Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Spiritual Gift of the Camino

A week ago, a patient of mine almost died of an amniotic fluid embolism, and I am so grateful that she lived.  This is a complication at the end of pregnancy that we cannot predict, and the kind of care that is needed is supportive-- but if the injury is massive enough, it will kill the patient, no matter what we do.  So I was again confronted with the hardest thing in my life as a doctor-- my helplessness to control outcomes.  In our case, we had great teamwork, and it was a gift, to have such excellent colleagues helping me, and helping her.   This was a reflection on the greatest of the many gifts the Camino gave me.

 I feel the helplessness of being a person holding the hand of a person at the edge of death;  the marveling, that we cannot know if we will be enough;  and that we do what we can, and we must do it as well as we can, and only stop to feel the self-doubt later, after we have done all we can.  I was thinking a lot, on my walk, about the Gospel story where they ask Jesus why a man was born blind.  "Was it his sin, or the sin of his parents?" they ask.  He answered them "Neither.  It was so that the glory of God could be revealed through him."

I keep thinking of that story, as the answer to a lot of what happens in medicine.  At the edge where we work, we can only try, wittingly or un-wittingly, to be instruments for the glory of God to be revealed.  Which is another way of saying that miracles do occur.  When someone says that they don't believe in miracles, I think of Einstein, who said "either everything is a miracle, or nothing is."  But we cannot command them.  This is a hard thing for some skeptical people to entertain.  But with or without our awareness, many amazing and wondrous things happen.  What I think happened to me as time went by, in practicing medicine, was that fear of bad outcomes became pretty overwhelming, making me become over-controlling.  I knew I needed to let go and recognize that it is beyond me,— up to God, or what Rachel would call Mystery, or Life itself.  But to let go of the sense of control and over-responsiblility for the outcomes was impossible.

I really felt the difference, after this month of walking the Camino.  I took two rocks with me, one for the broken-hearted people I know, and one for the seriously ill people I know.  And I held them in my hands for many hours of the day, as I walked along– trying to get ready to leave them, loaded with prayers, at the foot of the iron cross, ('cruz de ferro"), which is on a mountain about two-thirds through the pilgrimage.  I also had been carrying a very special rock from a physician friend with a heartache which has been immensely difficult to overcome.  These three rocks were my meditation tools, as I walked along.  I started seeing that most of the things I was praying about were things which only God could fix.  I slowly felt myself letting my hands hold them less tightly, and my prayers around them becoming more "into Thy hands…"   I started retracting myself more into the small Hobbit-like woman walking along this ancient path.  Nobody asked for my advice or help.  I was carrying my pack, and my legs were aching.  And I was truly grateful for good weather, good food, and the simple but great gift of a place to lie down, and a shower.   I think for anyone who has gotten to a place of almost paralysis with the need to control, it is worth considering doing this kind of pilgrimage.  Perhaps even a shorter time would do– but the month was such a great gift, to be able to reach for a different rhythm, and give time for it to take hold.  One of my friends sent me an article about a new book written by a woman physician about the Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco, in the 70s and 80s, and how it was such a gift for patients to have adequate time to heal– sometimes months, for slow recovery.   I thought about that gift of slow time to heal.  I feel so blessed, that I got that whole month, to be able to uncurl from the false sense of control.  It gave me a new ballast, and a new center of gravity.  And the vivid remembrance of leaving those stones at the foot of the cross.

poem: The Spanish Shawls


In the brightly-lit Chinese emporium,
Just  up from the the beach, in Spain,
I found a rack of little girls' Spanish shawls,
All in bright colors, made in China.

And I remembered 50 years ago, so vividly!
Nana opening her suitcase, her eyes big and round;
And all of us so curious
To see what she had brought us!
Out came these little girls' Spanish shawls--
Each in stained glass colors--
Melon, jonquil, tangerine, violet, royal blue, and emerald green;
And I put one over my shoulders and twirled around in it--
Ahh, the sunshine in my memory made it gorgeous and so fine!

And here, now;  here they were, again, 50 years later,  where I was
Following a very faint trail of remembrance; in a store
With flamenco polka-dot dresses for little girls to wear for dress-up,
In wash-and wear spandex cloth, and fans, and glittery hair ornaments.
The cheerful Chinese imitations--
And now I am the one with the greying hair, and the wrinkly face. 

the fabric wasn't silk, just polyester,
the tassels were cheap,
the embroidery was machine-done, not hand-made,
the flowers weren't subtle enough in design,
They did not look quite like the ones I remember, and with Nana's face,
Giggling and cooing over them! 
The memories dissolved in the everyday light; 
They were heavy on my arm, all 6 of them--
And I thought about having to carry them home, stuffed
In my backpack. 

