Friday, February 28, 2003

Puente La Reina- Estella
Part Two

When we reach the refugio we check in, pick out our beds, and take showers. Then I go with T to the local library where we check our e-mail. T is having long distant problems with her boyfriend and is upset by what he has written to her. When we get back to the refugio she starts crying when one of the wardens, after seeing the look on her face, asks if anything is wrong. T answers in Spanish and he takes her into the refugio office to talk with her in private. Sometimes you just need someone who speaks your home language to listen to your problems. J, B, P, and I wait for T but we are not sure when she will be done so we leave a message at the front desk and go out for dinner.

We find a restaurant with outside tables on the Plaza de la Fueros directly across from the Iglesia San Juan; a beautiful cathedral. Sitting just behind and to the left of me is an older local woman. She has pulled one of the restaurant's chairs over to a pillar and sits looking at the church across the plaza. She is a heavy-set woman with swollen legs and feet and she is wearing a shapeless, colorless dress. Two shopping bags sit on the ground beside her.

When we first sit down I notice that a full moon has appeared above the church and when I point it out to the others at my table the woman starts talking to me. She says, "La Luna. La Luna," pointing at the moon. I nod. She then says something I don't understand and gestures to the moon and then back to herself repeating, "La Luna. La Luna." I am not sure if she is telling me the moon is hers, or if she is telling me her name is Luna but I nod again. She continues talking to me and I shake my head to let her know I do not understand. She then ask me (I know enough Spanish to understand this) if I speak Spanish. I shake my head again and reply, "Un poco" (a little). She repeats, "Un poco?", and I nod, smile, and turn back to my friends.

As we eat our meal the Luna Lady talks to herself, the moon, and me. When she directs her words at me I turn to her and smile and nod. Half way through our dinner the Luna Lady pushes herself slowly up and out of her chair, reaches down to pick up her shopping bags, shuffles her way over to me, and pats me on the right shoulder. She speaks and thinking she is telling me good night, I say goodnight back and watch her as she lumbers her way across the plaza toward the church. I feel a touch of sadness as I watch her. After she leaves B tells me that when a lunatic touches you it is considered lucky. I like that. Now, if a lunatic touches you during a full moon is that twice as lucky?

On our way back to the refugio we meet T. She is feeling better and walks back with us. When we get to our room the lights are off and people are sleeping so we try to move around as quietly as we can. T and I go to use the bathroom and after we finish we happen to flush our toilets at the same time. The water noise is deafening. It sounds like someone turned on Niagara Falls. We find it so funny that we start giggling like a couple of little girls as we wash our hands. We are so out of control we have to clasp our hands over our mouths to smother our laughter. When we are giggled out and finally subdued we make our way to our beds.

Thursday, February 27, 2003

October 1, 2001
Puente La Reina- Estella (sunny)
11.9m/19km - 67m/107.1km

We start late this morning because we have to wait for the post office to open. It is in a small room and soon crowded with pilgrims mailing things forward to Santiago. It takes about a half hour for B and J to get their stuff wrapped and mailed. T is behind some other people and tells us to get going and that she will catch up with us.

Today is the first time my legs do not ache so I find walking pleasurable. About 4.6m/7.5km down the road from Puente la Reina we come to the village of Cirauqui at the top of a hill. Most of these villages are built on the tops of hills so they could be easily defended. When we are almost to the other side of the town we decide to pick up some food for our lunch. We ask a woman where the market is and she tells us it is at the other end of town. We start walking back on a street that is parallel to the street we walked up when we came into town. As we walk through a small plaza I turn my head and look toward the street that the Camino follows and see T just as she is one step away from disappearing between two buildings. By the time I yell out her name she is out of sight. A couple of seconds later she steps backwards into the street, see us, and walks over to join us.

Just outside Cirauqui is a bridge built by the Romans and we stop here to eat our lunch. From here we will be walking on a section of Roman road that leads up to the ruins of a medieval village, one that was built (where else) on a hill. I can't get over how old this road is. I come from a country where people think houses built at the time of the Revolutionary War (1775-1783 ) are old-old. And here I am walking on a road built over 2,000 years ago. I love it.

