Turn Around to See the Sunrise

I arrived to Pedrouzo after a hot and sunny walk. This Irish girl has her freckles back after today. I stood at the sink in a cafe bathroom and looked in the mirror. ‘Hello old friends.’ It made me smile. My grandpa used to say I had the map of Ireland all over my face.

This time tomorrow I will be in Santiago. It hardly seems possible. A friend of mine from Seattle messaged me. ‘What’s that trail you walked that time? How long does it take?’ You can tell that not all my friends are fans of reading the blog, nor all my musings. But I sent her the link and told her she could read the past 40 days and it would give her a good feel for it, since I am about to finish it again.

And then I took my own advice and went back to the the beginning of this little trek. Let the tears begin. I had forgotten some of what’s gone on. The people and the views. The weather and some lonely days. And laughing, a lot.

I am the slowest of my group. The last to walk in to Santiago. Reunions in the square in front of the Cathedral are not in the cards for me. Unlike last time. But looking back through the blog reminded me of their encouragement and their care. I sat over lunch using my napkin to wipe my eyes.

I know tomorrow will be an emotional day for me. The slowest Peregrino ever, finally made it to Santiago. But the tears will be tears of joy.

I was recently invited on a podcast while I was walking. The host asked me how I found a way to get back up and keep going in that first week, when I would find myself on my knees. The answer was simple.

‘I had one person who asked me why I was torturing myself. ‘Just quit this.’ But that’s not the time you quit. That’s the time when you dig as deep as you can go. And you find the strength to get up and gather yourself, adjust your pack, wipe your tears, grip your poles, and put your head down and move forward. P.S. It works in the rest of life, too.’

Reading the entire journey made me realize that we never really know how anything will turn out. We just have to begin and take the first step. One day at a time. And, much like so many moments in life and on the trail, the best views are behind you. But you have to take a moment to stop and turn around to appreciate just how far you’ve come.

So many people helped me on this journey. I have a list to remember them in the Cathedral after I arrive. I wouldn’t be here without them or the lessons they taught me. But the biggest lesson of this whole trip is one drilled in to me on cold mornings when I was walking alone in the dark. And it’s one I won’t soon forget. When there is no light and the road ahead feels uncertain, all you have to do is stop and turn around, to see the sunrise.

Almost Home

The weatherman said it would monsoon rain today from Portomarin to Palas de Rei. So I got up at sunrise this morning and strapped on the rain gear. Ready for a deluge. I have walked this leg in bad weather before. I know how bad it can be.

Packing up! The crack of dawn this morning – I sent it to Jeff ‘One day away!’

The ankle and foot are better. No pain this morning . The knees have decided to make a return to shouting at me on the downhills. But today there were very few downhills. Out of Portomarin it is straight up, any way you slice it. And it goes on for hours. But the views are worth it.

Yesterday, I took some photos on a day that was also supposed to be a gusher. No rain ever materialized.

Morning on the way to Portomarin
The 100km marker. Just 41km to home.
Getting even closer. 17km to walkimg thru the gate

I sent pics to our friend, Chris, back in the US. His response made me smile. ‘You’re so close you can almost smell the barn.’

Today’s walk produced no promised rain. It just got sunnier as we went. I found myself walking with a fellow Peregrina from Sacramento, CA. A Camiga who started in St. Jean 32 days ago. We kept each other company on the big up hill to Ganzor, and beyond. It was nice to spend a day speaking West Coast Ingles. It’s funny how, after so many days, hearing American english means so much to me. With the same cultural references. There is a shorthand of expression that requires no explanation. Or additional thought, while you are focused on taking another step on a long up hill.

I thought I would hate the change that happens at Sarria. When the Camino becomes crowded. And the feeling changes. But I am actually enjoying the energy. Sure, there are a ton of people who just started with little day packs and shiny new gear. No dirt on their shoes, clean pole tips, and some with back packs filled to the gills, right off the sporting goods store shelf. I look at them and cringe. Ouch. Those are blisters in three days, I think automatically. But the attitude is very friendly and there are smiles all around. Even the students have been happy and friendly.