And I thought, a little sadly, we are all over 50,
    we can't really wear them;
    my sisters will twirl once,
    but their eyes will see the difference,
    notice that they aren't well-made,
    they are just a cheap imitation of the memory
    of the ones we loved;
They will go into a bottom drawer, or a costume box,
They aren't really "just the thing";
It would be dumb to buy them.
I am remembering, and the memory itself
Will have to be enough. 

I send you the gift of the shawls at that moment,
When Nana opened her suitcase,
And it could have contained the Eiffel Tower,
Or a Florentine madonna,
A black Spanish bull,
Or the gates of paradise.

mn 2012

Friday, June 22, 2012

Flying through Amsterdam

When I was looking for a ticket, I ended up getting a flight with KLM.  It went through Amsterdam, then the St. Exupery airport in Lyons France, then to Biarritz, which is the closest airport to the starting point for many, at St. Jean Pied a Port, in the southwest corner of France.  I was flying with the biggest full moon of the year, on the Cinco de Mayo (5th of May);  which is an auspicious day to turn toward Spain from one of the former colonial places.  In Amsterdam, I went through customs, and then heard an overhead speaker announcing there would be a Catholic mass in the airport chapel starting in about 15 minutes.  I went back with my backpack through the international gate, and up to the airport lounge;  where, in a lovely translucent space, a chapel exists.  The priest had spent some time in Africa, and was very serious and kind, in his celebration of the mass.  It was an acutely tuned event to the fact that we were all wayfarers, if not pilgrims;  and that it was spiritually nourishing and grounding for us as Catholics, to be found here in this tiny community of believers.  There were about 10 of us, and after mass, the Dutch hostess and greeter invited us for cookies and coffee.  We had a marvelous talk.  One of the attendees was a young man who works as an engineer in Italy, and he had participated in the youth group with Pope John Paul II in Europe and Colorado.  I talked a bit about my experience in the Peace Corps, in Paraguay.  They were all delighted to hear I was on my way to walk the Camino, and sent their prayers and blessings with me.  The Gospel was the one about "I am the vine, you are the branches.  If you remain in me,  you will bear good fruit."   I was absolutely thunderstruck that there was a mass in the airport in Amsterdam, and that I got to be there, at just the right time to enjoy it!  
I also was surprised to be going through Lyons, and that the airport was named for the author of "The little Prince".  I was thinking it had been a long time since I read it, and I still remember in French, the line "tu deviens reponsable de ta rose"--- you are responsible for your rose--- which is why you love her, even though she is difficult.  I also remember reading "Night flight"-- several decades ago.  The place was muggy and reminded me of Omaha, but there was a lovely brick chapel steeple on the horizon beyond the airport, and interesting light in the clouds.  I wondered if St. Exupery would be glad his name is on that airport. 
Before leaving San Francisco, I was speaking with a young woman who was typing on a computer laptop-- and she asked me tentatively  if she could ask a medical question.  Her question had to do with how much longer she should work before getting pregnant.  I gently told her that I think it is the wrong question.  I cautioned her that she needn't believe me, because I am a very old-fashioned person about this issue.   I really think we need to be able to be people who are "both/and" rather than "either/or",  and that we need to be able to express our love, and build families, when it is right to do so;  not just force these life-issues into our work schedule.  If we are ready for children, it IS the right time, and the work will have to be adjusted accordingly.   We all want to be well-balanced, and good at everything.  In my opinion, the rate-limiting-step is finding the right partner, who will make a wonderful father for our children.  After that, it IS the right time to build a family.   Some payoffs happen, when we have children young.  When we have to wait, it is hard, especially if having a family is really the greatest hope and likeliest of all our desires to help us be happy.  Most women deeply want to be mothers and wives.  This needs to be honored, rather than shunted aside as a less-than-worthy goal, even if one is a great businesswoman.  The whole rest of the trip, I worried that I had not given her good advice, the kind of advice that is considered prudent in our time for  professional women.  I was so glad, listening to the Gospel of the vine and the branches, that maybe I did say the right thing.   In the lives of some of my patients, I am the only one arguing on behalf of their fertility, their potential maternity.  I put that, too, into God's hands. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

