The Art of Le贸n

Adi贸s Leon! Time to hitch up my giddy-up and get back on the trail. The rest did me a world of good. Sometimes doing absolutely nothing is the best medicine.

At sunrise this morning

After doing my laundry at a local lavandaria, I laid in bed, watched terrible tv, and took a hundred naps. For dinner last night I ordered up Glovo and had a poke bowl. Heaven. I miss having food delivery on the farm, so I took advantage of being in Leon to scratch that itch.

Knowing yesterday would be a true rest day, I did my tourist stuff in the old city. Touring the Leon cathedral, which I have never done before. And hitting a couple of other churches and museums.

It鈥檚 a massive building. Remarkably, this enormous gothic church was built in just a few decades, rather than the centuries it took other cathedral construction to be completed. An enormous undertaking considering there were only 5,000 people residing in Le贸n at the time.

So I hit the most iconic tourist attraction in the city, and got a stamp for my efforts. But what I didn鈥檛 notice the first time I came to Le贸n was that this is a city of art. And it is quite literally everywhere. And that isn鈥檛 hyperbole. It鈥檚 every 50 meters. So much to see.

I was walking to the lavandaria (laundromat) and passed a carneceria (meat market) when I noticed they weren鈥檛 just selling meat. The place was chock full of paintings and sculptures.

So you can purchase some lamb chops or jam贸n. And, oh yeah, a side of art. I love it! The butcher and his wife were very friendly and they showed me their other pieces. Sadly, I told them none of it would fit in my backpack and they laughed. But were happy to hear I live in Galicia and will be back.

Le贸n deserves more than the attention of a tired Pilgrim. A long weekend here is in my future. With a stop off at my now favorite meat market for a haunch of art! Until next time, Le贸n.

Meet Me Where I Am

Walkimg the Camino, right out of the gate you can watch some Pilgrims view this as a race. Which is entirely foolish. There will always be people in front of you. And there are new Pilgrims starting every day, in every city, all along the route. Who is in first place would be impossible to determine. And ridiculous.

But competition drives some people. And I am not immune. I鈥檝e met people who pride themselves in walking 45k a day. Only to hear they dropped out in Logro帽o or Burgos. The Camino is 鈥榯oo difficult.鈥 Or they injured themselves. But for those 10 days they were the talk of the trail. 鈥楾hat guy is amazing!鈥

A woman on one of those online Camino groups once chastised me for being nervous before my first Camino. 鈥業t鈥檚 just a big long walk! Grow up!鈥 But I don鈥檛 know what Camino she walked, or where she started because 鈥榓 big long walk鈥 couldn鈥檛 be further from the truth. Young or old.

A Camino is an entirely individual experience, even if you are walking with other people. Your challenges are not their challenges. You bring your entire history with you, including in your pack. As a wise woman once told me 鈥榃e pack our fears.鈥 Often carrying solutions for potential problems that never occur. But we pay for trying to anticipate 鈥榳hat-ifs鈥 in weight. And our bodies feel every ounce over the course of hundreds of miles.

This time I have kept my pack lighter. And the weight low. But I packed something I didn鈥檛 in 2017 – Expectations. And expectations are a dangerous thing.

Five years ago I didn鈥檛 know what to expect. So I was free to experience it all with fresh eyes. It would be what it would be. A liberating experience. But this time I knew what to expect. And I鈥檝e discovered my desire for goal setting to be a hinderance rather than an asset.

I am not the person I was five years ago, on any level, but certainly physically. And it鈥檚 taken me nearly three weeks to come to terms with that. By this time in Leon, Emilie and I could do 30-35k a day. Without trouble. And it was at 35-40C. Easy. This time it鈥檚 -5 when I walk out the door in the morning. But it鈥檚 not just the cold that is different. Sure, I am stronger than three weeks ago, but I can鈥檛 do 30km a day. And I need more rest.

Jeff and I talk every day. We agreed to meet in Ponferrada this Saturday. It鈥檚 my north star and I鈥檝e been pushing to make it. I looked at the elevation map and charted out my daily rate. Even as my legs ached more each day. I needed rest days but I didn鈥檛 take them. My eyes were on Leon. The knee would have thanked me. But last night I looked at it all again and called Jeff.

鈥業鈥檓 pretty tired. I鈥檓 not sure I鈥檒l make it to Ponferrada by Saturday. So you might not want to come.鈥

I have to go over Cruz de Ferro four days from Leon. And down the steepest descent of the Camino since Romcesvalles, where I injured my knee. I felt dejected.

Jeff laughed. 鈥榊ou know I have the car. I can meet you on Saturday wherever you are.鈥

It was then that it struck me. I need to stop comparing myself to myself of five years ago. Creating artificial goals and expectations that are often just out of my reach. Only to feel bad if I can鈥檛 make it on that day, or don鈥檛 measure up. And the funny thing is, no one is doing this to me but me.

A Pilgrim friend said goodbye to me yesterday. When she hugged me she smiled. 鈥楻emember, we just walked nearly 300 miles. Enjoy your rest day. Maybe take another one. You鈥檙e doing great.鈥 It made me teary. I am doing great.

Jeff鈥檚 words were the first thing I thought of this morning. He鈥檒l meet me wherever I am. After almost 300 miles, maybe it鈥檚 time I meet myself there, as well.

Hola! Leon

Deep breath. I made it to Leon. I鈥檓 just a smidge over 300k to Santiago. And even less to walking through the gate at home. My friend, Amy, predicted it would get harder for me the closer I got to Galicia.

A cold morning in Mansilla de las Mulas

鈥榊ou鈥檒l want to push yourself. Or just get on a bus. The pull of your own bed will be tough to resist.鈥

I scoffed at this idea. I鈥檝e walked this before. The closer I got to the end, the slower I wanted to go. But now that I am in Leon I see her point.

Taken by my friend, Engelien

Walking yesterday looking up at those mountains ahead, all I could think about was Just two mountains left and I鈥檓 practically home. Portomarin is due south of Bricomart in Lugo. Jeff could swing by on his way home from the hardware store. Stop this, Kelli! <slap slap> We have some walking yet to do. Get a grip on yourself! That gate will come up fast after O Cebreiro.

After walking the Meseta, I鈥檓 taking two nights in Leon. I know I said it was mandatory to stay at a Parador hotel in any town or city that boasts one. But then I went to book my room and I discovered a hidden gem in Leon. It鈥檚 like The Parador but without the branding. And it鈥檚 amazing.

The Hotel Real Colegiata San Isidoro is everything The Parador used to be before it went corporate. A lovely hotel in an old cloister, the art and architecture are stunning. And the rooms are fully remodeled. On this very, very cold day, the warmth of the room has me pushing my laundry doings out until tomorrow. Tonight, I will hunker down and elevate my knee. And enjoy. Here are just a few photos.