I shouted ‘Smile!’

I am tired. More tired than I remembered from last time. But perhaps its like child birth. You forget just how painful it really was. But the other long haulers are also saying the same. The pain is our constant companion. My Canadian friend, Darren, described it like ping pong. ‘First, its the right foot. Then the left foot. Then your right knee and your left achilles. It climbs up your body, one side at a time. A new pain every day.’

But I will be home tomorrow. Walking into our gate. I have said it this entire Camino ‘I’m just walking home.’ And I’m almost there. More than 450 miles so far. My friend, Chris, is right. I can actually smell the barn from here.

Tapping the Camino Grapevine

Lets face it, staying on the Camino is not a million dollar luxury experience. It’s often just a bed in a dormitory. Or a private room with a shared bath. After a day of walking that can still feel luxurious. I like a private bath, when I can get one. But staying off stage can prove challenging in that department.

Most hosts, hospitalieros, and hotels use Booking.com. And the platform charges an exorbitant fee to the proprietor to book a bed for €13. Or a room for anywhere from €25-60. Depending upon how up market you want to go in a village with evening cow herding as the main attraction. Pro tip: Wear your gators in the morning. You’ll be walking through that stuff, likely, all day. Ah, the scent of Galicia! 😉

But, of course, where there is a will there’s a way. And an informal network of the acquainted service providers has sprung up from Sarria onwards, and I love it!

Shop owners, cafe bartenders, mochila services, and Albergues are working together outside the Booking.com system and it begins when you check in for your stay. ‘Do you have a place to sleep tomorrow night?’ This surprised. Yes, I know I am on the busiest stretch of the Camino Frances now. But I avoided leaving Sarria on a Saturday, Sunday or Monday. I am behind the giant weekly wave in front of me. Jeff says a few thousand people walked by our house the past two days. I only saw a couple leaving Sarria. And most were long haulers, like me. So I didn’t book ahead. Only two people are in my Pension tonight. But that didn’t stop the reception from picking up the phone. ‘Let me get you a room for tomorrow night. Private bath?’

Hey, I get it. While I could just walk my 22k and find something, they know I will likely look online to check availability as I get close to the town. And that cuts into their profit right off the top. Better to get to me early, and lock me in. Before I stray into an app, or a website where they have to pay a commission for the booking.

Did I feel a bit ‘managed’ in this process? Maybe a little. But I admire the hustle and the organic self-organization of it all. The Albergues have found ways to help each other. Props to them.

The Camino is heating up. By May there will be few beds to be had on this stretch without an advance booking. Leaving Sarria on Tuesday-Friday is the best way to guarantee a decent selection, and to avoid walking with a crowd of thousands. But if all else fails on the securing a bed front, talk to taxi driver or a bar tender or a shopkeeper. They’ll know a guy, who knows a guy in the Camino grapevine. How do I know? Because they just booked a lovely room for me tomorrow that includes dinner. And it’s no where on Booking.com.

Home Turf

I took an Easter break. It did my ankle some good. And today I learned to never again utter the words ‘They said it would rain but it’s sunny and dry here. Guess I dodged the weather.’ Whenever Jeff asks me for a meteorology update. Tempting the weather gods is just bad ju-ju. They promptly laughed, then unloaded their wrath upon me.

They weren’t interested in going to Santiago

Crossing into Galicia was emotional for me. It’s my home Communidad in Spain. And I am also in Lugo province now. Even more so. I could catch a bus from here and be home in a little over an hour.