My blog for the Camino

My blog for The Camino de Santiago de Compostela started on May 5, and I came home on June 5.  So, to go in order,  you need to go to May, and start at the beginning.  I will keep trying to upgrade the postings to make it more coherent, with reflections from the days when I wrote in the journal, but didn't post anything, and from thoughts after returning.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

"Bread for the Stardust Pilgrims"

This is the title poem in my third book of poems.  I have been thinking about the pilgrimage to Santiago for about 10 years, and this was published in 2009.  I got to read it in front of the Burgos cathedral, to Andy, my son, who was recording it, in May 2012.  It felt miraculous, and powerful to be using the words I had written to describe the pilgrimage we were actually doing!  We were not barefoot-- it was hard even with shoes, in places.  But the Museum of Human Evolution in Burgos resonated completely with my poem, with my sense of the million years of holiness evolving us.  I have loved the work of Teilhard de Chardin since I first read it, and I was so lucky to be in the Seminar on Teilhard taught by Fr. Fagothey at Santa Clara, in the joy-filled autumn of his life, in the spring semester of my sophomore year.  Because of Teilhard, I was a philosophy major in college.  We had just walked a path which has been walked by humans for 10,000 years, near the archeological dig at Atapuerca.    I definitely felt the miraculous feeling that God holds us in hands which continue to create!  I am so grateful that my son is also excited and engaged in this sense of mystery, miracles, and the desire for coherence.   Walking this path with him has been one of the greatest experiences of my life.


In the stillness of night
Holding the dandelion seeds
Of our own resurrection,
We are the stardust pilgrims: 

Oxygen, nitrogen,
Carbon and hydrogen, 
Kissed by sunlight,Remixed and reborn.
Flesh blossoming from the muddy earth, 
Barefoot on the journey,
Bones (sometimes weary) singing the truth: 

We are stardust,
We are pilgrims;
Calcium and amino acids,
Air and water.
This bread is ours,
Wheat from the fields,
Golden as grain in summer.
This wine, transforming us
As we walk along,
On the way to the wedding feast;

Hoping for miracles,
Laughing for joy.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Cathedrals and Museums

A seminal thought for me is about the issue of what we see when we are in a cathedral-- in a way, how it is actually a museum for the time in which it was constructed, and the very best art and architecture available at that time.  I thought about the stone masons and the wood carvers-- they would have arrived from all over Europe, to contribute their skills to the building of the cathedral.  The Leon cathedral was built in 50 years, in the early 1300s.  That probably also meant about 3 generations of artists.  I tried to see the faces of the characters labelled as different saints and characters in the old Testament, and think about who decided, and who modelled these different people.  I think maybe some were important townspeople, or merchants, but also someone's father or mother, or sister.  Also, it is so interesting to see how a few centuries later, the exact position of the pose would be used, but the sculptural or painterly detail was more vivid, more life-like.  In Burgos, there were a lot of remodels, with chapels getting lavish upgrades as the centuries went by.  Powerful bishops were buried in sarcophagi in the walls or even in the middle of these remodelled chapels.  El Cid and his wife are buried under a big piece of polished marble in the central nave.  I think this was not so polished when we were there in 1965.  I remember the light in the Burgos cathedral-- it seemed a mostly grey and lavender space in my memory of it.  This time, there was much more color.  I remember about Chartres that the cleaning of the windows made a tremendous difference, in how much light came into the building, and how easy it was to see the actual details, not just bits of colored glass in the windows.  I remember the whole medieval theology lesson those windows were meant to impart-- but also the little symbols of the guild who built a chapel, or who donated a window.  In Chartres, there is a labyrinth in the center of the nave, in stone of different colors, laid into the flooring.  In Leon, there is not a labyrith.  One wonders when it became important, who knew about it, how many people shared an interest in that sacred geometry.  One of my friends went to southern France a few years ago, and brought back a book about the black Mary of Le Puy.  That looked remarkably similar to one of the earliest Mary statues here.  I think once an artist had been in one town, and seen one, he could probably copy it to a certain extent-- from memory-- rather like someone would later copy gowns they had seen at a fashion show in Paris, once they got back to New York or Philadelphia.  Some embellishments, and new themes arose, but a lot was rehashing known material. 
We had the audio-guides for the cathedral in Burgos, and for the one in Leon.  We also got one for the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao.  This modern structure is so pleasing, and so resonant with the theme of looking at cathedrals as museums.  It was very interesting to see the David Hockney show-- with the landscapes from Yorkshire, so resonant with the rural landscapes we had just been walking through in Spain.  And to feel at home-- the big panels of Half-Dome and El Capitan in Yosemite!  The guide mentioned that Mr. Gehry wanted to elicit the feel of a swimming carp, with the outer form of the museum.  In the Museum of Human Evolution, in Burgos, the architecture is very modern, steel and glass, and square.  It doesn't look so interesting on the outside, and the entrance is impersonal and formal.  But the light and space on the inside is inviting and well-suited to the material they are presenting.  It was another space with a lot of reverence for the material being presented, although so completely secular.  There was a complete copy of the boat the Beagle, which Darwin used to explore the Galapagos islands, which led to the book "the origin of the species".  There was a huge structure made of twine and brambles to simulate the brain,  with electrical laser signals criss-crossing it-- so that the person entering it could feel how the communications flow from one center to another inside the cranium.   It was as detailed in the showing of the tribal societies as the religious cathedrals had been in demonstrating the medieval concepts of heaven, hell, and the place and way of things and people in this cosmology.  The whole concept of how we look and see things in a cathedral was made more illuminated by those two museums, for me. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Right Way and Pace

