Day 21 (Part 1): Fromista to Villarmentero de Campos

In October and November of 2015, I walked the Camino Francés, one of the traditional pilgrimage routes to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. It was a deeply emotional journey, with far-reaching implications for my life, and I’m slowly but surely capturing the memories and musings here on my blog. Read the entire series at Anna’s Camino.

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Moon and stars carved into the bathroom door at Albergue Amanecer.

The day started out damp and gloomy. A fine mist was falling, and the sky was gray, as we struggled back out of the door of the inhospitable albergue and trudged back out to the Camino. I don’t know how Jakob slept, but I slept like a rock. That was great, because as it would turn out, I’d need all the energy I could get for the day ahead. Still, I was dragging as the day started. My mood was as dumpy as the weather.

The town still seemed to be asleep, but just up the road was a little cafe/bar that catered to the all night crowd. Most of the patrons were a little rough around the edges, guys who seemed to have just gotten off of the night shift, peppered with a few who had probably been drinking for hours. A pinball machine in the corner had a crowd of guys around it, bantering back and forth, cheering now and then. Several older men were perched at the bar, beers in hand. I mentally pegged them as off-duty truck drivers, and for some reason that cheered me up a little.

There were a few peregrinos already seated, eating the customary breakfast of toast, zumo, and cafe con leche. I took one look at their plates and decided I just couldn’t handle another morning of carb loading. I asked the bartender if she had tortilla, and she shook her head no. Eggs? No. OK, what about chorizo? Si! So I did have toast for breakfast, bolstered with a chewy hunk of sausage for protein, and a hot cocoa, just to get my endorphins going and pull me out of the funk. We sat near the other peregrinos, and ever-friendly Jakob made conversation while I ate and nodded along now and then. They were British women, in their late 50’s or early 60’s. In what I would learn was a pretty usual occurrence, they found my companion to be exceedingly charming, and one giggled like a schoolgirl while they talked.

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Eventually, there was a break in the rain, and the trio of women struggled away with packs and ponchos. I hadn’t quite finished my breakfast, so we sat a few minutes longer, and while we sat, it started to rain harder. Neither of us had the energy to budge until it cleared, so it was about 30 minutes later that we finally got our day started and got out of Fromista. Despite my breakfast and my new friend, I felt grayer than the day.

Before the Camino, walking was a means to get from one place to another. Walking just WAS. There was no emotion associated with it. There was no specific benefit to be gleaned from it. I put one foot in front of the other, repeatedly, until I reached a destination. That was that. I didn’t know before the Camino, and to be honest, I didn’t really realize while on the Camino, just what joy there was to be had through walking. I couldn’t see how drastically it could impact me, to my very core. This day stands as one of the first days that I got just a glimmer of an idea that putting one foot in front of the next could change EVERYTHING for me, starting with my mood.

As Jakob and I walked, I loosened up just a bit. I still felt emotionally low, but talking with my new friend gave me some mental space. The real turning point in the day was just up the road, about 9km away, at a place called Albergue Amanecer.

In my primary research for the Camino, I’d read that at some point around the Meseta, there was an albergue that had a friendly donkey and a tipi. I’m not sure when it became absolutely necessary for me to visit the albergue with the donkey and the tipi, but at some point, I’d decided that it was one of my Camino “musts.” I was hoping to stay the night in the tipi, should the opportunity present itself. The night before, while drinking wine and eating our grocery store dinner at the albergue, we’d researched the next day’s walk a little, and discovered that we were an hour and a half’s walk from Albergue Amanacer, home of tipi and donkey. I was disappointed to not be able to stay the night, but figured we could at least stop and take a look.

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Geese and a tipi! I never did get to chat with the donkey, though.

