away from the hay.

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Never was I more happy than to have a dirty, dusty, old piece of rope to wrap around my waist! My shorts were secure and I was able to complete my trek, eventually making it to Leon where I bought a beautiful new belt. Which now, come to think of it, does not fit me for the weight I lost on the second half of the walk. I no longer have the twine. It would have been fun to tuck it away with my other souvenirs but it was too long and weighty for my pack.

Now I am home. I have my fluffy towels and my hot water and my soft bed in my private home.

And a belt that fits.

Now I make do with my memories of making do on the Camino. And I am ever conscious of those who have to make do every day. I learned a lot from the Camino. This was one of my better lessons.

Si! Oui! Yes! The Art Of Communicating On The Way

July 20, 2014 in The Camino

The one thing I looked forward to most before setting out on my Camino journey was the possibility of meeting new people. I remember saying to Jenn when we were waiting for the credencial office to open in St. Jean-Pied-de-Port that we should look around at all of the new faces and wonder who might become our friends. As it turns out, quite a few of them became our friends.

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There was the conductor from Italy, the nurses from France, numerous Americans, Spaniards and Portuguese, Irish and Germans and pilgrims from as far away as Australia and South Korea. I was delighted to meet all of these people.

The way it works on the Camino is you walk. You walk and for every single person you encounter you shout out the Spanish phrase “Buen Camino!” The Italians shout out “Animo! Animo!” The French calmly wish you a “Bon Camino” or “Bon Courage!” All you hear from the cyclists is the faint remnants of “Camino..” as they speed by. If people see you are having a rough go of it then you might hear them lament “Poco a poco…” Little by little. Then there is the phrase “Ultreia!” Which is not as common but somehow is everywhere, the graffiti, on billboards, the name of an albergue even. Ultreia is a Latin/French phrase which means onward, don’t give up, keep going.

All of these expressions serve as a platform for discussion, but how to do that when you only speak perhaps English and French and the person to whom you are speaking is Spanish? Well as luck would have it many people on the Way spoke some form of another language as well. Broken English, broken French, broken Spanish or Italian or German.

Broken language is great!

It is a communion broken into puzzle pieces and before you know it you are finished and it all works out; somehow everyone understands.

An example is:

Me: Hola!

French Woman: Bonjour.

Me: Ou viens tu? (My broken attempt at ‘Where do you come from?’)

French Woman: Le Puys. And you?

Me: (Trying to keep up the French) Je viens du Canada.

Spanish Man: Oh! Canada! Is beautiful country!

French Woman: Si!

Me: Gracias

And so on as we all attempt to address each body in their native tongue.

The art of communicating with each other lies in the courage to try another language and in the patience to listen; listen to the body language and to the words that are familiar so that you may piece together the puzzle that is conversation between pilgrims.

Then there are the body gestures. A sign of affection is to have a man squeeze your arm, (Or in one case to jump out of a chair and run over to hug you after only one day of friendship!) or to receive the kiss kiss kiss on the cheeks when generally greeting people.

The Camino is full of communication. There are expressions splayed in graffiti across the underpasses and on the sign posts; messages of hope and courage and of motivation.  There are notes left on rocks in the road. Jovial multilingual chatter around the bar while the soccer game is on. Old men stop you on the trail “Buen Camino mujer, Buen Camino mujer” before sending you on your way with a kiss for good luck. Townspeople honking and giving you the thumbs up and calling out the doorway to set you straight on your path, all the while wishing you well.

The best part about meeting the people was the camaraderie that we shared. We all had the same goal with similar purposes. We all had baggage that was pushing us forward to Santiago. We were all reaching out for companionship and finding it instantly as we moved forward together.

Upon coming home I realized that there is no reason for me to not keep it up. I look for people to say hello to. I still thank people in Spanish and respond with a Si or a Oui!

So if you see me out walking offer up a greeting. Any kind. And I will respond with the most common greeting of all….a smile.


Slow And Steady: Finding Your Pace On The Camino

June 18, 2014 in The Camino

Walking Travel

I have been staring at the rocks.

I have been watching lines of ants parade underfoot doing their duty for their queen. I have marveled at the fat black slugs that look sleek and regal when puffed up and watching us from the sidelines. Unfortunately they look like fried eggs when they have been flattened by a car. Snails too amble along the way carrying everything they own, just like us.

Jenn and I have found our Camino’s. Her stride is longer and faster than mine so most days we walk alone, connecting at rest stops or at cafés in the next town. I am content to walk alone. It took awhile to be o.k. with that though.