Finding the right Way and Pace

It is true that everyone who does the Camino does it differently, and it is unique and precious for that reason.  But I thought I would offer some advice for anyone following after me, who is similarly challenged;
 to try to do it in a month, who wants to also see the coast, and who wants to try to see the "prettiest" most rural parts most of all.
-- And of course, someone who really doesn't want to do it in the manner of the Stations of the Cross, but an adventure which is mostly pleasant;  challenging, but fun!    For me, it was important to be prepared, and that meant getting to where I could do 15 miles a day, and where I could walk comfortably for 6 hours.  As it turns out, that is not enough-- when you get ready, you should also be carrying a pack every day, and work up to being comfortable with 10 lbs.  And if you are only doing drills every 3rd day, try to make your walks longer, to increase the stamina.  The water bag inside the pack makes it heavier; but it is a big help, and I filled it to 1.5 liters and tried to drink that much each day.  It has a tube so you can suck on it, intermittently, and keep your hands free to use your poles.   You need about 6 months, at least,  to build up to this much walking, if you haven't been an avid hiker, in pretty good shape for long-distances.  You should also have that much time to break in your shoes, and make sure you like the socks, the liners, the way your pack fits, and be able to adjust things. 
The book everyone carries is by John Brierly, by Findhorn Press.  It breaks the Camino into 33 day-long stages.  He gives information and maps for each day, and lists of the Albergues.  Andy says he is going to make an app for the phone so you don't have to carry the book, but it is worth perusing, to try to see how the stages are laid out.  He usually puts about 25 km into each day.  Sometimes it is better to go half-way, and stay at a nicer place than where his days end up.  Some days you will want time to explore or take the longer route.  Always take the yellow dot path when you can-- it is worth it to be in prettier scenery, off the main roads, away from traffic.  The yellow arrows help you stay on track.  
Day 1&2-- St Jean to Roncevalles;  we spent the night a little outside of St Jean, and started at St. Michel.  This was a plus, in avoiding big gangs of people.  It was also closer to the starting ascent up the Pyrennees.   I recommend breaking the day in half and stopping at Orisson, unless you are a fast and sure mountain climber.  Roncevalles has a lot of new albergues, (the monastery was full when we arrived) and seems sort of made for tourists-- but is otherwise not too interesting, and if you aren't exhausted, you could go on to a less touristy place.  
Day 3-- Roncevalles to Zubiri ( not as far as Larasoana).  You need some downtime after the Pyrennees!
Day 4--  This day you head toward Pamplona, which is a very big city, and you can mail things from there to Santiago. Hopefully you did already at St. Jean, but there is another chance here.  Pamplona deserves some time-- it is where they do the running of the bulls in June, but that practice is archaic now, and they really only have 1 week of bullfights in the big ring.  You can get around the town altogether with buses, and many peregrinos went to Cizur Menor, which has nice albergues, on the far side of the city.  We went in on the bus from the edge of the city, and explored, then left from the edge of town and walked past Cizur Menor to Zariquiegui.  The value of this is  you start the ascent early in the morning to the Alto de Perdon, where are the windmills and the statues in bronze of pilgrims hurrying toward Santiago.  The problem is that there are not a lot of spaces to stay yet, in this little hamlet.  We stayed with a family who had crammed beds into every available space in their home.   Cizur Menor is a safer bet for spaces to stay. 
Day 5-- Puente La Reina.  This is a great place, and the temple of the knights Templar at Eunate is worth seeing.  It adds a few kms.  There is a great albergue on the hill on the other side of the river leaving town. 
Day 6&7 Estella, Los Arcos.  A lot of people liked the hippie-esque albergue in Lorca.  We stayed in Estella, which is a big town, and has a couple of options.  Walking through this territory is pretty, but also there are buses, if you need to shorten your walking time.  I highly recommend going to VIllamajor de Monjardin.  We stayed in a wonderful private albergue there (Montedeio), but the castle of Sancho the strong was also worth seeing-- we climbed the hill up to it just before sunset-- it was a marvelous view of the whole area. 
Day 8 Torres del Rio; Logrono.  We stayed in a parish church in Logrono which was a very sweet pilgrim experience, with a blessing.  We got a bus to the edge of town, so we didn't have to walk in an area where they are redoing the freeway.  This is the kind of thing the Brierly maps help you see, and omit.  He also lets you know when it will be an area of scarce shade, and there are elevation maps to show when you will have to be climbing or descending mountains.  He also tells you if there will be no fountains for refilling your water bags. 
Day 9  is in a beautiful area, and worth walking.  You get to Santo Domingo de Calzada. 
Day 10--Belorado; then Villarfranca Montes de Oca.  This is where we stayed in a lovely hotel with a bathtub.  The area was wonderful, with good scenery.
Day 11 San Juan de Ortega -- beautiful area for walking