I must say, I like the precision of the granite kilometer countdown markers in Galicia the best. Down to the meter. As Jeff says, ‘In Galicia, we know how to do it right.’ Unlike some of the other provinces I have passed through. And I am not the only one complaining about the pack of lies in local provincial mileage calculations along the way. Other Pilgrims were still talking about the great Roncesvalles to Zubiri kilometer debacle from back at kilometer 770, even in Astorga. And speaking of Astorga, the last few markers when coming into the city are enough to make your blood boil. 267km, then the next one four kilometers further says 276?!?! Are they laughing at us? It might not sound like much but by that point you are counting down. Work with us, Castillo y Leon! Better yet, call Galicia. They’ll show you how it’s done.

It was a beautiful walk today, even with the weather. A beautiful, lonely walk. I didn’t see one other Peregrino. Of course, I walked the variant to Samos. Everyone else is on the main route to Sarria. But I have wanted to see the monastery here for ages. Sadly, all the monks are in Fatima, Portugal today. No tours until tomorrow. But tomorrow I will be well past Sarria and less than 100km from Santiago. But more importantly, I will be just two days from walking in to Palas de Rei.

Palas de Rei is where my Dra is. Where my favorite farmacia sits on the main street. Where we pick up packages at the Correos office. I bought my cozy farmer get-wood-from-the-wood-pile slippers at the grocery store there. In other words, HOME. It will be a long day walking from Portomarin to Palas. I will have to see if I can hold myself back from running an additional 12k to our front gate. Jeff will look out and wonder who that crazy drowned rat of a Pilgrim is screaming ‘Its me!! It’s me!! Let me in!’

But I will enjoy this final week. After Sarria it will be crowded. Even with avoiding the Saturday/Sunday Last 100k starting crowd. It will have taken me forty days. Sort of biblical, yet ridiculous. But at the beginning, I wondered if I could do it at all. Now I’m pretty sure I will. I can almost see the finish line from here. Santiago, hold on to your hat. Because, she locked and loaded. Ready or not, here I come.

Ukrainian Refugees – Follow up

As many will remember, a few weeks ago we volunteered the farm to house some Ukrainian refugees.

It took longer for them to get out of Ukraine than we originally thought. But they finally arrived safely to Poland. After that, instead of coming to Spain they ended up in Ireland. First, in a big convention center with hundreds of others. Then they were moved to a school gym with cots, in the middle of rural Ireland. It was very cold.

Today, the three of them are in a rural hotel five miles from a very small village in western Ireland. I think there is a bicycle to share. The Irish Authorities pick them up once a week and take them to a grocery store for supplies. Then, to add insult to injury, they all caught Covid in the midst of this. When it rains, it pours.

They were initially worried about coming to Spain because of the language barrier. But Irish English has proved to come with other challenges. Yet, Ireland or Spain are still superior alternatives to being a refugee in the UK, where the Tory government are now planning to ‘off-shore’ their refugees to ‘refugee centers’ in Rwanda. That’s in Africa. I’m not kidding. I can’t understand what has happened to the UK since 2015. It’s like the entire country has had a lobotomy, and a compassionectomy. They didn’t used to be like this. But the US is no better to refugees.

Jeff and I are very happy these three people are safe. The Irish authorities are taking care of Ukrainian refugees, and on the look out to ensure they are not exploited or trafficked. It sounds like the Irish people are also opening their hearts and homes. Countries like Ireland and Spain who have known hardship in their recent histories can relate to these people. There is no backlash against refugees here.

Anyway, for those wanting an update, that is all I know. If they need us, we are still ready to help.

Happy Easter🐣💐🐰

I am a week or so from walking in to Santiago under my own power. When I began in March, I thought I would be walking in to Santiago today, Easter Sunday. But, best laid plans… and all that. Taking the day off today and resting the ankle. Processions, a church service, and a nice lunch with friends are in order. Then back on the trail tomorrow.

Happy Easter, everyone. I hope you are enjoying the day with those closest to you. 🙏💕

My 2022 Camino Frances Recommendations

Let’s have a talk, quite literally, from boots on the ground. I’m not going to cover the final 100k of the Camino Frances. It’s the most widely walked stretch and has been written about countless times. And I’m about to walk it. Again. But the first 700k of the trek from St Jean to Sarria has changed since the beginning of the pandemic. And, lets face it, so have I. Both as a person and a Peregrina.