I absolutely love Leon. The honey colored buildings. The old wall. Before settling in I enjoyed just my second glass of wine on the entire Camino. And I closed my eyes and savored it in the sun. No walking tomorrow. A bit of chores and a nap are on the agenda. Regrouping and allowing my muscles to rest.

Jessica (US), Liam (UK), and Martin (Ireland).

Walking to the hotel, I saw Pilgrim friends, some of whom are stopping in Leon. They鈥檒l finish in Fall or next year. Bitter sweet, but I hope we will meet again. I guess that is always the way. Martin, the funniest person I鈥檝e ever met, says we will 鈥榙efinitely meet up again.鈥

鈥楬ow鈥檚 that!鈥 I asked him.

鈥楧on鈥檛 you know, Kelli. You鈥檙e famous. I鈥檒l find ya.鈥

He never clarified what he meant. Perhaps he meant infamous. 馃槈 But, oh well. The Camino really is like life. Filled with beginnings and endings. A series of hanging on and letting go. There are people pushing on tomorrow towards Astorga. But there are others coming up behind me that I haven鈥檛 seen for awhile. They鈥檒l be in Leon by lunchtime.

Just last night I went to the Pilgrim meal in Mansilla. It appeared to be the only one in town, so no matter where you were staying, that was your food source. Walking in was like being Norm at Cheers. Voices raised in greeting 鈥楰elli!鈥 And who did I see there? THE bully from the Albergue on my second night on the Camino. She smiled and waved. Then she fisted bumped me. 鈥業ts good to see you!鈥 I took a good look at her and truly, she is not the same person I met more than two weeks ago. The hard edges were gone. Her face was wide and open. A genuine smile. And I smiled back. I鈥檓 so happy for her. Because that鈥檚 why we walk. It鈥檚 what the Camino is all about. A physical manifestation of the idea that redemption is available to all of us. Its just that sometimes it requires facing the pain and walking through it anyway. I can鈥檛 think if a more noble endeavor.

What Just Happened Here?

Today I cracked the code. Where our house is situated on the Camino Frances gives us a view into two types of Pilgrims. The Sarria walker – those who do the last 100k to get the Compostela. And the long hauler – those who started in St Jean or even further back. Perhaps in their own country. And they are very different Peregrinos by the time they pass our gate.

The Sarria walker is still meeting people by kilometer marker 59, and still telling their story. It only takes 5鈥6 days from Sarria to Santiago. Sort of makes sense. But the long hauler is done telling their story somewhere near Burgos. By the time they are in the last 5 days they are silent when they pass by our house. Even longhaulers walking together barely speak to each other. And they don鈥檛 speak to the Sarria walkers. There is almost an invisible line between them. They can鈥檛 possibly relate. Their experience is so vastly different. As a general rule, long haulers are comfortable with silence.

I am a long hauler, just one day from Leon, and I am done telling my story. But what happened to the strong silent type? Stereotypically, women have the reputation for being more verbal than men. But on this Camino it鈥檚 the exact opposite.

There are days I want to put a sign on my backpack Happy to walk with you. But less talking, por favor. If someone talks, then I have to talk. And I am tired of my own story and my own voice. And there are days I really want to be alone.

Today I was able to walk nearly the entire way alone. Heaven. And it was snowing.

After yesterday鈥檚 misadventure I had leg cramps all night. I barely slept, so I set my course for the tiny village of Religios. That鈥檚 as far as I could get today. But when I limped into town the place was shut up tight. No cafes or Albergues open. This has been the biggest challenge this time. Nothing is open.

A lady came out of her house in her pajamas and confirmed my assessment. Then she pointed me to her pop up store and asked if I wanted a bocadillo (sandwich). I graciously declined but asked if she had a number for a taxi. Five minutes passed. Then her husband came out of the pop up sandwich shop and asked me if I wanted a bocadillo. I, again, graciously declined and asked if he had a number for a taxi. He went back inside. Then a few minutes later a few more guys came out of the pop up sandwich shop. The place was too small to fit all those people in there. It was like a clown car.

I decided they would call me a taxi quicker if I bought something so I went inside and purchased potato chips. Then I went back out and sat on the bench. Sure enough, my potato chip purchase greased the skids. The guy came out and told me vente minutos (20 minutes) until the taxi arrived. Behind him, two more guys came out of the sandwich shop carrying bocadillos. I was just in there, alone, in a place the size of our bathroom. Where they were hiding these bocadillo customers, I have no idea.

One guy sat down on the bench beside me and offered me half his sandwich. I graciously declined, holding up the potato chips I had no intention of eating. His espa帽ol was difficult for me to understand. After his 37th question I apologized and said I don鈥檛 have any Spanish. I was tired and just wanted to wait for my taxi in peace. But my lack of Spanish <wink wink> was, sadly, not a deterrent. He talked incessantly, gesticulating wildly with crumbs flying from his mouth. I moved farther down the bench to avoid the gluten shower. He didn鈥檛 take the hint. Every time he asked a question I gave him the old chestnut 鈥楴o entiendo.鈥 <I don鈥檛 understand> So he pulled the old standby – shout at the person louder, and it will break the language barrier. Guaranteed. He asked me where I was staying in Mansilla – the next village – but I shrugged. I didn鈥檛 have a reservation. Then he proceeded to try to get me to stay where he was staying. I pretended not to understand, while furiously booking a room on my phone, somewhere else, so I could give the taxi driver an exact location.

It was getting old when the taxi pulled up. I threw my bag and poles in the way back. Then got in. Suddenly the opposite door opened and the shouting sandwich guy got in, too. What the HELL? This was my taxi. <eye roll> Whatever.

The two men immediately started talking futbol. I soon realized that the shouting sandwich guy was from Argentina. Which is why it was very difficult for me to understand him. The two of them had a heated argument. And then it got ugly.

The Argentinian made a nasty comment about Spanish politics. It turns out he is a communist and this did not sit well with the taxi driver, who I was pretty sure would stop the car at any moment, and this situation might devolve into fisticuffs. If we hadn鈥檛 been wearing masks they both would have seen me looking towards heaven asking out loud en ingles. 鈥榃hat the fuck is this?!? 鈥 I swear to you, God is usually laughing her ass off when it comes to me.

Soon we were pulling up in front of my hotel, which I knew was not where the Argentinian communist sandwich spitter was staying, because he told me back on the bench in the village. I got out to get my bag and asked the driver how much I owed him. He said that the Argentinian had paid. 鈥楴o no no鈥 I told him. But he waved me away. So I approached the Argentinian and asked how much I owed him. He said Nada. Then he stood outside the door of the hotel with me. But it was thankfully locked. My Pilgrim friend, Alma, happened to be standing right outside and she was surprised to see me there with the Argentinian, who should be moving on to his own accommodation by now.