Day 12, looking at the map, you may want to take a bus for all or part of it.   You pass the Atapuerca archeological area, which Brierly didn't talk about much.  You are then coming into Burgos.  It is a huge city, and houses the Museum of  Human Evolution, which is breathtaking, and worth seeing.  We also did the tour of the cathedral, with a guide-listening device.  We were so lucky to stay in Casa Emaus, a beautiful Catholic pilgrim-hostel just on the other side of the river from the cathedral. 
Day 13-20-- This is the week we skipped, taking the bus to Leon.  The high flat meseta, or plateau, is considered hot& dusty--  and with very little shade, is a grind.  It was fine with me to drive in an air-conditioned bus through it.  On the other hand, John McLean told us of his experience in the place at San Nicolas-- a true piligrim's experience of being fed by candlelight, having only 12 people admitted,  and a deeply refreshing blessing by the community of monks there.  We got into Leon late,  and had to get all the way out toward the bull-ring, to an albergue which wasn't full.  This was not optimal.  But I loved Leon, and could have spent more time there.  It is like San Miguel de Allende or Guanajuato in Mexico-- full of students,  artists and ex-patriates.  The Leon cathedral is worth really seeing. 
Day 21-- Leon to Mazarife.  I recommend getting out of town and beyond the road construction before walking-- take the bus.  Mazarife was a good albergue, and a good day's walk. 
Day22-- Mazarife-- Orbigo-- Astorga.  Andy wanted to go beyond Orbigo.  I would have been happy to stop there.  Astorga deserved more attention, with the cathedral and chocolate factory, but we arrived exhausted.  The walk was  not as pretty because we took the grey trail instead of the yellow-dots, which meant we were on the side of the freeway most of the way.  Orbigo has an ancient Roman bridge.
Day 23-- Rabanal.  This is the highest mountain, and it was cold.  I went to bed early.  The albergue was good. 
Day 24-- big day-- Foncebadon, Cruz de Ferro, Molinaseca.  The cruz de ferro is a meaningful event for many people-- leaving prayers and burdens at the foot of the cross.  Then you come down the mountain.  It was a long hard descent through a sort of wilderness area.  Steep-- you need your poles, on uneven rocky ground. Molinaseca is wonderful-- like an alpine village--  it would be nice to spend a day there, when not so tired! 
Day 25-- Villafranca.  (try to get a bus around Ponferrada-- unless you want to see the church or museum, it is worth omiting the walk through the city, I think).  Also a wonderful day walking, and beautiful fields, to a lovely town. Great Albergue at the far end, but it would be merciless to have to walk back uphill if it were full. 
Day 26-- very tough day-- trying to get to O'Cebreiro in time to get a place at the Albergue is hard, as you are going uphill, you need time, and it fills quickly.  Consider staying in a hotel there.  The mountainous area is beautiful, and worth getting there-- the slate roofs and round stone buildings are touristy but worth seeing, and the view is breathtaking.  There is a mass at 7 pm.  The first sunrise over Galicia from top is joyful!
Dy 27-- Samos.  This is a lovely monastery and I am glad we went,  and got to see it.  And I am glad we took a taxi to get there after Padornelo!  My knees couldn't take the descent. 
Day 28-- Sarria.  This is the beginning of the "mandatory" part of the camino, to get the Compostela.  It is a good day's walk.   We had lunch in Rente-- it was fantastic.  Great path the rest of the day.
Day 29-- Portomarin.  We wanted to get past this bigger town, and walked on to Ligonde.  This place was not a great place to stay, but we were very tired.    Then Palas dei Rei.  I would recommend trying to get a bus or pay for a taxi from Campanilla or Cornixa to get past Melide.  This was a slog, through a big car-sales park outside of town, then in and through the town.  We stayed in Ribadiso, just this side of Arzua.  We started seeing that staying  just before or beyond the targets set by Brierly's book would allow us to be in smaller and more private albergues, and not feel like we were just in a big gaggle of tourists.  Ribadiso was nice. 
Day 30-- Arca de Pino.  There are enough places to stay here, because it is the last stop before going into Santiago.   Give yourself at least 6 hours to get to Santiago-- to make it for noon mass, you have to leave by 6 am and walk fast!  You cannot see the cathedral from out of town-- not until you are on top of it, almost. 
Santiago-- we loved our hotel  Hotel Pazos Alba.  I recommend it.  It has a big bathtub-- super wonderful.  The view of the Cathderal over the park is breathtaking.  The manager, Hector, was so kind, and helpful.  He allowed our mailed package to stay there til we got there.  Mass is at noon each day.  You can go before or after to get the carnet checked and receive the Compostela.   Our friends stayed at the seminary menor, which is a relatively new albergue. 
The bus from Santiago to the airport is on calle Horreos, not far from the hotel. ( Horreos are the grain-storage boxes made of bricks or stone, on pillars, you see all over Galicia).   At the airport you can rent a car.
 You can see Finisterre, Muxia, and in between them, Terignan cape, all in a day.
Muxia-- we loved the cafe O"Xardin, and our friend who is the bartender, Consuelo.  She has a private room for pilgrims.  There is the lovely hotel,  El Cruz, right on the harbor.  The beach praia de Louides  is on the other side of the town facing out to sea. 
Finisterre-- is where the ancient Sacred Stones are.  Brierly has a separate book about how to walk to Finisterre-- and the landscape is beautiful from Santiago westward-- but the car was a blessing for us. 