As we get closer to Estella we walk on a dirt road that cuts between rows and rows of grape vines. Some people veer off the road and pick bunches of grapes and start eating them. I am not sure if this is allowed so I do not do this. This is because as a kid I was the one who always got caught whenever I did something that wasn't allowed. The one time I chewed gum in class I got caught. The one time I took a candy bar from the grocery store I got caught. The one time I cheated on a spelling test I got caught. This does not mean I have any compunction about being an accessory after the fact. P picks some grapes and I help her eat them. But even then I get caught. I sometimes have an allergic reaction to sulfites and the first grape I bite into causes a tickling sensation in the back of my throat and my sinuses to swell shut a few seconds later. After that I can no longer breath through my nose.

This would be bad, right? Wrong. When we reach the outskirts of Estella we are wrapped in a thick heavy blanket of the most malodorous stench I have ever not smelled. Actually, this is so bad even I can smell it. This foul odor is so thick I can taste it. It isn't the fetor of sewage. It isn't the rankness of a slaughterhouse. It isn't the stink of a stockyard. It isn't the putrescence of a dead skunk. No, it is all those things combined. T and P are gagging and trying not to throw up. Welcome to Estella.

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

September 30, 2001
Pamplona (Cizur) - Puente La Reina (sunny)
11.9m/19km - 55.1m/88.1km

Remember I wrote that I thought the building we were staying in was close to the church next door? That meant we were also close to the bell tower in the church next door. Which also meant that when the bell in the tower rang, it was loud. Which also meant that when the bell rang loudly it yanked most of us out of sleep. Every hour. All night.

This morning I started out feeling a little groggy. Two of the people sleeping in the room with us were a couple from Canada (J&Y) and I walked most of today with them. After we left Cizur we walked past large fallow fields of cultivated land and then up to the top of Alto de Santa Maria de Erreniega; which is a strenuous climb. Before we started the hard part of the climb, I eat two packs of the energy goop I am carrying to help keep me going. This stuff is awful. It's like eating a thick paper slurry. Banana flavored paper slurry but still awful. However, it does give me the extra energy boost I need to get to the top.

The view from the top is magnificent. Behind us is the Pamplona Basin where the city of Pamplona sits and in front of us in the Valdizarbe Valley and the way to Puente La Reina. All along the range of mountains that divide the basin and the valley are large wind turbines. I watched them grow taller and larger as we made the climb up. They are so enormous that you can hear the whaap, whaap sound the blades make even over the noise of the wind blowing. We catch up with B, J, P, and T up here and stop to eat lunch while looking at a huge metal sculpture commemorating all the pilgrims that have made the journey to Santiago.

After lunch we start slipping and sliding our way down the other side of the mountain. This side is all loose rocks and dirt, so slipping and sliding is the only way to go. A little while later we are walking along another ridge and I stop to look down at a house that is half way between the ridge and the valley floor. I want to live in that house. I feel so at peace here that, after checking to see that B, J, and P are far enough ahead of me so that I can't see them, and that J&Y are far enough behind me that I can't see them either, I drop my pack, pull out my tin whistle and play Amazing Grace. When I finish I hear a small noise behind me and turn. Caught. J&Y are standing there with big smiles on their faces. I am embarrassed and mumble that I did not realize they were so close. Their smiles get bigger and they say that they enjoyed my playing immensely. I do not tell them that Amazing Grace is one of only three songs that I can play on a tin whistle.

While we are walking, J (of J&Y) has been trying to make up a song about walking the Camino. He is using the melody to Kansas City, so as we walk I try to think of lyrics too. Finally, we come up with:

We're going to Santiago, Santiago,
Here we come
We're going to Santiago, Santiago,
Here we come
They've got a wonderful cathedral there, and we're going to make a run
Won't take a bus, won't take a train
We're just going to walk there, forget about the pain
And get to Santiago, Santiago here we come.

We reach Puente La Reina early enough to do laundry and take a shower. The room we are put in overlooks a closed factory of some kind and nesting in the tall, round, brick chimneys are storks. J&Y lend me their binoculars but they are low power and I can't tell if the nests have babies in them or not. They are powerful enough for me to see that storks have faces that only a mother could love. They are big, awkward, clumsy looking birds and they are also black in color, not white- Walt Disney you lied to me.