By the time we reached the tiny municipality of Villarmentero de Campos, it was already late morning. We were very behind schedule for the day, and the Albergue Amanecer’s front gate was closed. But beyond the gate was visible a large, verdant lawn, outdoor tables, and in the distance, the tipi and several old fashioned wooden structures that reminded me of Romani vardos that had been taken off of their wheels. The entire picture was so wholesome and pleasant that it increased my resolve to get in and explore. Jakob tried the gate, and it opened easily. Once in the front yard, it was obvious that it had been closed to prevent the yard’s various fowl – chickens, ducks, and geese – from wandering out. The birds wandered around and past us as we made our way to the little cafe on the side of the building. Inside, one of the owners made cafe con leches and invited us to hang out while we rested our feet.

As soon as we’d taken a seat outside in the garden, a couple of locals showed up. With them came their dogs, who scampered around, played with each other, chased chickens, and generally just amused the hell out of all of us. At one point, one of the chickens flew up to the roof to escape a dog, and we all clapped in amazement as the chunky bird clumsily cleared the roof’s edge by what seemed like millimeters. As we enjoyed the scene, a young hospitalera told us about how she had recently moved to Spain, soon after walking the Camino for the first time. On her first walk, she’d rescued Camina, one of the young dogs now playing out in the yard in front of us. She felt so at peace on her journey that soon after returning to her own country, she called up the albergue’s owners, asked if they’d hire her on, then packed up her belongings and moved to Spain.

I was aware that it was getting late, but was really enjoying the moment, and didn’t feel like leaving yet. Part of me felt anxious – was I inconveniencing my new friend? Would he need to walk on to meet his schedule? Was it pissing him off that I was wasting time here in this beautiful garden? But when I surreptitiously glanced over and took stock of his attitude, I saw that he was relaxed, just taking in the moment with a zen-like demeanor that made me a little jealous, but mostly just made me relieved. I knew that I was being given a big gift, whether or not Jakob realized it. To be able to move at my own pace without judgement was still a very foreign concept. I decided to sit back and soak in this taste of freedom that had presented itself, here in this perfect little slice of nature.

Rent & Kitties

My landlord lives out of state, and is seldom in town. I love that aspect of our relationship. What I don’t love is that it’s time for me to renew my lease, and I’m terrified to ask him about renewal. Last year he raised my rent by $50. If he raises it by any amount this year, I can’t afford to live here – and I’ve been desperately searching for other places that are in my price range and fit my needs (basically bigger than a shoebox, in a neighborhood where I won’t get shot, and willing to accept three cats) for months. There’s nothing out there. Nothing. Nada. I’ve even tried looking where the students live. Not to mention that to even get an apartment, I’d need to have first and last month’s rent on hand, and that’s just laughable. If I’m broke enough to buy cruelty-added eggs from Dollar General, I’m definitely in no place to put down first and last month’s rent on an apartment. This is my best option at the moment, so I’ve got to make it work.

That being said, guess who should show up yesterday but the landlord, who has his own vacation condo downstairs from my place? So now I’m hiding out in my apartment, praying that my precarious situation doesn’t unravel. Because not only is a raise in my rent imminent, I’m also only supposed to have two cats, according to my lease. But Charlie came along, and how was I supposed to say no to that little face and his tiny leg cast? So I’m now harboring a feline fugitive. Eventually it’s all going to come out, but for now, my best approach is to just hide and cross my fingers until the landlord goes back home to Wisconsin.

On top of the living situation fiasco, I think Isabel has fleas, which means that Munky and Charlie probably have them, too. I just gave them flea treatment two weeks ago, but the doctor told me that Frontline wasn’t working that well on this year’s super fleas, and I chose to chance it, and now my baby girl is scratching her chin a little too vigorously. I guess it’s time to break out the emergency credit card, for what it’s worth. I guess paying for expensive flea medicine is still cheaper than getting everyone treated for fleas AND worms in the long run. Need to call the vet and find out when the earliest new dose can be safely given, too. I just hate that it’s Izzy that’s itchy; we’re so closely bonded that when she spends time scratching, I start to get itchy, too. And I think that the stress or an allergic reaction to the fleas might be bringing back her little rodent ulcer that she gets. Her lip is looking slightly swollen. Plus, she’s going to be 10 this year, and her body is ever-so-slightly more angular and delicate than it has been. Watching her stress out even the least bit hurts my heart.