鈥榃ho鈥檚 the guy?鈥 She asked.

I laughed. 鈥楢pparently, he鈥檚 a lot of things. Don鈥榯 ask. And don鈥檛 engage him in conversation. It won鈥檛 end well.鈥

She looked around me and frowned. 鈥業s he staying here?鈥

鈥楴o鈥 I told her while trying to ignore him.

鈥業s he coming inside?鈥

鈥楬e might think he is. He paid for the taxi that I called and he invited himself to join. It cost 鈧10.鈥

鈥楢nd does he think he鈥檚 getting something for that?鈥 She frowned.

I looked over my shoulder and he was still standing there. 鈥業 don鈥檛 know. I鈥檓 a lot of things, but a 鈧10 hooker isn鈥檛 one of them.鈥

Just then a Dutch couple we both know walked up, smiling. They were staying there, too. And the proprietor was with them. As she unlocked the front door, I said Adios! to the Argentinian communist and darted inside. Alma followed, shaking her head. 鈥榊ou have the strangest experiences.鈥 She observed. She鈥檚 known me for less than a week. I didn鈥檛 want to say it but, truly, she has no idea.

Saved by the Fates

The world is a strange and curious place. Sometimes hard things lead to wonderful coincidences.

Today I woke up in Ledigos at a nice Albergue in a private room. I have a weird history with this place from my walk in 2017. Back then, a very weird scary guy stayed on the bunk next to me. The kind of man that wouldn鈥檛 take no for an answer on many levels. He did so many strange aggressive things towards me before going to bed I didn鈥檛 sleep all night. I refused to leave the Albergue with him in the early hours of a June morning. But he left, then came back three times, begging, then berating me for refusing to leave with him in the dark. I pretended to repack my pack. Then waited until a nice Slovenian couple emerged. They saw I was distressed. I was shaking when we all set off in the dark with our head lamps on. Sure that guy was out there somewhere.

I won鈥檛 lie. This morning as I was walking out of that village all alone, I looked over my shoulder more than a few times, walking fast to catch up to visible back packs on the trail in front. Totally irrational since that was five years ago and that weird French guy is probably in jail back in France by now. This morning I called Jeff and woke him up from the trail.

鈥業 need you to talk to me for the next few kilometers.鈥 I explained where I was. He remembered the story of that guy from before. 鈥榊ou can read me the ingredients on a shampoo bottle. Anything. Just keep talking.鈥 He obliged.

I want to love this section before Saugun, but I can鈥檛. I stopped at the first place to get coffee. And was still unsettled. Then in walked Alma, an American Peregrina from North Carolina. We have been staying at many of the same places for the past week. Her presence calmed me down a bit. Then we walked together to Saugun and stopped for lunch.

Saugun is said to be the halfway point on the Camino Frances. But the math just doesn鈥檛 add up. I think its closer to Carrion. But, then, who cares?

After lunch, Alma and I walked together. 10k was all we had to do. Easy peasy. But then we went right, instead of left. A variant, better signed than the path we should have taken. Four miles in the wrong direction. My knees didn鈥檛 like it. And my feet liked it even less. We finally figured out that I need to listen to myself when I say 鈥業 don鈥檛 remember this from last time.鈥 We walked a few miles back to the last town we saw. To call a taxi. At 28km for the day I was done.

I spotted a young boy on a balcony and explained we needed help. He ran inside and came out with a girl and a woman. I explained we were lost and needed help getting a taxi to our Albergue – on the right route. The woman went inside. The little boy was fascinated with us. And there is a reason for that. He has only been in that house, in that town in Spain, for dos semanas (2 weeks). You heard that right. Because he is Ukrainian. Or as he told me Soy de Ukrania. And then his sister came out. This Spanish family is hosting the two sisters and their little brother as refugees. The children鈥檚 parents are still in Ukraine.

Alma and our young Hero

He was excited we are Americans. I told him he saved us by getting us help and he smiled big. Then high fived me. I said I was very upset because I have lived in Spain for four years and he has only been here for two weeks and his espa帽ol is better than mine. He laughed and seemed pleased with himself.

The taxi arrived and the whole family waved us away. Buen Camino! Alma and I are both safely landed in our accommodations for the night. What started out as a tough day ended with being saved by a boy who didn鈥檛 live in Spain when I was stepping on the train in Santiago in mid-March. But our fates twist and turn. It proves to me that with a helping hand, none of us are ever truly lost.

Friends – Please say a prayer 馃檹 for these children鈥檚 parents tonight.

Less Transaction and More Compassion

So many people have walked the Camino before. And they found it a transformational experience like I did. But after living in Spain, and being in the Meseta on the Camino Frances, as we speak, I think a few things are worth mentioning before Pilgrims arrive from all over the globe this double Xacabeo year.

One Thing After Another

Spain is not alone in being devastated by Covid. That鈥檚 not news. But the businesses along the Camino were decimated. I can鈥檛 tell you the number of business owners on this trek who have told me directly that they are on the brink. Most hosteler铆as or Albergues beg for pilgrims to leave Google reviews or TripAdvisor recommendations. 鈥楶lease. We need the help.鈥

Spain is not a tipping country. Sometimes you will insult people by tipping. That is no longer the case on this Camino. A generous tip is gratefully accepted. And it is not just because of Covid.

Electricity prices have gone up 500% in the past year. Our electricity bill at home is through the roof. All of the cafes I enter in the evenings have just a few lights burning. You are nearly eating in the dark. Some close when it gets dark to save on electricity. Many Albergues turn off the heat during the night. Its a tough time to survive through the winter, when making ends meet is nearly impossible.

There has been a truckers strike in Spain. Grocery store shelves were empty. The price of everything doubled or tripled. And that鈥檚 on top of the post- Covid global inflation. This effected Albergues trying to complete remodels before April 1st so they could open and make a living. But building supplies are hard to come by. And more expensive when they arrive. And if they open on time, fuel and food are sometimes difficult to get.

And then there is the war in Europe. If you think war in Ukraine doesn鈥檛 impact Spain, think again. Flour prices are skyrocketing. Pan used to cost nothing. Now it鈥檚 quadrupled. And bakeries are closing. They can no longer make a living.

Just know that Spain is under tremendous stress.

I say all this because I have listened to some Pilgrims complain on this journey. 鈥楾hese prices? They鈥檙e gouging us now. Taking advantage of the Pilgrims who come from the US. The Camino is going downhill. Its not like it was when I walked before in blah blah blah.鈥 And I want to scream at my fellow countrymen. 鈥楧o you understand what it is like for the people you meet in every town or village? The business owners? The shopkeepers? They are not gouging your arrogant self. They are trying to survive and put food on their tables. Stop bitching and start tipping. BIG! 鈥.