This bit of information is spreading through the refugio. You can mail a package of things you do not want to carry anymore ahead to Santiago and the post office there will hold it for you until you reach Santiago and pick it up. B, J, and T plan to mail their extra stuff in the morning

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Blog Break

Angel wings. I took this yesterday morning and by noon it had melted. Funny thing, as the ice and snow melted off the porch roof it formed a sheet of thick ice on the concrete below, except where the angel wings were hanging. Right below them were two round dry holes in the ice.

Monday, February 24, 2003

September 29, 2001
Larrasoana- Pamplona (Cizur) sunny
12.2m/19.5km - 43.2m/69.1km

This morning was strange. While I was putting my boots on I had the oddest feeling that I was off to one side watching myself. Then I realized that I have had that feeling ever since I got off the train in Bayonne. It was like stepping down and into a dream. Time seems to flow like honey. Effortlessly. I am in this flow and move through the days in the same way. Effortlessly. Colors are brighter and more intense but at the same time I see everything through a veil of light mist. Yesterday seems a week ago and when I try to remember what happened then, it is like trying to remember a dream almost forgotten. I am walking through a dream.

Now, from the sublime to the ridiculous. This morning B and I started out earlier that the others in our group. As we left the village I could see another group of men and women on the path about 100 feet in front of us. They had just passed a man about 5'10 inches tall, with thick black hair combed straight back from his forehead, a square face, around 40 years old, and wearing a blue sweat shirt and pants. He was walking around in a small field to the left of the path and seem to be waiting for someone. He was waiting for us. We were talking, not paying him any mind, and as we drew abreast of him he yelled to get our attention. We turned and saw he had his penis out and was waving it around while shouting, "Whooo! Whooo! Whooo!". My reaction was, "What a jerk". I tried to remember a Spanish insult (about his mother) I had learned when I was a kid but I could not think of it until we were farther down the path. B was very upset by what had happened. She said that this has happened to her several times in her life and that she hates it.

My theory on why some men feel the need to show a complete stranger his penis. He does it because he is not sure he has a penis and needs visual confirmation from another person. Look! Look! Oh, good, I can see by your reaction I do have a penis, thank you". Then there are men who think holding a certain type of job proves they have a penis. I worked as an aircraft dispatcher for five years. At one airline I worked at I over heard one pilot say, "Anyone who bleeds once a month doesn't belong in a cockpit." (i.e. no women need apply). What would make anyone say such a horrible thing? My theory? He believes that to fly an aircraft you need a penis. Women cannot be pilots because they do not have a penis. But if women are pilots, then you don't need a penis to fly aircraft. So, where does that leave him? My God, his penis could fall off the next time he steps into a cockpit! No wonder he was so resistant to the idea of women pilots.

While we are on the subject, contrary to what Freud said, women do not have penis envy. When you think about this theory you know that only a man would come up with it. When it comes to their penises men are like white people who think all black people secretly want to be white. "What? Doesn't everyone want to be white?".Or Americans who can't understand why Canadians get upset when they are mistaken for American citizens. "What? Doesn't everyone envy us because we are Americans?". My sister told me about a friend's daughter who, when she saw her baby brother's penis for the first time, said, "Good thing that's not on his face". Out of the mouths of babes.

Back on the Camino. We reach Pamplona around 200P as the city is closing down for the weekend. We stop at a bar and order cold drinks and tapas (appetizers). At one point I go pick another round of drinks. There are three steps between the bar and where we are sitting. When I get to them on the way back, I hesitate. My legs are feeling so weak and tired I am not sure I can make it down the steps without falling or dropping the glasses. J has been watching me and laughs when I stop at the steps, he understands why I've stopped, and he stands up, walks over and takes the drinks from me. When we leave the bar we continue through town and on to Cizur Menor, where we will spend the night.

At Cizur T decides to spend the night at the refugio in the church at the edge of the village, while B, J, P, and I decide to spend the night in a private refugio. The owner's have built a refugio in the yard behind their home, and it sleeps about 20 people, has bathrooms and a kitchen. This is full (I think you have to make reservations) so we are put in a very old stone building that seems to have been part of a church that is right next to the house. This place is great with trees, plants, flowers, and a lot of space in the yard. We arrive early enough to take showers and do our laundry.