By judiciously using some buses, you can make your feet and joints bear up, and get through most of this in 30 days.  You can also send the pack ahead with the Jaco-tren people-- it has a different phone # in each part of the country, but it is a great help for long slogging days, when your shoulders can't bear the extra load.   
From Santiago, I recommend you take the bus to the coast, if you don't rent a car.  There is an airport in Santiago , and trains and buses, and probably the easiest airports to get out of the country are transfers through Madrid.  What we did is drive to Santander,  Bilbao, and San Sebastian;  then turn in the car, and take a train to Biarritz.  My plane was from Biarritz ( a small and easy airport) to Paris (with a transfer of airports from Orly to Charles De Gaulle, which costs 20E on the Air France bus) and home.  There are great freeways across the north coast, and it was not too hard to go from Muxia or Santiago to almost Bilbao in 1 day.  We stayed outside the city, in a pension in Castro-Urdiales.  There are albergues in San Sebastian.  

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Red shirt

The red shirt

The dogs of Foncebadon are one of the worries I had before doing the walk. Shirley McClain describes them in her book. There is a part of the path that is rough, not well-travelled, with few refuge-spots and albergues. It seemed for many people the time leading from Rabanal to the Cruz de Ferro was ominous, dangerous. So I was stunned to get to Foncebadon and find a hippy store, with wisdom sayings from all over the world, and fresh-brewed self-serve coffee, not over-charged or fussed- over, and a box with "take or leAve " on it. I was freezing cold since before Rabanal, but had sent the jacket I brought ahead, to lighten the pack. Down in the valleys I didn't need it. But here, my hands were blue and cramped with cold. I went through that box, and found a thick good red turtleneck, and put it on-- it fit perfectly-- not even too-long sleeves! I started warming up, drinking coffee. I didn't have anything to leave in the box, but blessed the person who left that shirt. It saved my life several times we were very cold in the next days-- and I could still get the vest on over it, on top of the other liner and tank shirts. God bless the donor of the red shirt, and the kind laconic hippy with the little shop at the top of the mountain!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Babies and fish

In Muxia in the morning, we were driving the little Nemo car to our cafe, o'Xardin, and we had to go around a big clump of women in the middle of the street--- some with babies in strollers, some with babes-in-arms, and some with toddlers swirling around their feet. In the middle was a street vendor with a big cart full of ice;   and on top were several big fish, attractively laid out. The vendor had a scale, and was wrapping fish in newspaper for the ladies. I did not have the camera ready, and we went past them quickly-- but it seemed something I should have captured; the way the local marketing gets handled!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012



Home again-- wow, is my bed comfortable!  I am so glad to have been able to do this pilgrimage.  I was so happy the Visa card from the Credit Union worked.  The debit card did not work, but the credit card did.  I unblocked it for Spain, before I left, so they knew I would be there for about a month.  You can get 300Es cash every few days-, and it worked well for us.  The Albergues usually charge about 5-10 Es per night per bed.  They sometimes will do laundry or add breakfast-- usually the breakfast was between 1.5E to 3.0 for coffee with toast and jam.  Usually we would get eggs later in the morning, with bacon or ham for Andy.  That would be another 6-8E. A real meal at midday was usually about 10E.   They were usually two courses,  then dessert, and always with french fries and bread.  At night we would usually get a bocadillo (sandwich) for about 6-8E.  The hotels were usually 50E for a room, sometimes less, and once in awhile a little more.  That fantastic room in Muxia was 50E.  Sometimes private families would put people up for 10-20E.  The car rental for 5 days was 320E.  You can take a bus to the airport from downtown Santiago to get to where they rent the cars.  It is important to know that they won't let you take it across the border, so we had to turn it in in San Sebastian.  We took the slow train to the border, that last day in Spain, Sunday, and from the border a French train to Biarritz.  This was not hard, and there were frequent trains.  Originally they told me there is only one bus on Sunday from San Sebastian, so I was worried about it;  but the train was fine, and ran about every hour.