In my experience this trip, good Albergue prices are about 鈧5 more per night. Private rooms are 鈧10-20 more per night. Coffee will cost you. Sometimes an additional 鈧1. The menu del dia or Pilgrim meal will run you 鈧10-15. But the wine will still be unlimited. And breakfast can be as much as 鈧10 – for a good one.

It鈥檚 Not All Doom and Gloom

But the good news is that the kindness and sincerity you experienced from the people of Spain is still here waiting, and is unaffected by inflation or supply chains. The war has brought people together. Compassion costs nothing. And the Spanish have it in abundance.

So if you are planning a 2022 Camino. Traveling from far afield. Please bring your patience with you, and your compassion. Lets view each other as something other than customers and service providers. The lanuage may be different but we are all part of a global family. Sometimes we forget that.

Oh yeah, and bring a sleeping bag. Its cold in the Albergues with no heat. Snow is in the forecast for walking in the Meseta tomorrow. And as we all know, Galicia can surprise you with a cold front in the middle of summer. 馃槈

Mud, Music and Menthol

The Camino humbles the proudest Pilgrim. And it makes us laugh at ourselves.

Mud

After climbing up a mountain immediately after breakfast, today was miles and miles of mud. Chocolate pudding mud. No grit, so you slip and surf. Poles are your salvation. But it sticks to your boots, your gators and the legs of your pants like a plague you can not shake. My only similar experience was riding two up on Jeff鈥檚 motorcycle on The Dalton Highway to the Arctic Circle in Alaska. It took 11 hours round trip that day. Fighting mud and slop to stay upright.

I felt that way today. Along with everyone else. We are all caked in chocolate frosting. And drained. I look like I鈥檝e been rolling around in a pig pen.. If anyone ever asks me why I walked the Frances again I will be sure to tell them it is an entirely different experience this time. The Meseta is less desert with blazing sun in June, and more freezing Alaskan mud-pit in March. Its true, you can never dip your toe into the same river twice.

Music

My musical playlists are always controversial. As a former DJ in high school, my musical pairings drive Jeff bananas. As a result, I rarely play them on the stereo at home.

鈥榃hat is this mix of songs?! You can鈥檛 have Flo Rida next to Andre Bocelli. Its an auditory crime! You have to take the listener on a journey. Start out slow. Build up to something. Then you ease them to the end.鈥 He moans.

But I am the only listener and I disagree. Has the man never heard of shuffle? I like big music with a serious baseline. And I like to sing along. Rap, opera. It doesn鈥檛 matter. This Camino I have some theme music. Pink鈥檚 All I know So Far and Ava Max Kings & Queens. There are others but when those songs come up I am singing!!!

Walking alone means I have my headphones in and you can find me in the mist belting it out. Am I a good singer? Uh. No. But I take advantage of alone time to indulge. Like driving alone in a car. If you pull up next to me I am singing like no one is watching.

Today walking along the Castilla canal to Fromista I looked around. No others anywhere in sight so I sang along with Katy Perry, John Legend, The Eagles and Lady Gaga – with gusto. My poles were batons directing strings in symphonies. Pounding out drum beats. I was dancing and singing with the soundtrack from A Star is Born when suddenly there was a man next to me. A short little Yorkshireman from the Albergue in Castrojeriz last night. He was flying by and smiled a knowing smile at my startled red face. Poor guy. He will need eardrum surgery after that, for sure!

Menthol

And finally today, I have a tip for the ladies in the audience. When I was packing my pack I decided to skip my usual glasses. I needed to save space. And I had this pair of readers that I had bought in Paris a few years ago. They fold completely flat. Perfect.

I only need distance glasses driving at night so readers should work just fine for this trek. Except, well, not really because my eyes are not quite what they were a few years ago. And I find that when I have a mask on they fog up instantly. Not usually a problem as I am not normally reading with a mask on. Except鈥

I already mentioned stopping at the Mercadona on the way out of Burgos. Stocking up on supplies. And I picked up a 10 pack of those little tissues your grandma used to keep in her purse and hand you in church when you had a runny nose as a kid. Along with those Butter Rum lifesavers. But you never buy the little tissues for yourself except on the Camino.

Outside the store I broke open the plastic wrapping and stuffed them into my coat pockets and various spaces in my pack. They are great for cold mornings on the Camino. And when nature calls on the trail. I was ready to go. I like to be prepared.

Yesterday afternoon was my first opportunity to take advantage of my tissue supplies, on a long lonely stretch before San Anton. And what a surprise it was! Sure, menthol tissues are great when you have a cold. Like built in Vicks Vapo-rub. But for your bum? Holy moly! My eyes widened on the first pass, then I looked at the package after telescoping my arm out as long as I could. And there is was 鈥楳enthol鈥. Plain as day.

So it will be a minty fresh Camino for me. In all areas, it seems. Perhaps a purchase of new, more powerful readers at a local farmacia this afternoon is in order, to avoid any further embarrassment. Wait! Who am I kidding? The new glasses won鈥檛 even make a dent.

It鈥檚 Always the Way

My trek out of Burgos was solitary. I was pretty sure I was the last Pilgrim out, but I didn鈥檛 care. Mercadona was opening their doors as I walked by. So I stopped in for water, protein bars and dried fruit. Then kept on going.

One thing that has struck me on this particular journey are the number of people eager to help me. Two ancient men took it upon themselves to escort me to the edge of Logro帽o city proper. Which was a fair number of city blocks with twists and turns through a park. So kind. And Burgos was the same. Sort of.

This morning, Parents were walking their kids to school. I was repeatedly missing the yellow arrows, and school children would shout and point the way. One little girl, maybe four or five asked her mother who I was as her brother, maybe 10, directed me onward. In the past two years Pilgrims through Burgos are not so prevalent in this little girl鈥檚 short life. 鈥楽he鈥檚 a peregrina. She is walking a long way to a city far away.鈥 Her brother added 鈥楢ll the way to Santiago.鈥 Although I鈥檓 not sure if he really understands just how far that is.

As I walked people would wave the direction and point to the edge of the city. And then I was alone for a few hours. But on this Camino more Spaniards speak to me.

I was taking photos of a beautiful old house sporting an old stone coat of arms. An old couple came out of their house and asked me where I am from. I told them and the woman asked if I am solo. Walking alone? I said yes and she gave a 鈥楿f. Muy valiente.鈥 And she squeezed my arm. I like the Spanish word for brave. Valiente sounds as if I am on a quest. Which I guess I am.