One morning I had to face the face that I am a slow walker. Even when walking as fast as I can I cannot keep to the pace that is set by the pack. This day the pack was raring to go so with my blessing they head off. The reality was that I was feeling a little abandoned, sorry for myself. I stood watching them off, laughing and leaving a trail of dust. I was high atop a hill looking into the distance trying to come to terms with going solo then I remembered; I wanted to be alone. I came to the Camino looking for the space to think and to clear my head. Here I was, given the perfect opportunity to do just that and I was having a pity party for one.

Just then I looked down. I saw the most beautiful snail shell. It was large, shades of purple and grey and pink and it was empty. I fished it out of the rocky path and I knew: It is o.k. to walk at your own pace. It is o.k. to live life at one’s own pace.

Everyone assures each other that the Camino is not a race. Whenever we stop for a rest there are people there to encourage me and to congratulate me on making it this far. At the end of the day we all find each other in the nearest albergue or the best bar in the square.

What if we were to reassure each other off the path that life is not a race. It is o.k. to take a rest, a break, a sabbatical or vacation. It is o.k.

I have been staring at rocks as I walk. I remind myself to take a breath and look up once in awhile but for the most part I stare at those rocks that crunch beneath my feet and I am content to do so.

Caregivers On The Camino: The Kindness Of Strangers

June 15, 2014 in The Camino

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I hobbled up to the albergue in a little village half-way between Burgos and Hornillos yesterday. The cobbled streets made my steps uneven and so with each foot forward my knee winced with pain. A gentle looking man sat just feet away watching me approach. The closer I got the more excited he seemed. I never caught his name nor was able to catch a photo of him but the events that followed have forever etched this man and his kindness into my heart.

The man was pleased to welcome me aboard his porch and looked at me in anticipation of what I might say or do. I pityingly looked up and said while pointing to my knee “Por favor, taxi? Es muy dolor.”

The man jumped into action. He had a frantic energy about him that propelled him through the strands of plastic that protected the front entranceway. A moment later a woman called out for me to ‘pass! pass!’ and the man was back to usher me inside to a welcoming cool abode.

They insisted that I sit down while they explained to me the logistics of a cab ride to the next town. The man himself was going to commission a car and drive me himself. In the meantime however he made quick work to brink me a small pitcher of water and a glass, insisting that I drink. He also presented me with a small medallion of the Virgin Mary.

While I was waiting for the man to bring the car around a quiet couple of men were eating their lunch. They motioned to me that I should share their wine. As they poured a pocquito for me they explained that it was good for the heart.

The man returned and escorted me to his car. He held the door open for me, closed it and reached in through the window to make sure I could reach the seatbelt. He joined me on the other side, explaining the route we were to take and we were off. The man was careful to keep an eye on the Camino when possible and point out to me the pilgrims who were walking in the same direction as I  would have been. Every time we passed a pilgrim he would honk and wave with a genuinely gleeful smile.

Elton John came on the radio. I was content. The sun was hot, the wind cool. The man turned up the volume and announced in classic catalan lisp that he loved Elthon Eyon.

Soon we came upon our destination and pulled over. I gave him a twenty and waited for change. He ran into the small mercado across the street for change but when he returned he had more than that. He presented me with a shell wrapped in red yarn that I would use to hang the shell from my pack, and with a bottle of agua frio.

This man went above and beyond what was necessary to get me safely to the next town but so it is that we are taken care of on the Camino.

We roll through each town contributing to the economic, social and livliehood of each community. They wait for us. They feed us and shelter us. They share with us their own stories and surprise us with their generosity.

They wish us buen Camino when they pass us on the streets but it is not only the townspeople who care for us pilgrims, we care for each other.

Since the advent of this trip I have had nothing but encouragement and support from my friends, family and even strangers. Since I began walking the encouragement has tripled! We pilgrims are in this together and as we weave our energies amongst those who have walked before us we also tap into them to bring out the spirit of community. I think of the girl who was so concerned about my knees that she shared her tensor stockings with me so I could make it to the next town. She came out of nowhere and I did not see her for days afterwards when she appeared again at a difficult path and told me that she knew I was going to do this. She smiled and walked away with her mother and I haven’t seen her since.

I think of the French man who was ready to call out the hostess of an albergue for giving me the top bunk when someone with bad knees surely needs the lower bunk.

The French couple who gave me their aspirin the morning I woke up sick. I see them in some of the little towns along the way and they are always asking after me.

The kindness of strangers along the way is insurmountable. The Camino calls to the caregivers and in kind the recipients respond.

I know what I am laying at the feet of St. James when I reach Santiago.

Gratitude for the caregivers of the Camino.

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