Munky’s been feeling fine ever since everyone switched over to the new food, but he was acting so calm and happy when he was on kitty Xanax when he was sick, and now he’s just not the same. That he would have that reaction isn’t much of a surprise, of course, but it did show me how he might exhibiting low-key examples of being stressed on a regular basis. I need to up my game to get him a stress-free environment. Of course, moving to a larger apartment would be a great start, but that’s not happening right now. So I’ve been looking into getting him calming treats, since we tried the pheromone diffuser a few years back and it backfired completely and made him a homicidal maniac. He’s starting to make a lot sense to me now that he’s my middle child. I’ve never really bonded with him as much as with Isabel (and now Charlie). His neediness has always been such a turn off. But now that he’s got bookend siblings, the neediness seems more justified, and makes me more patient. It’s terrible, but true.

Charlie’s only real health issue is still an annoying one, for both of us. Like most cats here, he has a type of herpes that mostly affects his eyes. It’s nothing serious, basically a bout of pinkeye every now and then that does have a small chance of causing complications. The doctor basically told me to keep an eye on him, feed him well and keep his stress levels down, and if he starts acting like his eyesight is affected, or if I see his eyes looking goopy, to bring him in. He’s been fine, but the thing that keeps his eye issue front and center in my memory is that, because he’s a white cat, he has light brown tear stains. This is my first time with a white cat, and he’s so beautiful that the brown stains really bug the crap out of me. So I’m going to get L-Lysine treats (or powder, haven’t decided yet), which I’ve read will help boost everyone’s immunity, and some little tear washing pads to make my little man super handsome. *insert baby talk here*

So yeah. Evidently I’m not only hiding out from the landlord, I’m living in a plague house. Need to find a second job so I can pay for all these damn cats.

The Tiger Girl

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A different Tiger Girl all together, and nothing like the one from my dreams, but I still loved this image of the 1960’s comic hero. Like it? You can download this as a wallpaper.

I keep dreaming about the Tiger Girl. Every night, the Tiger Girl. And every night the same.

The first night I dreamed of her, she was part of a particularly exciting lineup. There was a dream about being in college and getting back together with a bunch of kids I’d known in high school. There was a road trip dream. One of the dreams involved running through fields, and a snapshot of me looking good in jean shorts (which has never happened, even when I was thin and young, and my legs weren’t all veins and fat deposits). But in the middle of all that, there was just one flash that didn’t match up to any of the other things: the Tiger Girl.

She was humanoid, female, and dressed in some kind of mech suit (which looked a lot like this one). She was being lifted out of an industrial vat, and liquid dripped off of her. The suit seemed newly formed, glossy and perfect, airbrushed to perfectly resemble a tiger’s coat, down to the detail of each individual piece of fur. I could see that her body was rigid, like a doll, arms pinned to sides, legs straight, ankles together, only I couldn’t exactly see the ankles because the mech suit legs matched up almost seamlessly from knee to ground. In fact, I would have thought that she was a doll, except that as the camera zoomed to take in all of these details, the last shot was an extreme closeup of her perfect human face, pale as porcelain, settling at last on dewy brown eyes. She winked at me. I woke up in a panic.

Every night since, she’s in my dreams somewhere. I don’t remember seeing anything new; perhaps it’s just the same view, over and over. All I know is that I’m having trouble sleeping, and as soon as I wake, my mind blames the Tiger Girl. A few times I’ve been on the cusp of understanding what this is all about – is she a bad omen, or a good one? Does she mean something to me? Is she a story, waiting for me to write her? But nothing has wormed its way out of my psyche just yet.

Simple Truths

Like many people, I grew up with an eye for romance. I wanted to be whisked off my feet; not literally, like in an avalanche or tsunami, or by being run over by a bus – but rather in the poetic sense. But isn’t it funny that the older you get, the more you realize that no matter the method, being whisked off your feet is still not only scary, but detrimental?

I dreamed of hills and overpasses last night, and highways that pass by sleepy, forgotten hamlets. I walked a bicycle up a hill. I was late in going somewhere, I know not where.