I had many different considerations this Camino. This time I walked alone. And contrary to popular belief, Covid isn’t over quite yet, although mask mandates will be over on 20th April in Spain – except hospitals and the like. So health was a concern for me, as well. But Spain’s vaccination rate is north of 95%. That’s what happens when your country is decimated by a pandemic. The population tends to get onboard. Its funny that the anti-vax movement never got legs here. There were initially some anti-mask protests but those didn’t catch on in a country where the average age is nudging retirement. People with a Covid bullseye on their foreheads.

Masks on the Camino are nowhere when walking. They are currently required when entering any business or building in Spain. But more than 50% of the time, Pilgrims and proprietors of businesses along the way never used them over this past month. Certainly after check-in closed for the day in a pension or Albergue, no one staying there wore one. I guess if you’re sleeping together in a large room, why bother during dinner?

But I have grown more comfortable taking the mask off after two years of clinging to it like a security blanket. I grew even more comfortable after a long conversation about immunity, evolving epidemiology, and pandemics with a Dutch doctor over coffee before Ledigos. So the mask mandate demise in Spain is going to be welcome for me.

Covid did impact some of my choices and it changed the experience, in some cases for the the better. I stayed off-stage a fair bit due to going slower. And often secured an individual room, if at all possible. This meant I never stayed in the same places as my previous walk from St Jean in 2017. And I had some remarkable experiences. For those of you arriving over the next few months to begin your Camino, I’ll share a few of my musings here.

Reservations

I am not a fan of reservations for accommodations. It can mean you miss serendipitous experiences when you don’t stop in a small village because you already have a reservation. I waited until the middle of my daily walk to see how I felt before I started thinking about where I might stay for the night.

So many experiences are driven by the people running the cafe or restaurant. And if you walked the Camino pre-2020 and hope to come to Spain and have a similar experience, there is a huge chance that the Albergue is not being run by the same people. Keep in mind, many Albergues you might have stayed at before are under new management. Perhaps equally as great, but not the same as before.

I was unaware, before living on the Camino, that a lot of Albergues and Pensions are run by different people year to year. They sign up with the owners for a year or two, then move on. An interesting business model.

New business trends on the Camino

Fruit in your single room. Chocolate on your pillow. And shampoo, lotion and body wash. Even at the down market pensions. And bigger breakfasts. With proprietors constantly asking if you are happy or if they can do anything for you. Oh, and small little shops inside Albergues stocked with fruit, cold cuts, cheeses, water and beer. This Camino served as recon for our new business to track what people are seeing and expecting from further back on the trail. We need to differentiate ourselves. Jeff enjoyed my market research safari and photos with a ton of ‘We need to do THIS!!!’

Bed and Board

I stayed at some great places. Here are just a few.

~ I loved staying in Villatuerte instead of Estella in the first week. And there are two wonderful Albergues there. La Casa Magica (Under new management). And Albergue Etxeudina where the host included bfast and cooked me whatever I asked for.

~ On the long, dry stretch from Villatuerta to Los Arcos there is a new food truck that has popped up. A welcome sight on a warm day. It has only been open a few weeks. An experiment by a Canadian couple living in Viana, they have chili and chocolate. Even red velvet cake and homemade brownies. Check them out and tell them Kelli says ‘Hi’. They’ll remember.

~ In Beldorado, two days from Burgos, I would stay at Hostal B in a heartbeat. The guy is wonderful and his cooking is to die for. A new trend is having a small grocery shop within the building. Mostly because Pilgrims often arrive at times when cafes and restaurants are not serving food. And they are desperate to eat. Hostal B hits all the right notes. I was really sick there (I didn’t write about it at the time as I’m tired of talking about being sick). The guy took great care of me.

~ Meeting Point Albergues are prevalent in the Meseta. They are usually new and clean. I enjoyed them and they have affordable private rooms.

