Friday, May 16, 2003

A Journey Of A Thousand Miles

Stay with me. The journey isn't over. What's happened since I got back from Spain is as incredible as what happened on the Camino walk.

Thursday, May 15, 2003

October 31, 2001
French border- The Netherlands (sunny/cooler)

My last night on this journey turns out to be like my first. I am awakened in the night by my bladder. A full bladder is hard to ignore while lying in a stationary bed and it is impossible to ignore in a bed that is being jiggled by the motion of a moving train. This time I manage to make it to the bathroom and back without any injuries.

When we arrive in Paris I realize the only money I have is in Spanish pesetas. I need French francs for the subway ride to the next train station. I am worried that I do not have time to exchange my money. I am also worried that the exchange booth here at this station is not open yet. As I walk down the platform I can see Ian and R waiting for me at the other end. Ian wants to make sure I get to the Metro station so he and R walk me there. On the way I ask him if he has any French francs that he can give me in exchange for the pesetas. He gives me 20 francs and tells me to keep the pesetas; I can exchange them later. At the Metro entrance I give Ian and R hugs goodbye and thank them for all the have done for me. As I watch them walk away I realize I have been fortunate to meet wonderful people on this trip and I know I will remember them the rest of my life.

The Metro ride to Gare du Nord station is quicker than I expect and when I get there I have enough time to find a cafe and have a light breakfast. After I eat I walk over to the big board that lists all train destinations, departure tracks, and times. This thing is huge, at least 12 feet tall and works mechanically. In front of it are rows of seats attached to rows of bars. The seats are like stiff swing set seats and they flip forward after you stand up. I sit down and examine the board, looking for my train and track. As I watch, the information starts changing. Each bit of information is listed on a placard. One placard for destination, three for track number, two for the hour, and two for the minutes. The placards start flipping and the effect is a waterfall of changing bits of information cascading down toward the bottom of the board. The placards flip so quickly that they sound like hundreds of BB's rolling off a metal roof. The whole thing is mesmerizing.

I and other passengers sit in tense silence watching the board, waiting. When is it going to change again? Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Then the BB's start rolling and, when the new information appears, some people get up and rush away to find their trains. No one looks at them; we just sit and watch the board waiting for the next change and the chance to find out if our trains will be the next ones listed. This is almost as suspenseful as waiting for the outcome of the Kentucky Derby. Finally my train is listed and I jump up and hurry to the departure track.

The trip to Maastricht is a blur of getting on and off trains, with each successive train being smaller than the one before. By the time I pull into Maastricht I am on an elevated small electric trolley and very tired. On the last two trains I was worried I would miss my stop and my connecting trains. But I make it to Maastricht and get off the train and start walking down the stairs from the platform to the station. People are hurrying up and down the stairs, some passing me on their way down.

All of a sudden I hear my name and my sister is standing right in front of me on the stairs. Then the strangest thing happens, I realize that I saw her before she reached me but I did not recognize her until she spoke to me. I stare at her feeling nothing. Not numb, nothing. I don't feel happiness. I don't feel joy. Nothing. I am totally disconnected; it is like I am looking at a stranger. It is like I don't know how to feel emotions anymore. Am I that tired?

After we get in the car my sister hands me a container of pasta salad that she has made for me. I eat it and after I am finished I feel better and not so disconnected. It feels good to be sitting next to her and riding in a car again. By the time we reach her house the disconnected feeling has disappeared and I am grateful that she is here with me and that I am here with her. I am also grateful my journey is over.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Blog Break

I just found out a family friend died late last night; Bill Parsons. He had been in declining health the last few years so his death was not a surprise but it still saddens me to write these words. Bill was the father of one of my husband's closest friends. My husband knew Bill since he and Bill's son, Rob, met in junior high school. I met Bill when I started dating my husband about 17 years ago. I like him, he was interesting to talk to. What I remember the most is his stories. He told me about being an Army pilot in WWII. About flying for United in the late 40's, early 50's. About growing up in south Denver during the Depression. One story I liked was about having fun as a teenager with very little money. He and his friends bought two watermelons for a nickle a piece, some sodas, and then took their dates, a gramophone and some records, to the tennis courts in Washington Park and danced the hot summer night away. He told me what it was like to be the principal of George Washington High School in 60's when the times were so chaotic. Another story was about going on a fishing trip with a group of other school principals and how it rained so hard that they spent most the trip in the camper.