Maybe a week ago, the night after the night I dreamt about the black dog, I encountered its real-life counterpart just down the street from my house. This black dog was also huge, and scared me at first, but she was so friendly. Her eyes were full of such love that I couldn’t help but feel overjoyed as I petted her. When she and her owner walked away, I almost cried; I felt instantly bereft. I hope to meet her again.

Someone with speakers on their bicycle just rode by my house. Through the open living room window I could hear those speakers playing a song off of Tricky’s “Maxinquaye” album, which my college roommate played every night to fall asleep. It still makes me deliciously sleepy.

I’m growing my hair out. To grow out a pixie cut properly, it’s best to have a stylist shape the way your hair is going to grow. I decided to go to a new salon just down the street from my house. The stylist gave me what she called a “men’s cut” – anything above the chin – and I was charged accordingly. That’s never happened before, no matter the length of my hair, no matter the salon, no matter how short my hair has been. Even when I shaved it off last year, I paid for a “women’s cut,” which is more expensive than a “men’s cut” by very definition. I have always gotten a little upset at getting charged double what a man pays, especially for the same hairdo, but I always swallowed the anger. What good would complaining do, I thought. Today I saved $35 on a haircut. In terms of what I’ve traditionally paid for the last 10 years, you could say that today I basically got a BOGO deal. The next time I go back, I’m going to ask the salon to consider removing gender from their descriptions, since the real determination is made on length.

The other day, I took a detour on my way home and walked down a little wooded path in the middle of the Esplanade Avenue neutral ground. As my feet left the pavement and joined back up with the dirt and gravel on this tiny stretch, I felt a tickle of energy pass from earth to toes. For a moment, I felt at one with God, there in the middle of a busy New Orleans street. It was fleeting, but fine.

I found a new ghost story podcast on Spotify this morning.

Once, I told Duncan Sheik to his face that his music put me to sleep. Not my finest moment; it was meant to be a compliment. Oops.

I miss people, but not the people you probably think I miss. 

I once waltzed with a German at a bar called the Casablanca. Another time, I drank wine with a Canadian in Paris; we watched the Eiffel Tower sparkle like a promise. I kissed a Brazilian in Austin, cuddled with a Costa Rican in Memphis, was propositioned by an Algerian in Nice, and once, in a fit of pique, I smushed a dollop of blue cake icing into an Ecuadorian’s ear. Sometimes I see a particular dead Italian walking towards me down the street. My love life is a travelogue. How does it happen? I’m not even that outgoing.

When the hypnotist says to picture a “beautiful place,” I think of how it felt to fall asleep in the same room as my pilgrim friends.

I find myself wondering what it is that people live for, what keeps them going. I find solace in my cats, and dream of getting my own tiny prickly pear cactus.

My apartment is feeling cramped, and Charlie keeps destroying the toilet paper.

It’s up to you to figure out who Charlie might be.

A Dream & A Song

This is “Black-Eyed Dog,” by Nick Drake. It’s one of my all-time favorite songs. Nick died very young, in his sleep, of what was presumed to be an accidental overdose of his depression medication. Before he left, he recorded some of the most hauntingly beautiful tunes, including this one. You probably recognize the concept of a black (or black-eyed) dog. Nick’s song was based on Winston Churchill’s description of the inescapable weight of depression, following you at all hours. Of course, this imagery is most likely based on a creature of British legend with which Churchill (and anyone who’s read Harry Potter) would be familiar – the Black Dog, a ghostly being that, once seen, portends the viewer’s death.

Fun fact: I thought that I “knew” that the Black Dog and the pooka, or púca, were one and the same before I started writing this blog post, but I was wrong.