~ There is an Albergue in Castrojeriz run by a Spaniard and his Korean wife. Orion Albergue right as you enter the town. She cooks authentic Korean food – one of the best meals on the Camino. And they have a small grocery store with all your Asian favorites. Many many Koreans walk the Camino. The place is a gold mine.

~ In Fromista I was saved on a cold snowy day by the owner of the Doña Mayor Eco Hotel. Lovely place. They weren’t open yet but she saw me sitting outside waiting for my pension to open and worried about me as it was very cold. She called me in and gave me hot tea. It’s completely refurbished and looks amazing. Next time!

~ I already sang the praises of Hotel Real Colegiata. Parador-lite. But a better locale in the old city of León with rooms for a fraction of the Parador. Not far from the Cathedral.

~ Albergue rural L’ Abilleiru in Santaibañez de Valdeiglesias is a little off the beaten path but well worth the extra 500m. The owner personally iced my achilles and her son’s cooking is delicious. One of the best beds on my Camino.

~ My stay at La Trucha in El Acebo made the end of a very long day seem like heaven floating on the clouds. A room with a view, three bouquets of fresh flowers, plus candles.

-And finally, an amazing place to eat and stay in Cacabelos. Moncloa de San Lázaro is a secret haven. They know hospitality and they know mouthwatering food. Not exclusively for Pilgrims, it has a Napa Valley wine country vibe. I felt instantly at home and didn’t want to leave. If you don’t want to stay there you can pop in to their tienda for a stamp on your credentials, and a free cup of wine. It’s tradition.

Semana Santa is hitting the crescendo this weekend. But there are still processions to be seen.

While my Camino will be done in a week or so, next Sunday or Monday, I hope this helps those coming up behind me over the next few months. Buen Camino.

Just a Few Pics

Over the past several days I’ve gathered some images on my walk. So I thought I would post them.

I’ve twisted my ankle seriously. Ice and Ibuprofen is helping, but favoring it means I’ve developed a nice sized blister on my left heel. My podiatry know-how is dodgy, but €30 later and some minor surgery, I’ve fashioned a moleskin tower over the blister. And I bought an ankle brace from the nicest people in any farmacia on the planet, who spent nearly a half hour fitting me correctly. Even the other customers were helpful. ‘She has walked the entire way.’ the farmacist told them. Which elicited a collective ‘Ahh’. I am so close to finishing this thing. I’ll do it if I have to crawl into Santiago.

Taken of me by a friend

This first one is me atop Cruz de Ferro. My chest looks huge, and no, walking the Camino isn’t a substitute for breast augmentation. I have a litre bottle of water in there. Along with my large rain poncho stuffed inside my jacket. The weather was so unpredictable. It was easier than taking off my pack.

I’m not a big fan of the ever increasing graffiti and defacing of the Camino by Pilgrims. It seems bringing a fat black permanent marker on your Camino and writing your grievances on the granite markers or way signs is growing in popularity. But other signs I love. Encouragement is always welcome.

I stayed in an Albergue that was more Zen than one would expect on a historically Christian pilgrimage. But I loved it. And the host was such a gentle, kind man. His presence was like instant Prozac. I slept like a baby.

Getting up today, I will go slow. But slow just means I will take in more views. Until next time.

Not Too Far Over The Hill

Walking a Camino is all about honesty. No matter what you think it will be when you begin, it will be something else at the end. You will not be the same person when you arrive to Santiago. Guaranteed. Mentally or physically.

You can not hide from yourself when you walk for six weeks straight for six hours a day through rain, sleet, snow and heat. If you have anger issues, the mud won’t help that. Just sayin’. But it’s not all about processing what we typically categorize as negative emotions. Often it’s completely the opposite.

I have been walking for the past two days with some Camino friends. We walked into a village and they were staying at the first Pension. We arrived late after a brutal day that produced many blisters on a sea of rocks dotting the path. I twisted my ankle more times than I can count. Thank God for high boots instead of trail runners. We barely spoke the entire day, we were so concentrated on where to place our feet. Rain has been our constant companion for two days. So the warm Albergue was a welcome sight.