Walking through the next village I met some nuns, who again questioned me. De donde eres? Which literally mean Of where are you? In Spanish you are of a place. Not from it. Although it kind of means the same thing. I told them Soy de los Estados Unidos. Again, they were amazed I am walking alone.

This is a gorgeous town, and so interesting. Rabe de las Calzadas is a pueblo of murals. So many murals. And the nuns are stationed in a small chapel on the way. Their job is to explain the murals to the Pilgrims. And they explained what they are all about to me.

This village is all about inclusiveness. LGBTQ, Muslim, Buddhist, black, white, all races. Gender equality. And against gender violence. They pride themselves on accepting everyone and every lifestyle. The murals and the nuns are committed to telling this story of peace and inclusivity. That is their calling. But one mural made me cry. It is dedicated to a Peregrina who was killed on the Camino in 2015. Denise worked at the same company I worked at in the US before she was killed. When I walked in 2017 people begged me not to go. 鈥榃omen get killed doing that trek.鈥 That was their only perception of the Camino. Denise鈥檚 death. She wasn鈥檛 killed in that place, But in this town there is now a mural with her name on it. I was speechless standing before it. I couldn鈥檛 take a photo of it. It seemed wrong somehow. Such thing.

There are no more towns or rest stops until Hornillos del Camino. I was so happy coming over the rise to see the village in the valley below. I checked into a great, brand new Albergue Meeting Point, clocked a private room, had a hot shower and a rest, then made my way downstairs to the sound of a guitar playing. And who do I see?

Sitting there strumming the guitar, with his lovely wife sitting next to him drinking a beer, were the first two Pilgrims I met on this adventure. After a lonely first day and night, I finally spotted a couple walking ahead of me. Canadians, Darren and Loli. She gasp, got up and squealed, hugging me like she was wringing out a dish rag. 鈥業 never thought I would see you again!鈥 The last time I saw them was when we said goodbye at Villamayor Monjardin. I was staying there and they were moving on. But, as the Camino bends time and space, here we were. Together again. What a wonderful surprise after a long day alone.

Today I made it to Castrojeriz. Limping a bit. Slower than most. Our big Meseta group is formed now and we will all likely walk the same stages until Leon. 20-25k isn鈥檛 the issue for me that it was a week ago. The knees don鈥檛 love the cold, but we will make it. And I have a warm hearted group to get me through. Its always the way.

Adi贸s Burgos – Hola Meseta

I am on my way to Hornillos del Camino after a very cold weekend . The chilly weather didn鈥檛 stop me from checking out Burgos.

As appears to be my habit when in Burgos, I fell flat on my face. Quite literally. I did it the last time I was here, skinning my knee and shin up pretty good and requiring some first aid. This time I took a spill right in front of the Cathedral. I have no idea how I did it. My Birks must have become caught on an uneven paving stone. I went head over teakettle. Landed on my bad knee and right hip. Luckily, its my ego that is more hurt than my body. Although my right leg is bruised like I was in a fight with a car. My left leg had enough sympathy to turn purple too. The perfect balance. I have named them Cabernet and Merlot. My bruised elbows are now Popeye and Bluto.

One gets the feeling that Burgos might be trying to tell me something. Perhaps its something along the lines of Slow Down! Then I had one of the best massages of my life at Ultreia. I can not recommend this place highly enough if you find yourself in Burgos. Camino or no. The therapist gave me the same advice as the city seems to be imparting upon me – the hard way. She told me to slow down, stop thinking, and to focus on my heart. 鈥榊ou need to cry more, Kelli. And the Camino is the right place for that. You hold all your emotions in your body. Use this walk to feel and don鈥檛 stop it. Let it go.鈥

I had said nothing to this person about anything going on in my life. Not one thing. So unusual. Afterwards she hugged me like she didn鈥檛 want to let me go. When she pulled away she was crying on my behalf. A first for me from a massage therapist. A relative stranger. she pressed some paulo santo into my hand on the way out. 鈥楤urn it in your house when you get home.鈥 Her kind message has stayed with me.

I woke up early Sunday morning, despite the time change on Saturday night. After gathering my laundry, I made my way to the cafe in front of the Municipal Albergue. I have slept there, and eaten at that cafe before. The lavandaria is right next door. The owner was late opening up. Probably over slept.

The warm cafe was hopping with Pilgrims fortifying themselves before walking out of Burgos. A nice guy allowed me to share his table. He was from Manchester in the UK. He could have been my son, Nicholas鈥, twin, and had spent the past few days in Burgos after injuring his foot in Santo Domingo, then hopping on a bus to Burgos for medical attention. He was still limping. 鈥楾hey gave me ibuprofen.鈥 He said.

鈥楧id they xray it?鈥 I asked. He said they didn鈥檛 think it was broken.

鈥榊ou鈥檙e still limping. Maybe skip the urgencia and go to the hospital. They鈥檒l xray it.鈥 But I stopped myself right there. I鈥檓 not his Mom. And he seemed capable of making his own decisions. I didn鈥檛 want to interfere.

The lavander铆a opened up. I said my goodbyes to the kid and other Pilgrims and did my laundry. Then I went back to my hotel, took an extended hot shower to warm up since I had to wear my pajamas, Birks with no socks, and my rain coat so I could wash everything. I felt like a flasher under there. My next laundry won鈥檛 be until Leon. Warm, finally, and clean, I left the hotel and was almost immediately very nearly run over by a taxi on the narrow cobbled street. I hopped aside and the taxi stopped. It was the boy from the cafe. He rolled down the window and held up the cast on his foot.

鈥榊ou were right. It鈥檚 broken. The hospital says my Camino is over.鈥

鈥楧o you need help?鈥 I asked.

He nodded like a little boy. 鈥業 do, actually. The taxi is dropping me off at that cafe where we met. Can you help me figure out what to do?鈥

Of course I could. I immediately thought of my son. If he were in a city in another country, injured, I would hope someone would help him.

I met Adam as the cab pulled up and helped him inside. 鈥榃here are your crutches?鈥

He said the hospital said to go to the orthopedic store. But they are closed on Sundays. As are most farmacias. He was in the hospital pajamas they gave him and he was cold but his Camino clothes wouldn鈥檛 fit over his cast. He was like a turtle on his back. I bought him a pot of tea, because in the UK tea fixes everything. Then I headed out to try to scare up some crutches, however futile that sounds.

No clothing stores were open to get him something to wear that would fit over his cast, and keep him warm. Only Ale Hop with women鈥檚 polar fleece pj鈥檚. My son would have worn them and laughed. But I didn鈥檛 really know this boy so I skipped it.