I was happy to go to the beach after the pilgrimage, to decompress, and help my feet heal.  The car made it possible to see the whole western tip in a day-- so two to three days was generous, but it was nice there.
My poles for walking had wonderful tips-- little feet, which were great on the stony irregular ground.  Andy had to replace his rounded rubber tips twice-- we found them at a sports' store for 2E.  They wore right through.  I loved having the poles, and I think I was saved from several accidents by the increased stability on downhill slopes.  There were 4 tourists who fell on their faces and 1 had to go to the hospital for a head injury.  We were told 3 people died on the day we came down the Pyrennees.  Don't underestimate the descent, and be prepared for rain and mud, and try to spend the night at Orbisson, if you are my age or slow.  I met 3 men in their 60s who were 4x faster and better at hiking than I am, so it was not just age-- but I am slow, and the uphills were hard for me.
Send in the mail from St. Jean whatever you absolutely can do without until later.  If you have stuff you won't need til Pamplona, mail it to the main post office in Pamplona.  If you have stuff you really need for the end of the trip, mail it to Santiago.  They will hold mail for people.  We ended up with heavier packs because I didn't want to waste a day waiting to go to the post office, and it made the climb over the Pyrennees worse.  I had the clothes I had worn on the plane, and a jacket I really didn't need.  We mailed the extra clothes from Pamplona to the hotel in Santiago.  In general, you probably only need a pair of pants and two shirts.  I had a  very light vest, which was great-- two big pockets,  and it served for a cover-up for going to the bathroom in the Albergues.  The silk undershirt washed well and dried quickly, and I wore it every day.  I had 3 spandex-nylon undershirts, and alternated, and wore all 3 on cold days.  The yoga pants were also quick to dry, and easy to take on and off, and because they were 3/4 length, they did not easily get dirty around the ankles.  The socks were good-- 3 pairs of hiking socks, alternated.  Also 3 pairs of silk sock liners.  The liners are easy to wash and dry, and every few days I would wash the wool ones, and hang them from the backpack with safety pins to dry.  3  quick-dry panties.   Cotton nightgown was important for me-- I felt more modest in the Albergues with something on, and I used the vest as a cover.  Some people walked around in underwear.  The poncho for rain was important, and the big hat and the little hat.  The little hat was good for windy days.  
The cell phone was hard for me.  I never got the airplane mode thing to work.  We waited for trying to find free wi-fi places. Andy was so much better at figuring out how to do it all.   I posted onto the blog from the "notes' when I could.  I could have avoided taking a journal if I had known how to use the notes before I left.  The suntactics solar power charger was great, and it would be smart to take a universal charger, but every night, everyone was looking for a place to get electricity, and the hostel owners didn't like having to give everyone access. 
Later I will write out what I think is a good pacing plan, modifying what Brierly puts in his book.  In general, I think going on a bus around the big towns is a great idea.  I also think it is important to give time to see some things-- which is hard if you get in late, are exhausted, and need to go early in the morning.  We blew it in Astorga, as we were "on a roll" and didn't stay long enough to see the place.  This is easier for the people who walk fast!  Also, there are bicycle people-- many were from the Netherlands, or northern Germany, and were doing a 2500k round-trip, exercise-based trip. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Last day of trip