Everything was closed at four pm. No self respecting Spanish cafe is serving food at that time. But the Albergue owner received us all, happily. He asked if we had eaten anything all day and when we said No, he told us all to sit. Then he locked the door to the cafe and whipped us up a meal fit for a king. And then the comedy show started.

Two hours of non-stop hilarity later, it was then that I realized I have not laughed that hard in so long. I have forgotten what the sound of my own belly laugh sounds like. I was crying.

Finally, it was time to head to my own pension down the way. I wasn’t sure where it was and was mocked mercilessly for using Google maps in a one horse-town. The Albergue owner offered to walk me there.

‘You are very funny.’ He told me on our short walk.

I laughed. ‘You should do stand up. Honestly. Add Comedy Club to your sign.’

‘You can come back here any time, you know. You don’t live very far away. I have a house.’

It was then it struck me. ‘Wait. Are you hitting on me?’ I asked. A little incredulous. I haven’t felt hit-on-able in a very, very long time. I barely recognized it for what it was.

He smiled. ‘Of course.’

I declined politely, then thanked him for walking me to my pension.

Yesterday reminded me that its ok to let my guard down to a certain extent. Sadness and grief aren’t the only emotions that I need to let fly. The door to joy and laughter needs to be left unlocked, and cracked open, as well. And, at 55, maybe I’m not too far over that hill, quite yet. 😉

Cruz de Ferro

Cruz de Ferro is the highest point on the Camino, capped with a cross that has attracted millions of Pilgrims over the centuries.

Modern day Pilgrims walk with a stone they have brought with them from home. During the journey it is to be imbued with the burdens of their life. Grief, pain, regret, and more. But also gratitude and hope. At Cruz de Ferro they leave the stone, along with a host of other things like prayer flags, notes, or prayer cards. When they walk away from Cruz de Ferro they should feel lighter. Shed of their burdens, and with their hopes in the hands of God.

When I walked the Camino in 2017, I called out to friends and asked if they wanted me to carry a stone for them. Most had never heard of the Camino, but some quietly asked if I would do so on their behalf. I was happy to oblige.

Last September I asked those who read this blog if anyone wanted me to carry a stone – for them or a loved one. I know Covid made it difficult for people to travel. Many people reached out, so I selected rocks from my personal rock collection for just this purpose and loaded them up for the trip to St Jean. Then I injured my knee walking down from Romcesvalles. And when I had to stop in Uterga I felt a little guilty that I hadn’t fulfilled my promise.

After coming home I unpacked my pack and stored it in the barn. But the stones never left the pocket where I put them. And they remained there as I repacked it and set out again nearly a month ago. So for those of you who sent me personal messages for yourself or a loved one, I will be placing your stones at the foot of the cross tomorrow. Alongside my own. If you asked me to read something specific, especially in memoriam, I will do that too. I know it’s important and I apologize it took me an additional six months to fulfill your request.

If there is anyone else who is new to the blog, I am happy to place one for you, too. Please let me know today. You can use the Contact menu so as to keep it private.

Although I am not religious, rituals mean a lot to me. They carry a weight and an energy that connects us all to something greater than ourselves. I don’t pretend to understand it, but I know it to be so. And for those who asked me to place a stone for you, it is my honor. My hope is that your burdens will feel a little lighter this Semana Santa. 🙏 I hope that for us all. Buen Camino.

Table For One

When I was little, my Mom used to read me a book called A Fly Went By by Mike McClintock. It’s a story of a little boy who meets a fly, who tells him about the monster chasing him, the sound of which is hideous and frightening. Next comes a frog, who is fleeing a cat, who is fleeing… and on and on. Including a cow, then a farmer with a shotgun (a pre-1970’s children’s story, to be sure). Eventually, the little boy figures out what they’ve all been running scared from is a little lamb who has become stuck in a tin can and has just been trying to get someone to help him. The boy removes the can, then shouts to those running in fear. All of whom feel very foolish when discovering their greatest fear was a lamb in a tin can.