Right next to one of the entrances to the building where we are sleeping is a fig tree and we are allowed to pick and eat the figs. This tree fascinates me because I have never seen fresh figs before. The only ones I have seen have been in the fig paste of a Fig Newton cookie. I've always thought of figs as being like a dried date and am surprised by how sweet and juicy they are. I finish off five of them in one sitting.

Later that evening we go to a bar down the street and have dinner. B and J order the same thing, which turns out to be something smothered in squid ink. They both look a little shell-shocked when it is put in front of them but they do eat it. In Spain dinner is served around 800P and all the refugios lock up between 900P and 1000P. So every night we go to bed with food sitting heavy in our stomachs like small warm lumps of wet cement. J has trouble going to sleep because of this and I know I would too if I wasn't so exhausted every night.

Sunday, February 23, 2003

September 28, 2001
Roncesvalles- Larrasoana sunny morning/rainy afternoon
16.8m/26.9km - 31m/49.6km

Today my legs are sore and ache but the walking is not as hard as yesterday. Still climbing up and down but we are over the highest peaks. The countryside is beautiful after the starkness of yesterday's landscape. The higher mountains were rocky with ground hugging plants spread across the valleys like a Berber carpet. Today, the variety of plants and trees, along with the kaleidoscope affect created by the different hues of green, make this section feel lush. At one point we walk on a dirt path that passes through a tunnel of green shrubbery. The sunlight seems to dance as it bounces off the leaves.

We stop for lunch in Espinal and P orders two tortillas. We are both surprised when she is served a large egg omelet instead of two flat round pieces of bread. Tortilla means omelet in Spain. It begins to rain and by the time we reach Zubiri it is raining so hard we decide to stop and wait it out in a bar. A half hour later the bar is full of pilgrims coming in out of the rain. The bartender tells us the rain is only going to get worse and that we should plan on spending the night in Zubiri. Some people decide to stay but P,B, J, T, and I decide to keep on walking. We set off and about a hour later the rain stops.

We arrive at Larrasoana just after dusk. The mayor of the town welcomes us to the refugio, which is in the town hall. In his office he keeps a book signed by pilgrims that have stayed in the refugio and listing where they are from. Taking care of the pilgrims who stay in his town is a very important part of his job as mayor. He is very proud of this. Signing the book is a way of thanking him, so we all line up and takes turns signing it. We then drop our packs off in the refugio office and head to a bar/shop at the end of the village for dinner. We end up sitting at a table with a group of Australians and have a very enjoyable meal. At this point I am so tired I cannot eat all the food that is put in front before me and the owner is a little upset. I think I am going to have this problem for the rest of the walk since I lose my appetite when I am tired.

When we get back to the refugio we are lead outside to another door in the building and up some stairs. I think we are in a private house. We are put in a room with five mattresses laid side by side on the floor. We each pick a mattress and spread out our sleeping bags and 15 minutes later are asleep.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

September 27, 2001
St. Jean- Roncesvalles sunny/hot
14.2m/22.7km - 14.2m/22.7km

Last night I was awakened twice. First, by a late arriving pilgrim spreading his sleeping bag out on the bunk above me and second, by my bladder telling me it was time to take a walk to the bathroom. Since the only bathroom I know about is downstairs, I try to ignore it but my bladder is insistent. The location of the bathroom is not the only reason I do not want to leave my sleeping bag. I need my flashlight, which is buried in my pack, and I do not want to wake anyone else by digging for it.

Finally, I get up and creep quietly out of the room. That wasn't so hard. A faint glow coming in through the open window lights my way. When I get into the hallway it is very dark and I put my hand out and follow the wall around to the doors into the sitting room. I quietly open them and step into the room. I am disappointed to see that the door to the entry hall is closed. I know this because I cannot see the hall light. I carefully inch my way around the table and baby step my way to the other door. CRASH! BANG! What the hell was that? I stand still a minute stunned by the noise, wondering where it came from. I move my hands out in front of me and they brush against wood. Then I realize the noise was made by me walking into the door to the hall. I stand there and wait for the creeping, oozing feeling of blood dripping down my forehead-nothing. I put my hand to my head, nothing, no blood. I reach for the door handle and when I put it towards me, the door rattles a little in the frame. I must have kicked the door right before my head hit it, causing the door to slam into the frame. Since I was barely moving I did no damage to myself. I pull the door open and am blinded by the entry way light. Five minutes later I manage to make it back to my bed without killing myself.