Few farmacias are open in Burgos on a Sunday. The first one had one blue crutch. The second crutch was a scavenger hunt. Both of them were somewhat complex contraptions but we figured it out. I returned to the cafe, triumphant. With one black crutch and one blue. Seemed appropriate. In the meantime, Adam secured a 3pm train ticket for himself so he could fly back to the UK via Barcelona – where he has friends. He hugged me when I left him. Again, reminding me of my son. I wanted to chide the boy for smoking. I figured I had earned it. I鈥檓 a Mom, after all. But, just like with my kids, their lives are their own now. We all live with our choices.

I hope he gets to Barcelona OK. And then home to Manchester. Where his Mom can take over with more tea and warm jammies.

Luckily, I was still able to see the Cathedral in the square where I had bitten the pavement the day before. Approaching the Cathedral I heard singing. The steps were covered with a choir and the square was full of people singing for Ukraine. It wasn鈥檛 until later I learned that cities and towns all over Spain were singing together at that very moment. In Unity. Amazing.

I will leave a few photos here of the Cathedral. A true marvel of a building. You have to see it in person. My favorite parts were the ceilings on the inside. And the flying buttresses on the exterior.

I was lucky enough to attend services in several churches in Burgos as I walked about. Each one completely unique. Usually, I was the youngest person there. And while I didn鈥檛 understand all of it, it moved me nonetheless.

After a wonderful rest, my Camino continues in the Meseta. I have heard people say they find the Meseta boring. But I love it. And with snow in the forecast it will be that much more interesting. I just hope Cabernet and Merlot are up for it. Something tells me we will be just fine.

Give Me a Break

It鈥檚 time to take a break. Hola Burgos!

I love this city. Something about it feels so familiar. Yes, I spent a few days here back in the summer of 2017. But even then it felt curiously known. I can鈥檛 really describe it.

Burgos is a very old city founded in 884, with a breathtaking Cathedral. A Unesco World Heritage site. I am staying right next to it in a small hotel. Centrally located to spend a few days seeing the sights and putting my feet up. I called ahead and arranged a massage. Living in Spain and understanding how things work here gives me an advantage. Waiting to book later means no massage or grocery shopping. Sunday in Spain is generally a rest day and nearly everything is closed. I will get everything done, then rest along with the populous tomorrow. After attending mass at the Cathedral, of course.

This gives me a little time to reflect upon my walk so far. Write a bit. Take some Me-time. The past few days I have walked with the same group. A German recent college graduate, a young 30-something Korean minister, and a gay South African nurse. Sounds like the beginning of a joke, I know. And sometimes we all actually walk into a bar. A motley crew. And they are each lovely, caring Pilgrims. Yet, I need my quiet too. To think my own thoughts.

It鈥檚 interesting how my perspective has changed in the past five years. I view these cities, towns, and villages as an extension of my home. I don鈥檛 feel like a tourist. When checking in to Albergues hostels, or hotels, they ask for my passport. But I present my NIE card instead. Its the National identity card. This seems to change things a bit when they learn I am an American living permanently in Spain. Inevitably they have many questions. Where? Why Galicia? How long? And finally, just 鈥榃hy?鈥 My espa帽ol is getting better at explaining it. I鈥檝e receive room upgrades, help with my backpack, or even a to-go snack in the morning. 鈥業n case you are hungry later.鈥

I hear others who get frustrated with things in Spain. Times when shops are closed. When food is unavailable, or getting what they need proves a challenge. 鈥業ts not like back home,鈥 And I have to watch myself or before long I am defending Spanish culture, traditions, and national circadian rhythms. I really have assimilated more than I thought. Don鈥檛 dis my country, peeps. Not cool. It鈥檚 funny, though. I can complain about tractor deliveries (or no delivery), and a host of other things that drive me crazy on a daily basis. But I get to do that cause I live here.

My favorite was listening to a pilgrim in a cafe in a small village complain 鈥業t鈥檚 like there鈥檚 a different word for everything.鈥 Yes., Pumpkin Pie. <eye roll> Yes, there is.

Burgos will help me rest a bit after getting too much sun one day, which took it out of me. A prescription from my host that night. 鈥榊ou take a few days in Burgos to recover, Kelli鈥 I鈥檓 not sure how my face got so burned on such a cloudy day. Except, well, Irish. Luckily, its becoming more of a tan now. My lips aren鈥檛 bee-sting swollen anymore. Bummer. My days as an Angelina Jolie look alike were too brief. Let the peeling on my nose begin. 馃槱

I鈥檒l post picks tomorrow of my wanderings around this very special city. Until then.

Making Peace With the Enemy

Our lives are a balance of mind, body and spirit. It鈥檚 that bargain between the three that keeps us healthy. But what do we do when one of them is not keeping up its part of the bargain?

I walked these very roads back in 2017. And it was challenging, to be sure. Not the least because of the time of year. But I made it from the pain of the Pyrenees, and I felt stronger each day as I got closer to Santiago. On that trip I was working more on my spirit than anything. But this trip is different, in so very many ways.

This time, I am hurting all over. But that is a good thing. My body is awake again. And because of this it reminds me just how much over the past two years I have neglected my body. Perhaps neglect is not the word. Shunned would be more like it. Pretended it didn鈥檛 exist.

The anniversary of my dance with the Covid devil is coming up this week. The moment everything changed. There is a before and after in my life now. A demarcation line. Before that I cared for my body. I pampered it with treatments, weekly massages, -icures by the score, exfoliations, and so much more. I loved it all and I felt great.

After Covid, my body failed over and over. It was like a train wreck that you watch in slow motion and you can do nothing about it. Even my friends were fed up. 鈥業t can鈥檛 keep this up. How many more things can happen to you?鈥 And I was asking the same questions. None of us had the answer. And what bothered me the most was that usually fearless me became afraid. Very afraid, of myself. Afraid of what else my body had in store for me. What time bomb was ticking that I couldn鈥檛 see? And when would the next one explode? There seemed to be an endless supply.

My heart and lung problems scared me the most. You can live without a bunch of other pieces of your body, but those two are kind of important.

I coped with all of that by completely disconnecting from my body. I began acting like it didn鈥檛 exist. Yes, I took the meds prescribed, but I stopped even looking at anything below my neck unless I was forced to. Even during tests, or the many times I was in the hospital. No more massages or spa treatments. I barely rubbed lotion on my skin in the past year. Like a child who is afraid of monsters under the bed, if I didn鈥檛 look at my body nothing else would happen to me. I know that sounds immature and irrational, but its true. And I didn鈥檛 really understand the extent to which I had gone until today, a few hundred kilometers into my Camino.

When I started walking this time all alone, I felt like this was a make or break trek, and not because of my knee. I wasn鈥檛 really sure if my body would be up to the test. Would I be able to breathe up the hills multiple times a day for days on end? Would my heart stand up to hours of exercise after what it had been through? Yes, I had walked for a few days last September before I tore my meniscus, but this is a marathon of exercise. And it is hard for people half my age. Would my body ultimately let me down, perhaps for the final time?