Starting this Camino up again in March, where I left off in September in Uterga, was lonely. I didn’t see another Pilgrim for two days. And I repeatedly freaked myself out. Looking behind me at every sound or snap of a twig. I would sometimes hear a banging sound and whip around. It was two days before I realized it was my shell banging against a carabiner on the very back of my pack, out of sight. Standing on the trail I laughed out loud and remembered that book from childhood. My own worst enemy.

So often in life we become afraid of things we conjure in our head. Or perhaps they are very real things – manageable things – that become bigger and bigger. Lambs become monsters.

Over the course of the past four weeks I have become more comfortable with being alone. Yes, I have traveled alone for work plenty of times, but I had never been on vacation alone. And not on a Camino hiking nearly 500 miles across Spain. Very often, there was no one to stand next to me to enjoy the light streaming through stained glass windows in a gothic cathedral. Bringing tears to my eyes. Or someone to turn to and say ‘Look at that sunrise. Breathtaking.’ At the end of the day I am alone. I’ve learned to take in experiences as a singular individual, and to have that be enough. It turns out that when a tree falls in the woods and there is no one there to hear it, it does still make a sound. And the beauty is still there when there is no one to share it with.

Its not like I don’t need other people, but I find that I’m enough just as I am. I sit alone in restaurants and I enjoy it. Take a break on a bench and savor the moment of rest. Chat with strangers. Then battle physical pain that sometimes takes me down. But it turns out that the thing I was most afraid of no longer causes me fear. I’m not afraid of my own body giving up the ghost.

Yesterday, I toured the sights of Astorga and I didn’t wish someone else was there to share it with me. It was enough to light my candles in the cathedral alone – which I had all to myself on the Friday before Semana Santa – and to say my prayers for those I love. For burdens to be lifted. For them to find peace. Then I just sat in silence for a half hour before quietly walking back to my hotel.

I’m not saying Jeff has not been a huge supporter all along this journey. I have spoken to him at low points. When the pain in my leg has me on my knees. When I am sure I can’t take another step. And usually his first offer goes like this ‘I’ll come get you. Just tell me where you are.’ But I always say ‘NO!’ Then he goes into coach mode. ‘Sit down. Drink water. Then get back up. You can do it.’ He’s done Google street view on large stretches of this route and he talks to me about what he sees. ‘All the Pilgrims are in shorts. What do you mean it’s snowing?!’ His voice gives me courage.

Other Angels have saved me too. An Albergue owner who iced my Achilles and sat down with me speaking in slow español. Her voice was so soothing and I followed everything she said about modern Spanish architecture while she took my mind off the pain. And a French massage therapist who stumbled through a door very late, saw me limping, and performed a massage that changed everything.

I always hate it when people online tell first time Peregrinos they don’t need to worry about stuff while walking the Camino. ‘The Camino Provides’. But on this trip it really has. Still, I prefer ‘Small miracles happen every day.’ Camino or no.

In just an hour or so, Jeff will be rolling up in our car. It’s nearly a month since I last saw him waving goodbye at the train station in Santiago. It will be so good to see him. No longer just a voice in my ear whispering encouragement. ‘I hurt.’ I say. Followed by his quiet response ‘I know.’ Or saying nothing at all, just Jeff being on the other end of an open line. Today I will happily sink as his hug engulfs me.

Tomorrow, it will be hard to hug him, then walk away again as I start climbing another mountain. But I won’t think of that today. Because I know I can finish this. I have angels looking out for me at every step and turn in the road. And after all these miles, with just over 250km to go, I am not afraid anymore.