A few years after I met Bill my sister got married and her new in-laws had a party at their house. Chuck, my sister's new father-in-law, started telling a story about a fishing trip he had taken and I remember thinking I've heard this story before. I had, it was the same story Bill had told me. Chuck and Bill knew each other. Small world. A couple of years after this Chuck died. By this time he was also my niece's grandfather. Now ten years later, Bill is gone too.

I believe the connections we make in this life continue when we reach the other side. So, Bill when you see Chuck, tell him I said hello. Chuck when you run into Bill, give him a helping hand, he's a new guy you know.

Sunday, May 11, 2003

October 30, 2001
Santiago- French border (sunny)

Got up an hour late this morning because my alarm did not go off. I still woke early enough to walk to the train station. I was going to take a taxi but I decided that since I walked into Santiago, I should leave the same way by walking as far as I can. When I get to the station I see Ian and R and two of the German guys. We are all catching the train to the border. The train leaves on time and I settle in for a long ride. I have a book to read, drinks, and food and snacks to eat.

As the train moves through the countryside I think how it seems to be ages ago that I walked though this same countryside in the opposite direction. We leave Santiago at 902A and we arrive in Ponferrada four hours and 21 minutes later. It took us seven days to walk the same distance. At 238P we stop in Astorga, a nine-day walk from Santiago. At 314P we reach Leon; 11 days from Santiago. About a half hour later we are in Sahagun; 13 days from Santiago and two-day walk from here back to Leon. We arrive at Burgos about an hour and a half later at 503P, 17 days from Santiago. It had taken us four days to walk from here to Sahagun. I have a hard time wrapping my mind around this information. My walk is being reversed at a speed that is frightening to me. I have a crazy thought that by traveling back over the same ground I am erasing my walk. I want off the train but of course I stay on. After Brugos the train starts heading in a more northeasterly direction away from the Camino and this calms me down.

The rest of the ride to Hendaye passes slowly and at one point I pull out my map of Santiago and examine it, still trying to understand it. All of a sudden something clicks and I see how the map is laid out and where certain streets are relative to others. Seven years ago my husband and I moved to a little town in Kansas from Denver. Since then I have always wondered why we picked this town. As I look at the map I find the street that my hotel was on and see the street's name is the same as the town I live in now. Is this why we moved to this town, so I could begin and end this walk at the same place?

We arrive in Hendaye at 850P and follow a yellow line that leads to customs as the recorded announcement tells us. The only thing, there is no customs and we walk through without stopping and into the train station. The train to Paris does not leave until 1045P so Ian and R, and I sit down to wait. The German guys have different trains to catch, and we say goodbye to them here. The two hours pass slowly and I am hungry but there is nothing open at this hour. Then Ian saves my life and pulls our a cream cheese and onion sandwich on dark bread and offers it to me. Thank you Ian.

Later they announce that the train to Paris is ready for boarding so we walk to our cars. Ian is surprised to find out that I am not in the same car as he and R and I say goodbye when we reach their car. Ian says they will see me in Paris. I walk on to my car and climb up. I am in a bunk sleeping car. Each room has six bunks, three on each side, and when I find my room I see that I am the first one there and that I can pick any bunk I want. I look around and see that there is storage space behind the upper bunks so I pick one of those and climb up and put my backpack in the storage area. I also try to put my walking stick there but it does not fit so I lay it on my bunk and climb down.

Soon the other passengers show up. Four people and a baby. The baby belongs to an African couple and is no more than two months old. The other people are two Spanish men traveling together. The couple take the two bottom bunks and the men take the two bunks above them. The baby is awake and starts fussing. The father says something to the baby in a sharp voice but the baby keeps making fussing noises. I say to the baby, "You're to pretty to have Daddy talk to you like that. Tell him, 'That's no way to talk to me. I'm to pretty'." The baby quiets down and looks at me while I am saying this and after I stop talking, she stares at me a little longer and then starts fussing again. We all laugh.

The two other men and I have been standing in the hallway and, when the train starts moving, we go into the room and climb into our bunks. I am relieved to have no one in the bunk across from me because it give me more breathing room. As I wiggle into the cotton sleeping bag that has been provided, I am thankful that I spent the extra money for a bunk instead of sitting up all night. I will sleep better lying down. Tomorrow I will wake up in Paris.