This morning we met the other person who slept in our room, J from Ireland. We eat breakfast in the kitchen downstairs and about a half an hour later we are all in front of the refugio, filling our water bottles from a fountain that is straight across the street. Then we hesitate, not sure if we should get started, when J say, "Let's go", and starts walking down the street. We follow him across the bridge over the Rio Nive, through the Porte Notre-Dame and then, further down, through the Porte de Espange- the door to Spain. We are following the Route de Napoleon, which is off the main road, and said it be spectacular. It is harder walking but I think it's going to be worth it.

The walk over the mountains is beautiful. I walk most of this section with T. At the beginning we follow a narrow road that weaves straight up. We pass herds of cows and sheep. All are wearing bells. The sheep bells make a light tinkling sound and when all the sheep are moving they sound like small wind chimes. The cow bells are a lower pitch, like the sound of those large hollow tube wind chimes.

By early afternoon we have climbed above timberline and stop for a rest at the bottom of a large pile of boulders on which sits a statue of the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus. As I sit there eating cookies, I examine the statue above me and think something about it is odd. I climb up to look closer at it and see that Mary's eyes are blackened out and that she has pit marks near the bottom of her gown. I glance around and see that she is the highest point for several miles around. Then I see that baby Jesus' head is gone and I realize that the statue must have been struck by lightning. Baby Jesus' head was blown off when this happened and someone replaced his missing head with a rubber doll head. This touches me. Someone cares about this statue so much they could not bear to have baby Jesus sitting there without his head and they brought him another one.

Later that afternoon T and I reach a path that goes straight down a mountain, through a wood of beach trees and then directly to the monastery in Roncesvalles where we will spend the night. The path down the mountain is so steep that I walk at an angle and make big S shapes as I weave my way down. When we get to the woods I cannot believe how ancient the trees feel. It is very quite in there and the light filtering through the leaves has a greenish tint to it. I keep expecting to see a hobbit peeking out from behind one of the trees.

At dusk we near the monastery and cross a small stream. By this time my legs are so tired that I am dismayed to see that the monastery is up a small hill. At the bottom of the hill we see a wooden information board covered with a small roof; like the kind they have at trailheads in the US. We stop to read it and I squat down to rest my legs. When I try to get back up I can't, my legs are too tired to lift the extra weight of my pack. I ask T to grab the top of my pack and pull up at the count of three. At three, I push with my legs and she lifts the pack up enough that I manage to stand up.

After we reach the monastery and check in we are lead to the top floor and the room we will spend the night in. We pick our beds (metal bunkbeds) and then head for a shower. Later we walk over to a nearby restaurant and make reservations and pay for our dinner, which will be served after Mass at the church in the monastery. This is the Pilgrim's Mass and the blessing is given in seven languages. It is very moving. We leave joking that we are now "churched up", meaning we are now blessed and protected until we get to the Pilgrim's Mass in Santiago.

Friday, February 07, 2003

Dream Walking

September 26, 2001
Paris-St. Jean clear/warm
0/0 - 0/0

After breakfast we take the subway to the train station. My sister and brother-in-law wait with me until the train's departure track is announced and then walk me to my car. I can see my sister is upset and saddened by my departure, something I understand since I feel a little anxious myself. Watching them walk away makes me feel very lonesome.

Train travel in Europe is marvelous. The train I am on is a high speed TGV that travels at around 186 mph. Five hours after I leave Paris I am in Bayonne. When I step down from the train I panic. What am I doing? I am by myself in a country where I don't speak the language and heading for another country where I don't know the language well enough to feel comfortable speaking it. I have never felt so alone in my life. Change in plan. I will take the next train back to Paris and spend the next five weeks hanging out at my sister's house.

By the time I walk into the train station I have calmed down enough to know that I am not going back to Paris. When I get to the ticket agent I realize I don't know how to ask for a ticket to St. Jean in French. I pull out my guidebook and find the page that has the words St. Jean-Pied-De-Port written on it and point to them saying, "Por va vor?" The woman nods and hands me a ticket for St. Jean. I say thank you in English and she says you are welcome in English and we both laugh.