Another fun fact: I really need to go to sleep, but now I’m getting really excited about reading about the Black Dog. Uh oh. But I’ll leave my faerie research for another time, and wrap this up…

Last night, I dreamt of a black dog, but it was protecting me, albeit reluctantly. I can’t remember the overall framework of the dream, but I was at someone’s house, turned to walk through a doorway and was frightened by the black snake I suddenly saw there. It was stretched out, facing me, and it seemed menacing. For a second I was scared, and yelped in fear. There was a closeup of its delicate face (the more I try to pull this moment up, the more I see that it was a square head, not poisonous), and then I saw its body, a deep, glossy black with a small, muted gold pattern that I couldn’t quite make out. Then I saw that the snake was resting between the paws of a lounging black labrador retriever, and the fear immediately left.

The dog was immense, and also a deep, glossy black. She was one of those purebred labs that are as big as a pony, all solid and sleek, with a flank that makes a drum-sound when you pat it. She was well cared for, and wore a collar with a dangling tag. She was imposing – not my friend, not my pet. She had a job, and she also had an attitude with me. We made eye contact briefly. I felt deference. For a second she seemed to briefly consider me, then the snake quickly crawled (hurled itself, really, in the way that dreams work) past me, away across the room, and over a side table that sat next to the window. The dog chased the snake, looked over the edge of the table down to where it was hiding, and that’s the last thing I remember.

Day 14: Anna’s Camino – Santo Domingo de la Calzada to Belorado

In October and November of 2015, I walked the Camino Francés, one of the traditional pilgrimage routes to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. It was a deeply emotional journey, with far-reaching implications for my life, and I’m slowly but surely capturing the memories and musings here on my blog. Read the entire series at Anna’s Camino.

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If you’ve been reading along, you might remember that I had my first “Camino moment” in Zabaldika, after reading some beautiful thoughts from the nuns there. My second Camino moment happened on Day 14, in Grañón, Spain. It’s not a pretty thing, but it was a raw, emotional occurrence that changed me in some mysterious way, so I’ll tell you.

I don’t remember much about leaving Santo Domingo de la Calzada, except that we met at the same little restaurant where we’d had dinner, and had one last coffee with Australian Mark, who would be staying behind for one more day on doctor’s orders, until they could make sure that he didn’t have any lasting damage from that blow to the head. English Mark met us there, as well, and that’s the last time Natalie remembers seeing him, though I ran into him once more later in the day. We had our coffees and juice, said our goodbyes, and got back on the road. Natalie was walking faster than I was that morning, and I trailed behind her, sometimes catching a glimpse on the road ahead, other times chatting with new pilgrims as we passed on the road.

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Along the way, we walked through a little hamlet and met up again for a mid-morning snack at a lovely little albergue. We met Ruth, a bubbly Anglican minister on holiday, and chatted briefly with her as she decided whether or not to call it a day and stay here in this town instead of moving on. The hospitalero was a woodcrafter, and had some beautiful simple jewelry on display. Before leaving, I bought what are still my favorite pair of earrings, little teal circles with tiny, yellow, applied wooden arrows, a reminder of the yellow arrows that mark the Camino. After a quick bathroom break, we walked on, and Natalie quickly pulled ahead again, heading towards Grañón.

I’d read about Grañón before, and had heard that it’s a magical place that pilgrims tend to love. I didn’t have the same experience, and for a long time, I thought that maybe people were wrong. Now that I know a little more about magic, especially in relation to totem animals, I’m inclined to believe with the original assessment. Just because something’s magical and life-changing doesn’t mean that it’s got to be all sunshine and lollipops while it’s happening. Anyway, as I walked into town, I encountered a small, starving dog on the street. This wasn’t an unusual occurrence, as heart-breaking as that might be. Animals aren’t put on a pedestal there like they are in the U.S., and I’m not in a place to pass judgment, but I did feel heartbroken quite often over it then. This dog came up to me, and I petted her and scratched her belly for a little while, until a dour-looking old man clomped down the street, waved his cane at me, and shouted at the dog. She cowered, then scampered away, he scowled at me, and I moved on, shocked.