Tractor Eavesdropping

I’ve ratcheted up my eavesdropping (surreptitious listening) on Spaniards in cafés and restaurants. Traveling alone I have to speak Spanish all day every day,. So to up my understanding, eavesdropping really helps with my Spanish comprehension, considering that Spaniards speak very quickly and I am usually a sentence or two behind. But on the Camino my methods have evolved.

Sure, I still do the Café eavesdropping, but I’ve added listening to the village bread delivery transactions or meat delivery, on a semi-regular basis. The honking of the horn, the population pouring out of their homes, pleasantries exchanged. Finally, a bit of gossip before the driver moves down the road, honking again in the distance. And as of today I am incorporating group village tractor maintenance to my repertoire.

It’s always good to listen in on topics or social situations of which you are familiar. And today just such a situation arose in a very small village before Astorga. And there was a convenient bench near by to sit, upon which to slowly enjoy a protein bar and a tangerine, while following along with the goings on. The traffic in this village was pure tractor. From vintage contraption circa the 1950’s to present day. The tractor I was observing would be of the early 1970’s variety. A Massey Ferguson still humming along, but the plow implement was bent. And a couple of the blades were needing a replacement. The farmer sat his dog in the cab, then brought out many tools, pieces of metal, a grinder (Jeff, you’d have been in heaven) and other implements of destruction. He hammered, ground and levered things. All as I sat enraptured.

I watched as other tractors pulled up. They spanned the entire spectrum when measuring the tree rings of a tractor’s age. Farmers got out of their cabs, coming over to the one working on his plow, all of them in work boots, overalls, and stocking caps on this icy cold morning. I watched this scene and it brought me back to my childhood.

My grandfather was a sheep farmer. I loved going to their farm in Lacomb, Oregon. Feeding baby lambs. And listening to my Dad and Grandpa talking farm things while I hid in the barn.

As I got older my Dad was always needing something for a project. He would take me with him if I promised to be quiet. That was hard for me but I would do it so I could go. We would end up in barns or workshops all over northern Oregon or southwest Washington. And while my Dad talked to whoever he was purchasing some hoozy whatsit from, I would explore. And listen. So in this village, 7000 miles from where I grew up, I knew what these guys were discussing. And it goes something like this, as the first one walked up.

Pedro sighs, as the dog on the seat of the tractor peeks his head up to see what’s going on.

‘Buenos Dias, Pedro. Que tal? What’s the problem?’

‘A bent blade. And this one’ he kicks it with his boot, ‘needs replacing.’

They both scratch their heads in unison. Metal is hard to come by right now. Patching will have to do. Then Pedro starts wailing on the bent plow blade with a dead blow hammer. Two more tractors pull up, as others go by, craning necks to see what the fuss is about. This will make some good conversation over lunch at home later. The two new arrivals join their friends. Hands in pockets of warm, worn coveralls, they exchange more ‘Buenos Dias’ and again, inquire as to the problem. The first arrival explains for Pedro as he gets out his grinder. And the new arrivals throw in their two cents.

‘You know. I think you need a 3/8 inch hoozy whatsit. (yes, it should be in metric but I don’t know the conversion to metric for hoozy whatsits)

Pedro searches his ancient metal tool box as the farmer goes on.

‘I remember back in 59’ when there was a shortage of hoozy whatsits. The whole village shared just one. We couldn’t have dreamed of different sizes, like they have now. 3/8, 5/16th. These were for rich people in Madrid. I remember the first time I got my own hoozy whatsit, my wife made a cake and we invited our friends over to to look at it. That was a proud day for her, I can tell you.’

The other farmers have heard this story over coffee or a cerveza so many times they could recite it in their sleep. But they have their stories too, and standing around repairing a tractor is the time for telling them. If by agreement, they chuckle at the right spots in the retelling. One by one, as Pedro bangs, grinds and welds, they each take their turn, while sometimes holding a tool or offering useful advice.

Soon the plow is repaired, my snack is eaten and my presence detected. Time for me to move down the Camino. But its a good reminder that people are the same everywhere. And tractor eavesdropping is now my favorite sport in Spain.