Tired after a long cold windy day – but she鈥檚 doing it.

But so far I am doing it. On day 10. And for the first time in a long time I am having cease fire negotiations with my body. My shunning and pretending it doesn鈥檛 exist is over now. Its time to see it again. To look at it honestly and to stop being afraid. To make peace.

This body has fought hard through so many things. I should celebrate her, rather than ignore her. And on this trek she is talking to me all day long. 鈥楻est. Drink. Eat. Go for it up that hill! STOP. Just Stop!鈥 Now, I鈥檓 not kidding myself. I am not the person I was before. I have a previous Camino to judge it against. And likely, physically, I never will be again. But on this trip, every day, the ever present specters of fear I have carried for two years is being dropped behind me on the trail. Little by little. And I just know when all three of us walk into Santiago together we鈥檒l be holding hands as equal partners. Mind, body and spirit. Finally free.

Nothing So Profound

Nothing clever or profound to report. Two long days of walking and I am in Beldorado. Two days from Burgos. Crossed into Castilla y Leon today. Adios La Rioja!

Not ashamed to have stayed at the Parador in Santo Domingo last night. My life philosophy is that if you are in a town with a Parador hotel you are required to stay there. Its a rule. I don鈥檛 make the rules.

My knee is holding up well. And surprisingly my achilles on my right leg is also doing just great. Usually I would be in fits over it. Not this time. And I think I know why. I am wearing my REI rain gators, rain or shine. My Achilles are staying warm in this cold wind. No complaints.

I brought a light down jacket to wear under my Arc鈥檛eryx rain shell. And I am finding I really didnt need the down jacket, just the shell to stave off the wind and rain. I stay toasty inside. And it has pit zips. A must on a trek such as this. If you are in the US planning your Camino you might consider this jacket here. This is the mens version but the women鈥檚 is similar.

The Camino isn鈥檛 about who you are when you start. It鈥檚 about who you are when you finish. I feel it doing its work on me already. Shaving off sharp edges. Making me grateful for the views, the people, and private rooms so I can spend an hour with my legs up a wall. And for the quiet. The blessed quiet.

After two long days every cell in my body is vibrating, but my mind is silent. The meditation of six hours straight of the clicking of my poles on the trail, waves from tractor drivers in every field, and old men who stop me to have a chat – so proud of the villages they were likely born in – has put me in an odd state of bliss. And tomorrow I will smile, waking up to do it all over again.

An Open, Knowing Heart

We all know the old saying that goes something like 鈥業 was sad because I had no shoes. Until I met a man who had no feet.鈥 Yesterday was that day for me.

I walked into Najera. A beautiful little town on a river, bookended by red sandstone cliffs. It was a short day by Camino standards but I wanted to stay in this town. It had been a long, solitary walk from Navarette. Punctuated with only one other pilgrim. A Buddhist monk. I鈥檓 not kidding. We sort of circled each other, never speaking. He walked faster than I but he would stop often to sit calmly and I would pass him. Then he would catch up to me, whizzing by, only to stop again. I always greeted him with a wave as he sat there. He just smiled at me each time with a big open hearted grin. As if we knew each other. But before today I have never seen this man before in my life. Such is my very unusual Camino this time.

We made it to Najera at the same time. He must be staying somewhere here. When we arrived at the center of town, I saw him walk across the stone bridge, then divert from the Camino, heading in the opposite direction from the arrows directing us to turn right. I watched him walk down to the other side of the river, then he vanished. And if I hadn鈥檛 been observing him I would never have seen the group of Pilgrims gathered over there. I was hungry and thirsty and they were standing in front of the only place serving food at that time of day.

Walking up, I introduced myself. 鈥楧id you guys see that Buddhist monk that just walked by here?鈥 But none of them had. A few Americans in the group from California. But there was another man there. Traveling alone. The group dispersed and I found myself alone with him, eating and enjoying a coffee. We exchanged some pleasantries about the walk. Some of our challenges. And then he told me why he was really walking.

Most of you know I had a rough go with Covid. And a hard time for more than a year afterward. But as this man told me his story I quickly realized that what I have been through pales in comparison. And this man is a real hero. A veteran of wars against an invisible enemy.

He is a person that saved countless lives during the pandemic in his country. One who put people, the sickest people, on lung and heart bypass machines when it was their last hope, and he never slept. For months. Every day, all day, he worked. And the patients kept coming. There was no end in sight. The volume of death was too much.

One day he awoke and he could no longer move his legs. He had lost his hearing and couldn鈥檛 see. His body had shut down after being pushed beyond exhaustion. And his mind, too. Protecting him from the horrors that he was witnessing on an hourly basis. PTSD in the extreme. He could no longer function, not just in his job but in his life. And then his partner informed him he could not handle his boyfriend鈥檚 collapse. And my new friend found himself alone. His house was sold as they had purchased it together, and in the midst of this crisis he was forced to move somewhere else. This person, who had saved so many in the midst of the darkest days of the pandemic was totally alone, and totally broken.

I was moved to tears hearing his story. Mine sounds so quaint and unworthy by comparison. I didn鈥檛 bother to even share it.

His Camino is about coming back from his experience. Its about finding himself again. He showed me his hearing aids he must now wear at the age of 40. And the physical challenges he still deals with. But he is getting stronger each day on this walk. Convinced it is his miracle. And he might just be right. I hope so.

After our chat he persuaded me to stay in the same Albergue. And what an amazing place of community it turned out to be. Filled with positive energy and run by a joyful French host. The Pilgrims were the chillest, coolest so far. And I had a safe private room.

You might think it鈥檚 weird to say, but somehow I think that Buddhist monk had something to do with leading me to my new friend, and that Albergue. He鈥檚 nowhere to be seen, of course, but I have this odd feeling that maybe this is what that big smile on the trail was all about.

The Very Least We Can Do

I knew who I married, so it was no surprise to me when Jeff called me last night right before I turned out the light to go to bed. Looking back, I鈥檓 just surprised it took him so long.

Jeff is the reason we became foster parents back in 2004. 鈥榃e have so much. We should share it.鈥 So I did what I always do and I figured out how you go about becoming foster parents. Social workers, forms, 30 hours of parenting classes where Jeff was the only man, because the state only required one parent to attend the class (usually women), which he found ridiculous. That鈥檚 who I married.

Back to the phone call – Jeff has been friends with 鈥楯oe鈥 for a very long time. They are kindred spirits. Kind hearted, introverted guys. They deal with difficulty the same way. They go inward. Joe was at our wedding and he鈥檚 been through his share of ups and downs since then. But this particular down is international news.