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A few blocks farther down the street, I spotted a bunch of pilgrim packs outside the door to a cafe, and saw that Natalie’s bag was there, as well. I stopped, heaved off my bag, and started to walk into the cafe. At the threshold, I noticed two grown cats and two sets of kittens, all sick, eyes swollen shut and noses dripping. I wondered how many of the kittens would live through this. My brain stopped, and something else happened. It was like I was standing outside of myself, watching everything unfold. I watched myself grab a kitten, clutch it to my chest, then collapse on a nearby bench, sobbing uncontrollably.

It’s hard to explain what was going on, because I didn’t exactly know, myself. I was causing a scene, crying quite loudly. The kitten squirmed, trying to get away from the crazy lady holding it in her iron embrace. Pilgrims rushed out of the cafe, and suddenly I was surrounded by kindhearted souls who thought I must be seriously injured. People were asking me “what’s wrong? what’s wrong???” and all I could manage through the sobs was, “The kittens, LOOK!” After a minute or two, it was obvious that I wasn’t hurt, and was just having a little mental breakdown, and people left me to cry. The kitten wriggled out of my arms and ran back to its brothers and sisters. A couple of fellow cat ladies patted my hand and told me that they understood, but I could see that they were as mystified as I over this ridiculous outburst. I apologized, pulled myself together, picked up my bag, and decided to move on, with or without Natalie. To me at that moment, it seemed that the town was obviously full of negative energy, and I needed to get out.

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I had walked almost to the town border when I caught a glimpse of an adorable little terrier sitting on the bench at the bus stop. This little guy was exactly everything that I’d ever want if I were to adopt a dog – he was small, sandy-colored, shaggy, smiling, and his little body just quivered with excitement as I got closer. He looked so joyful compared to everything I’d just experienced, and I was drawn to him. I dropped my bag on the bench, took a seat, and spent the next 15 minutes getting a huge dose of much-needed love from the little mystery dude. I tried to take a photo of the two of us, but every time I’d push the button, he’d give me another kiss. It was incredibly restorative, especially since he was wearing a collar and was well-fed. It renewed my faith in humanity, at least for a few moments. Eventually, I’d been sitting long enough that Natalie happened along, and the little dog was very happy to offer her some love, as well. After a few minutes, we reluctantly said goodbye to the pup and walked on. Here’s a little slideshow of our meeting…

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The rest of the day is a blur. I remember walking through Redecillo del Camino, a town famous for its elaborate baptismal font. We stopped and took a look, and had a cup of coffee at a nearby cafe. At some point in the day, I also ran into English Mark for the last time, also at a cafe. Maybe this was the same one? I can’t remember, and Natalie doesn’t remember seeing him again after breakfast, but when I saw him for the last time, he called me over to the bar, almost giddy in his eagerness to tell me a story he’d just heard about a road marker we’d passed earlier in the day, called the Cross of the Brave:

In medieval times, Santo Domingo de la Calzada and Grañón were locked in a dispute about the land the lay between the two towns, particularly who had rights to the lumber there. The towns were constantly fighting, and finally someone thought it would be smarter to just pick a champion for each town, and have them fight it out. The winner would determine which town had land rights. On the day of the big fight, the champion from Santo Domingo arrived, covered in oil. The only way the champion from Grañón could best the oily bastard was to grab him by the only part that wasn’t greased up – his anus. The fighter from Santo Domingo was thus thrown out of the ring (some say off a cliff), and Grañón won rights to the land, though the winning fighter died only days after the battle. Soon after, the Cross of the Brave was erected in memory of the fight. Mark finished telling me this story with, “But which one was truly the ‘brave’ one?” followed by a deep belly laugh. I’m glad that’s my last memory of him.

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The baptismal font at Redecillo del Camino.

Natalie and I covered another 15km, but I don’t have many photos. That night we ended up at an albergue called the Cuatro Cantones, and it turned out to be a lovely spot, run by a very nice family. Our friend Terry from Seattle was in Belorado that day, so once we got settled into our room, she came over and we all went out for a late lunch at a nearby bar. I can’t remember if I took a nap or not, but for the first time, I did no sightseeing (despite the fact that the town looked really interesting, and I sincerely regretted not being able to see more). That night, Natalie and I had dinner at the albergue restaurant, and invited the other peregrina from our small room (only three of us there – yay!) to join us. She was not a native English speaker, but between the three of us, we got along famously and had a great dinner together. After dinner, I snuck away to an empty bedroom to call my parents, then it was lights out.