Monday, May 05, 2003

October 29, 2001
Santiago (sunny)

After the pilgrim's breakfast at the hotel with B, Z AE, AG, and L (the French girl), MC and I walk to the train station. We stop at the English bookstore and I buy a book for the train. When we get to the station we find an office that helps travelers plan their train trips. You just tell them where you want to go to and they will figure out how to get you there. When I reach the counter I tell the man sitting behind it I want to go to Masstricht in the Netherlands. He makes a quick grunting noise and picks up a paperbound book of train schedules and flips through it. Why do I have the feeling that this is going to turn into the same experience I had at the Pilgrim Office.? He sets the book down and gets a key out of his pocket, pushes his chair over to a side cabinet, unlocks the door, and pulls out a laptop computer. He works at the computer for about ten minutes, writes for another five minutes, and then hands me a stack of tickets.

I leave Santiago tomorrow morning at 900A and arrive at the Spanish/French border town of Hendaye at 850P. Then at 1045P I board the overnight train to Paris arriving in Paris at 710A the next morning. Since I have to go to another Paris train station to continue my journey, I hop on the Metro to the Gare du Nord station. When I get there I will catch another train to Lille, Flanders that leaves at 858A and arrives at Lille at 1000A. Then I catch the 1025A train to Liege, Belgium, arriving at 100P, where I connect with my last train, the 119P train to Masstricht, arriving in Masstricht at 149P, where my sister will pick me up. The man has been kind enough to write this information out as a time line, all the destination points across the top of the paper, with the arrival and departure times underneath. Just look at this schedule makes my tired.

When we get back to the old city we meet some of the others for lunch at a cafe on the Plaza de Quintana behind the Cathedral. While we are talking J comes up and sits down looking very subdued. We all say hello to him. He is very quiet. Someone mentions that the airfares to Paris are very cheap. I put my hands over my ears and say, "I don't want to hear this. I just bought train tickets." J looks surprised and asks, 'We aren't going to drive back?" I tell him no that I want to get back to my sister's at quick as I can. He looks disappointed. Being a coward, I say nothing about how what happened last night has affected my decision. Later J tells B and me that he is leaving today to go to the airport and pick up a car to drive to Paris. We tell him we will meet him at the hotel when it is time for him to leave. We are both sorry that he thinks he has to leave earlier ( we all planned to leave tomorrow).

This afternoon I spend some time getting souvenirs for my family, calling my sister to let her know what time I will be arriving in Masstrict, buying food for the train, and walking around the old city. I still get lost because I have not figured out how to read the map I carry around. This is because I cannot get sense of which direction I am facing at anytime. I grew up in Denver, Colorado with the Rocky Mountains to the west and those mountains had a big influence on my sense of direction. Since I always knew where west was, I also knew which direction I was heading at anytime. Without the mountains to anchor me I am always getting lost. The other reason I am having difficulty with reading the map is because I have not figured out what street my hotel is on. All I know is that if I turn left after leaving the hotel I will reach the Plaza in front of the Cathedral.

I hang out in the Plaza in front of the Cathedral for part of the afternoon and see the Swiss boys, Ian and R, an Australian girl, F, who we crossed paths with along the way, and Tony. Tony is with the Swiss boys. When I go to congratulate them for making it to Santiago, Tony ignores me. How amusing.

After I see F I go back to the hotel with B where we meet J and start walking back to the Cathedral. He asks us to join him for a last cup of tea at a little bar near the hotel. We sit and share out last cups of tea together and then continue to the Plaza. When we reach the archway/tunnel at the side of the church we say goodbye. B and I watch for a minute as J walks away and then turn and make our way to the Plaza. B say she feel she should have walked J to the Camino Gate but we decide that since we did not meet until we each reached St. Jean, it is only right that we all go our own way when we each leave Santiago. B is catching a bus in the morning. We picked up her tickets at the bus station when we went to the Mall.

Our last meal together is a communal affair with, B, me, Z, AE, AG, MC, F, and a couple of other pilgrims we have met. After dinner we stop at a bar and have farewell drinks. We toast our first and last days on the walk. Then the party breaks up because the people staying in the refugio have to get back before the doors are locked for the night. B and I walk back toward the Cathedral and when we reach the tunnel I pull out the tin whistle I have been carrying. Everyday I have seen different musicians play for money while standing in the tunnel. They have all sounded great because of the acoustics of the space. When I heard them I made up my mind to play Amazing Grace here. I decided to do it tonight because it is my last night, and also because I knew no one would be around. So I play, and I sound good, and it is as fun as I thought it would be. After I am done B walks with me to my hotel and we say goodbye. As I watch her walk down the street I feel sad. We came together effortlessly at the beginning in St. Jean and we seem to be leaving Santiago the same way. This adds to the dream like feel of the walk for me.