I sit down thinking I'll have to wait awhile for the next train to St. Jean because there is no one in the train station except me. I look around for the train information board and see that the next train is at 3:04P on Track 2. Then I look for a clock and see that it reads 3:01P. Yikes! I get up and start hurriedly for Track 2. I have to go through an underground tunnel and when I reach the top of the steps to Platform 2, I see a small single car electric train that looks like it was designed by Warner Brother cartoonists in the 1940's. It is plump with bulbous corners and painted bright red.

The car is full and I end up sitting on a jump seat facing all the other passengers. I sit there looking at but not seeing everyone else and wonder where they are going. I suddenly notice that everyone else is wearing hiking boots-just like me, have backpacks-just like me, and are dressed-just like me. All of them are going to walk the Camino. I am surprised because I did not expect many people to be walking this time of year. The ride up to St. Jean is great. The warm weather (all the windows are open) and the mountains we are travelling through remind me of cruising through the foothills outside Denver on a summer day.

When we get to St. Jean, one of the buckles that hold my backpack straps tight falls to the ground as I get off the train. I pick it up, take it and my pack over to a bench behind the train station and fix it. When I look up I am alone. Jeez, this day is just full of little panic jolts. I rush to the front of the station and see two backpacks disappearing around a corner, across the plaza and up the street. By the time I get there the people connected to the backpacks have vanished. A woman is walking down the street toward me so I ask her (in my simple Spanish) where the tourist office is. She does not understand me so I repeat the words tourist office and her face lights up in understanding. She walks me up a narrow street and points up another street to a stone archway and then gestures to the left. I understand that I am to go under the archway and then turn left. I do as she tells me and end up in front of the Association Amis Les du Saint Jacques office; meeting some of the people from the train.

At the office I get a Credencial del Peregrino, which is a pilgrim passport, and pay for a bed at the refugio. The passport is a long strip of thick paper accordion folded into seven pages. The front page has a drawing of a cockleshell, while the back page has a map of the Camino route. My passport is number 5580. Each refugio I stay at will put a stamp in my passport.

After we are all checked in, we are lead to the refugio where we will spend the night. It is a stone building and the last house at the end of the street, connected to the house beside it.. All the houses on both sides of the street are like this, centuries old townhouses. We go through a massive wooden door and into an entryway that has a set of stairs on the right, a wide set of stone steps leading down to a lower level in front of us, and a door to the left that leads to a large sitting room where there is a huge wooden table taking up most of the space. We go through this room's French doors and into a narrow hallway that connects to another hallway in a L shape. The room we are sleeping is right at the point where the two lines in the L meet. This room is large with a high ceiling and has a tall window set in the wall directly across from the door. To the left are four sets of bunkbeds. We each pick out a bed and then introduce ourselves. There is T from Mexico, B from German, P from Belgium, and a couple from France. Except for the couple from France we all speak English. T has lived in Denver, which makes her seem like someone from home.

B asks me if I have a sleeping bag. Everyone else has a large backpack with the sleeping bag tied to the outside. They are carrying the kind of pack I used when I did wilderness backpacking and planned on being gone for a week. To show B my sleeping bag I have to pull everything out of my pack, the sleeping bag is at the bottom. I pull out a pair of pants, a long-sleeved shirt, a light fleece pullover, a hat, two pairs of undies, two sports bras, two pairs of socks, a swimmer's towel, a plastic bag with toilet articles, a rain poncho, my ultra light sleeping bag, and my ultra light sleep mat. I also have a pair of sunglasses, a pair of flip flops, a tin whistle, a throwaway camera, a school notebook with half the pages torn out, a pen, a small flashlight, a water bottle, a few little packs of high energy goop, my guidebook, a Spanish phrase book, my passport, a credit card, a ATM card, and some money. B is worried that the sleeping bag won't be warm enough but I think it will be fine. Keeping the weight down was very important to me, and I even plan to tear pages out of my guidebook as I go alone. I know the pack is going to feel heavier the longer I carry it.

In the few hours we have before the door to the refugio is closed for the night we go out to buy food for the walk over the Pyrenees tomorrow, and to eat dinner. Later, as I lay in my bunk, comfortable in my sleeping bag, I think about how far away from home I am and wonder why I am here intending to walk 500 miles across Spain.