Click here to read about Day 15.

Anna’s Camino: Day 7 – Puente la Reina

In October and November of 2015, I walked the Camino Francés, one of the traditional pilgrimage routes to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. It was a deeply emotional journey, with far-reaching implications for my life, and I’m slowly but surely capturing the memories and musings here on my blog. Read the entire series at Anna’s Camino.

The walk from Pamplona to Puente la Reina was one of the most exhausting I’d yet to experience, but the road offered its own rewards that day. I’ve already mentioned my brightest memories from leaving Pamplona in my last Camino blog entry, but there’s one more I’d like to recount, just to keep it fresh. The night before we left, the three of us girls went upstairs to the albergue’s communal kitchen and pooled our resources to have wine and snacks. While we ate and chatted, I filled out 30 postcards to mail back home, and since Claire also had some things to mail, we decided to try to find the post office on the way out of town in the morning. In the morning, we wandered around a little bit as we tried to find the post office, and one of our wrong turns led us to a little square with a statue of St. Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio. I took it as a sign, and as it turned out, it was to be the first of many that day.

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After visiting the post office successfully, we followed the yellow arrows back to the Camino. On our way out of town, we made a brief stop at the Church of San Cernin (click to learn more), a lovely 13th-century church possibly built over an old Roman temple. I was particularly taken with the church’s wooden floors, but still haven’t done the research to find out the reasoning behind the numbers. At the time, I assumed that the numbers coincided with tombs, but perhaps an expert can enlighten me in the comments!

As I recounted in the last entry, we stopped for coffee and a quick trip to the farmicia, then finally headed out of town a little later than planned. From Pamplona, the Camino takes pilgrims through a number of small towns, including Cizur Menur, where Natalie had memories from her earlier Camino of a wonderful hospitalera who was a foot expert. We had tentative plans to try to find the lady, just to say hi, but it didn’t work out. Instead, we kept walking, following the road uphill to the famous Alto de Perdon, “The Mount of Forgiveness.”

As we neared Alto de Perdon, even though we were walking up into the hills again, the landscape sort of stretched out all around us. The city had fallen away, and again it was easy to get lost in the greens and grays of the surrounding landscape. There were windmills everywhere! There had been a little rain to begin with in the morning, but as we climbed uphill, the wind began to whip, and the day started to get a little more gray than before.

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Gorgeous flowers – including my favorites, poppies.

I pulled the hood of my rain jacket tighter around my ears, and kept a close eye on my footing as we climbed up toward the famous metal statue that crowned the highest elevation of the day’s walk. Natalie walked ahead, and Claire was quite some way behind, and for some reason, I decided to just stop and look around. Ever since seeing Francis that morning, I’d had this feeling that I was missing something, but I couldn’t quite figure out what. Then I saw something I’d been looking for for days – my first poppies of the Camino. Ever since starting out, I’d kept an eye out for my favorite flowers, hoping to catch at least a couple of them in bloom, even though it was late in the season. Up until this point, I’d seen tons of crocuses, but not a single gorgeous red bloom. They’ve been important to me ever since visiting Assisi, Francis’ birthplace, and seeing them here, on this day, seemed particularly important.

Ever since seeing Alto de Perdon in the movie The Way, I’d expected it to be a very special and inspiring place, but in reality, the popular site wasn’t everything that I’d expected. Even at the time, it took a distant backseat to the poppies I’d seen just a few minutes earlier, and the rest of my walk that day was so beautiful and weird that afterwards, the hilltop sculpture was just a blip on my mental screen.

Walking downhill was a huge challenge for me that day. The ground was a little slick, but even worse, this portion of the Camino was just loose rocks. My knees were protesting the downhill climb, and I slipped often enough to start to be very nervous about the rocks. Natalie was much faster at this than I, so there ended up being at least a half-mile between us, maybe more. Claire and I passed each other throughout the afternoon, but for a good portion of the rest of the walk, I felt pretty isolated by the landscape. There were other pilgrims, but I don’t remember them. Mostly, I remember relishing the freedom, and singing at the top of my lungs for much of the afternoon.