My last day-- sunny & windy-- we walked up past the lighthouse to the beach called Chambre d'Amour. Well-rounded pebbly beach-- Andy swam a little. I got wet, but the undertow was too strong to swim comfortably. Biarritz is very elegant-- Hermes & Armani shops next to the main beach. Very expensive & beautiful things. We got into a beautiful hotel for 75E per night, which is a lot next to what we had to spend in Spain-- usually 5 to 10E for bunk beds in an Albergue, or 25-35E for a private room with 2 beds. Sometimes a hotel would be 50E. So this jump in costs makes us aware we are back in the " real" world, and more concerned about expenses. I didn't buy presents-- even t shirts seemed too expensive-- besides having no room to carry them! It is interesting seeing many well-heeled and elegant older women here. There are some young surfers, but not many middle class- types. I walked on the beach early in the morning, and saw a 70ish gentleman on his knees by the tide pools, picking up mussels. Some of the workers look Moroccan. Starting to fret about flight tomorrow-- have to change airports in Paris! Andy is looking for couch surfing space for the rest of his trip-- good thing we have wi-fi here! Love to all!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

San Sebastian; forever young

San Sebastian
We drove across northern Spain rapidly in our little Citroen Nemo. Andy feels good driving it, as it is very similar to his Honda Element, but it uses diesel. It is a great little car! I did not realize how mountainous the coast is -- several long tunnels, and peaks like the alps. We found a pension late at night in Castro-Urdiales, a beach town outside Bilbao. Lovely little beac;, tightly packed blocks of apartments for miles. In the morning went in to Bilbao to the Guggenheim museum. The streets are well- marked. (Santander is a huge industrial city : & Big corporate offices around a port --and it was hard to get out of. )
The museum is gorgeous, I love how it occupies its space on the river. There was a big David Hockney show, and his Yorkshire landscapes are a lot like the Camino-- rural, especially bright spring greens. There was a marvelous video and demos of his use of the I- pad -- and Yosemite! Andy immediately thought of more ways to use the cubist collage ideas. I loved walking in the Gehry curved metal labyrinthine pieces.
We got to San Sebastian in time to have a great swim-- the water is pretty warm inside the sheltered bay. The big apartment buildings are beautiful, and densely packed, but it has a Santa-Cruz flavor, as well as Santa Monica. There is a statue of the Sacred heart of Jesus on the mountain out in the bay, blessing the town-- it is lit- up at night. They have fireworks on the eve of the feast of the saint, in January. We found a pension in the old city, and had a fantastic fish meal at Sebastian's on the port -- the north side of the harbor. We also had tapas and sangria before dinner-- eating late like the Spanish do! I like roasted pimientos. We drank Albanilo white wine which was wonderful with rake fish for dinner.
The adventure of today is that Bruce Springsteen is here to sing tonight, and there is no room anywhere. We got another miracle-- after waking up to find the streets emptied of cars including ours which was impounded with them, a lady we met in line to retrieve hers as well, took us into her home, next to the stadium where the concert will be. Tomorrow is my last day-- will take bus to Biarritz after we turn in the car.