Today, Joe is sitting in Poland waiting for his girlfriend and her family to get out of Ukraine. He was back in the US when the war started and immediately flew back to Poland, Joe met her years ago through her brother, who is his close friend. She has a 20 yr old son fighting, and a 13 yr old. She has been refusing to leave them and her parents and brother. Men 18-60 must stay and fight. But yesterday they could hear bombs exploding in their town. They are gathering their things and will try to get to the Polish border.

I can not imagine the terror. In fear for your life, but you have to leave some of your family in harms way, so you can save those you can. A true Sofie鈥檚 choice. Hugging loved ones that you may never see again. Horrifying.

And they can鈥檛 go to the US unless they fly to Mexico and walk across the border, asking for asylum. And even if they do that they will likely be separated in ICE custody for months. We treat immigrants and refugees like criminals at the US border. Don鈥檛 get me started. Imagine what they have been through and then to be held separately. The trauma of it. No. They will need to stay safe in the EU.

She and her family are not out yet. But Joe is already scrambling to prepare a soft place for them to land. Hence the phone call from Jeff last night. 鈥榃hat if we were that soft place? Just until we can help them find an apartment. Maybe in Santiago or Lugo, or somewhere else in Galicia. And arrange a school for the son.鈥

I didn鈥檛 even flinch. This is the guy I know and love. He鈥檚 the guy who would have the other half of his sandwich wrapped up and then give it to a homeless person walking back to the office after we had lunch every day. He never made a big deal about it. Kindness. He will always be that guy.

鈥楧o you need me to stop walking and go home? Get things ready?鈥 I asked him. 鈥楾hey鈥檙e gonna be freaked out.鈥

There will be bureaucracy involved. That鈥檚 my job. The canary in the Spanish bureaucratic coal mine. We all have our superpowers. But Jeff said he would figure it out.

鈥楾hey aren鈥檛 out yet. Ours can be the address they give the refugee agency when they cross the border into Poland. Joe will arrange for plane tickets to Santiago and I can make sure everything is ready in the house. Besides, you鈥檒l probably be nearly home by the time they arrive. Do you think you鈥檒l be home by Easter?鈥

I will now. For sure. He seemed to have thought it all through. 鈥楥lean out my office and put all that stuff in the barn. We could get some beds in there. IKEA in Coru帽a is your best bet.鈥 He said he鈥檇 already thought of that. 鈥業 wish the cabins were built.鈥

Jeff sent Joe the link for Idealista – the rental listing for Spain. But one step at a time. They speak English so we need to find an English speaking school. At least initially. Learning Spanish can come after they catch their breath.

I light candles at every church I enter on this trip. A daily occurrence, to be sure. Usually one for Jeff, one for our parents, one for our kids, and one for peace. I鈥檒l add another now. For this family who will be running from a war they had no part in starting.

To the readers of this blog – if you are so inclined to pray – please include this family in your prayers as they begin this journey across Ukraine today. They will truly need all the help they can get.

Tales From a Religion Flunky

This has been a walk like no other. Last time I walked the Frances it was packed, hot and sweaty. More of a party atmosphere than a religious undertaking, and that was fine by me.

I am not, nor have I ever been, a religious person. And there is good reason for that. Have you ever known anyone who flunked out of Lutheran confirmation classes – like Catholic catechism? Well, now you do. Yup! That鈥檚 me. I broke the minister at the age of 13, by refusing to stay silent, asking too many questions and not having enough faith. But I figured if I was pledging to believe something, they should do me the courtesy of explaining it in detail. Apparently, in our Lutheran church I was supposed to sit down and shut up. Something I have never been able to master. Sorry, Pastor Meier.

So we all agreed that I would not continue in my religious classes. The minister barely looked at me after that. I don鈥檛 remember him speaking directly to me ever again. After such a rejection, by a servant of God, no less, it was likely the beginnings of me never being a joiner. I have had people invite me to their church in the US. 鈥楢ll are welcome.鈥 But I usually decline. They have no idea who they鈥檙e dealing with. I broke a minister, as a child, for god sake. No church is gonna want that.

But on this Camino I am being surrounded by people who are very religious and happy to share it with me in unusual ways.

The other day after a Pilgrim meal, a woman slipped me a note written on a napkin. We had all been sharing our story and she felt compelled afterwards to share this with me.

I had to look it up on the internet because I haven鈥檛 read a bible in more than 40 years. Esther is a woman who has a difficult choice to make, to stand up to the king who is planning to eradicate all the Jews in his kingdom. She can remain silent or she can risk her own life speaking up, while recognizing that this is perhaps why she was born in the first place.

I am not doing anything in my life so remarkable, where the stakes are so high. Perhaps the food truck on the Camino inspired her. But it did give me something to think about on my next stretch walking alone. Why am I here?

I have had the privilege of walking with all sorts of people. From the spectrum of pauper to prince. One man I walked with for awhile is the retired CEO of a global company. One you would know instantly if I just showed you the logo. He retired in December and is already here walking to Santiago. We spent a few hours talking, as he regaled me with stories from a class he had taken in college. He had been required to read a book about Zen Buddhism and the stories were something like The 100 Most Important Zen Fables. Something like that. Of course they all had a lesson.

鈥楢fter 40 years you still remember those stories.鈥 I was amazed.

He laughed 鈥業ts been longer than that. But I never forgot them.鈥

鈥楧id you use them in your work?鈥 I asked. What a great leader he must have been with these lessons in his back pocket.

He frowned 鈥業 tried to.鈥 But then he stopped and looked directly at me. 鈥榊ou know what? No, I didn鈥檛. Over the years it became more and more about money. Making Wall Street happy. Making short term decisions for the stock price. Shareholder value. But the values we had when I first started working there were gone by the time I left.鈥

I saw the pain this caused him. 鈥業s that why you鈥檙e here? Walking?鈥

This pretty quiet guy looked exasperated. 鈥業 have no idea why I鈥檓 here or what I鈥檓 doing?鈥

I smiled. He was beating himself up. 鈥榊ou鈥檙e here, just walking. That鈥檚 enough. Great epiphanies or none.鈥 I shrugged 鈥楢re you enjoying it?鈥

He smiled. 鈥榊eah. I am. My life is reduced to walking, eating, drinking and sleeping. I don鈥檛 have to make any decisions outside of those. People say this is hard, but it鈥檚 a relief.鈥

He hugged me at the next town. He was staying there and I was walking on. It made me think of the verse on the napkin the woman handed me. Perhaps my purpose for being here is just this. To listen in that one moment. A church isn鈥檛 always a building.

As I unpacked my pack this afternoon after reaching my destination I found the prayer card the old man gave me on the steep path yesterday. And I leave it with you here. Love is always the answer. It seems appropriate. Even for a religion flunky, like me.