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I particularly loved this welcoming roadside Madonna.

In Uterga, I caught up with Natalie at a great little albergue called the Albergue Camino del Perdon, where we had a seat, took off our shoes, and shared some food. We had a beautiful bowl of soup, and I ate one of my favorite slices of tortilla along the entire Camino. A sweet, well-loved neighbor dog came over to see if we needed any help clearing our plates.

Eventually, Claire ambled up, and we enjoyed sitting a little while longer. It was getting late, though, and we still had a ways to walk to get to Puente la Reina. The rest of the afternoon passed in a bit of a blur; my legs and feet were really starting to feel the strain of the day, and I got slower and slower as we walked through Muruzabal, then Obanos. At one point, I was right behind the girls, walking a suburban neighborhood. As we walked by house after house, they chatted ahead of me, and I just walked with my thoughts about 10 feet behind.

Suddenly, I heard an insistent whinny come from over a fence, and a beautiful white horse stuck her head out in my path. My companions kept walking on, immersed in their conversation. This gorgeous horse and I spent a good ten minutes communing over the fence, putting our foreheads together, me giving her ear scratches, her giving me little snuffles along my forehead. It was a beautiful little stretch of time, and if I could have visited for longer, I surely would have. But I didn’t know where I was supposed to meet up with the girls, so it was important to hurry on after awhile. It felt like a magical moment, though, and just another sign that Francis was walking beside me that day. Later, I asked the girls why they hadn’t stopped to say hi to the horse. “What horse?” they asked. Weird.

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My sweet horse companion.

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Sidewalk Camino marker. In cities and heavily-populated towns, there would normally be something a little more permanent than a spray-painted yellow arrow, though the arrows were often there, too.

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Political graffiti, though sometimes crass, can play an important role for getting newbies up-to-speed.

By the time we made it to Puente la Reina, it was already late afternoon. Luckily, we were just ahead of the last wave of pilgrims for the day, so there were still some open beds at the municipal albergue. I was so worn out! I barely had the energy to shuffle in the front door, then let Natalie and Claire talk with the hospitalero to see if there was any more room. I didn’t want to sit, in case I couldn’t manage to stand back up again, so I leaned against my pack, against the wall, and half-heartedly struggled to untie my shoes until it was my turn to show my ID and pay the guy. I believe it was five euros for a bed.

The albergue was pretty bare bones, with the same crappy metal bunk beds that they’d had at Zubiri, except that this time, it seemed like the bunk beds had been made for little kids, since there was barely enough room to sit up when you were on the bottom bunk. I didn’t really care, though. I was excited to have a bottom bunk, and once the late pilgrims came in, I was even more excited to just have gotten a bed. A few people were given sleeping mats to crash on the floor. One of the funny things that I remember from that particular albergue is that there was a group of pilgrims from Israel, all old men who played in an orchestra together, and spent the night bantering and telling jokes. They ended up irritating Claire the next day with their insistence that she stop walking and take their picture, but for the time being, they were an entertaining bunch.

After we’d showered, washed clothes, and had everything hanging out to dry (with not much hope in that department, since it had been a humid day, and promised to drizzle overnight), we decided to explore the town a little, and find something to eat. I don’t remember if we found a decent pilgrim meal or not, but I do remember how family-oriented the town was. It was the first of many towns that would impress me with how beloved, well-dressed, and well-behaved the children were, and how the family units all came out to eat and socialize together, mother, father and kids, or grandparents and kids. I didn’t take any pictures of the little ones, since that would be creepy, but I did take a couple of shots of the girls and myself on our way into town.

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Natalie and Claire (of the gorgeous hair), walking through Puente la Reina.

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Sunset in Puente la Reina. This picture marks the day that I first realized that my depression and anxiety were beginning to wane.

Click here to read about Day 8.