Thursday, May 01, 2003

October 28, 2001
Santiago (cloudy/rain)

When I wake up this morning I can hear the amplified voice of an announcer and music from down the street bleeding through my window. I also hear the sound of crowds of people walking by on the street in front of the hotel. We are going to attend Mass this morning and when I get to the Plaza, on the way to the church, I find a foot race in progress with the Plaza being used as the start and finish line. Many people, some of them runners holding bottles of water, are milling around.

Going to Mass in the Cathedral is like going to Mass at Disney World. The place is packed. People are walking up and down the aisles taking picture and videos of the church, while other people sitting in the pews and participating in the Mass do the same. Behind the priest I can see a line of people making their way up the steps to hug the statute of St. James; it's one ritual done after completing the walk. Add to that the noise of the race in progress outside and you have a real circus atmosphere.

When we leave the Cathedral after Mass the race is over and it is quieter outside. As we make our way down the front steps we seem to be going against the flow of most of the traffic. At the bottom of the stairs I see why. There is a wedding party making its way up the stairs to the church. As I reach the bottom of the steps, but before I can step through the iron gate that leads to the Plaza, I come face to face with the bride and groom. I cannot believe how young they are. They are both dressed in traditional costume. The bride is wearing a white peasant type blouse under a sleeveless jumper. The jumper has an embroidered bodice and a wide black skirt that poofs out because of the petticoats underneath it. She is also wearing white stockings and black Mary Jane type shoes. The groom is dressed like a Hasidic Jew from the diamond district in New York City. He wears a black suit, a white shirt buttoned to the collar, and black shoes and socks. He also wears a black hat that sets squarely on his head. The bride has her left arm through the groom's right arm and the hand on her other arm is placed on her hip in such a way that her elbow juts out. They walk through the gate standing very erect and move with a dignified air about them. As they get closer I see it is the groom who has the dignified attitude. The bride is trying to be dignified but she is so happy and excited that her feelings telegraph through her eyes and her body vibrates. The groom has grown a skimpy beard to look older. He also has a very solemn look on his face but this only makes him look like a ten year old child dressed up in his Daddy's suit. As I watch them climb the stairs I wish them a silent, " Mazel Tov".

Tonight a group of us, J, B, AE, AG, M from Canada (MC), a woman and man that MC knows, a man AG knows, and me, meet in a cafe for drinks and then we plan to go out to dinner. While we are sitting there Z walks in, she noticed us as she was walking by, and I get up and walk over to her and give her a hug. I was not sure she would make it to Santiago since she was having problems with her feet the last time we saw her. I have been glad to see everyone but seeing Z is a real treat just because she is another American. How chauvinistic of me. She decides to join us for dinner.

The restaurant we find is family run and very welcoming. The woman who greet us does not bat an eye when ten people show up early for dinner, she just starts putting tables together to form one long table for us. Dinner is enjoyable until we notice how drunk J is. He is sitting next to Z and has started to get a little too friendly and is hanging on her. I can tell Z is uncomfortable with this. Every other word out of his mouth is a swear word and when he does string a group of non-swear words together he does not make any sense. We are baffled by his behavior. I for one cannot understand how he got so drunk so fast. Then he leaves the table and goes to the bar and I watch him down a drink. Now I see, he has been leaving the table through out the meal and I guess each time he did he went to the bar and had a drink. One person at the table who does not know J makes a comment about how obnoxious he is and we who know him say this is not normal behavior and that we don't understand why he is acting this way.

When J comes back something happens that has never happened before at any dinner I have had in Spain. Usually after we are through eating we sit and talk for a bit. This time, almost as one, people stand up and start putting money on the table and leaving. When we get outside everyone heads off in different directions. J follows B, MC, and me, as we head back to our rooms. As we walk down the street I walk a little behind B and MC and J walks a little way behind me. At some point J turns off and heads to another bar. When I catch up to B and MC we talk about J, wondering what has happened. J and I have been playing with the idea of driving back to Paris over the route we walked but after tonight I don't want to do this. I don't trust him anymore and I know if he gets drunk like this on our drive I will feel responsible for him and I don't want that responsibility. MC says she is going to the train station tomorrow to buy train tickets; she plans to leave in a couple of days. I decide to go with her to buy tickets for the train to Paris. All of a sudden all I want to do is get back to my sister's house as soon as possible. I'm tired and I want to go home.