Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Day Four: Pamplona to Puenta la Reina

I am so blessed. Today was another beautiful day, sunny and breezy -- my face and arms are starting to actually keep a tan! We started our morning again a little later than the average pilgrim (most pilgrims are up and out at five am!!) and by eight am had eaten breakfast, had our coffee, and were on the road. The trail took us through the city of Pamplona and then (where else?!) but straight up to Alto del Perdon, the highest point on our walk today. This point is most famously known for the pilgrim monument that rests atop it's peak. At the top, we rested for a bit and had time to reflect on all the pilgrims who have passed before us (not just last week or last year, but hundreds of years ago) as well as the pilgrims of the future. I suppose technically at any point in time you are standing somewhere where people stood hundreds of years ago, but not necessarily for the same purpose. What an immense feeling to be a part of something so great. 

After reaching the peak we headed straight down. I'm so glad today was not wet, because the rocks would have made for a treacherous route! It was at this point that the pilgrims we were walking with commented that I go down the mountain like a mountain goat, quick and sure footed (which is in strong opposition to how I go up: like the little engine that could, huffing and puffing and chanting away). I'm always the first one down and the one to follow for a solid path. I'm glad that I am able to contribute something to the other pilgrims to help their walk be less burdened. After the steep decent we wandered through three little towns, one of which had a small cafe that we were obligated to stop at for a cool drink and a bite to eat. Many of our fellow pilgrims were there, including a group of four ladies from England who are always kind and having a good time. After our rest we continued on our way until we arrived at Puenta la Reina. (That would be six hours and twenty seven kilometers.) The Albergue we are at cost only five euro, but there are eight of us all sleeping in a room no bigger than seven feet wide. It doesn't bother us, though, because it is kind of like a crazy sleepover that starts with introductions and dinner and ends with snoring. 

Speaking of dinner: we splurged tonight and ate the Pilgrim's Menu Buffet at a local hotel -- cheap bed, pricey bread (though only thirteen euros and all the food and wine we could consume). We joked that we would waddle back to our Albergue and would be spoiled for tomorrow. After dinner we went to church to pray: The Church of the Crucifixtion. We missed the pilgrim mass (which made us sad -- we will ask in the next town to make sure we get there on time) but were happy that the church was not locked. The lights were all off in the old church, but for one euro deposited in the box, the lights would turn on (though there was no warning as to of when the lights would go back off ...). I sat in silence (and then in dark silence) and prayed in thanksgiving for the wonderful adventure I've had thus far and for the love and support I feel all around me. I prayed for my family and friends and for the intentions you all have posted here. 

Here are a few pictures from today: 

This picture just doesn't give justice to the steepness of the hill or the beauty of the day -- but both are very true!! 

The pilgrims make their way to Santiago. 

A beautiful area of devotion out on the path -- so many opportunities to remember why we walk and where we are going. 

Today's selfie!! Life is good. 

Christ above the altar in the church (before the lights went out). Such strong imagery to inspire deep devotion. 

And my bed for tonight. 

Usually Vera and I are in our bunks well before lights out and the snoring begins, but with our church detour after dinner, we were the last ones back to the room! My fellow pilgrims are super concerned with my cold now that I have started coughing (you all know the cough: dying moose / perhaps the plague). I feel much better now that my nose isn't stuffy, but that isn't much consolation to those who don't know my cough history. Everyone seems to have a remedy / medicine that they feel they need to give me to help me be well -- I have cough drops from five different countries! I'm sure they want me to be well, but I'm sure they are concerned for their sleep as well (no one wants to sleep in the room with the dying moose!) The point is, I'm feeling better and have the support of many -- the Camino is filled with people who care and want to help. I feel right at home with my Camino family. 

Buen Camino. 


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Day Three: Zubiri to Pamplona

What a beautiful day! It is only my third day of walking, but already I feel like I've been walking for much longer, like it is natural to rise with the sun carrying all my belongings miles to the next town. My body is sore, but the good kind of sore like you get after a tough work out; the kind of sore that reminds you that you are pushing yourself and will be better when you come through. 

The weather couldn't have been more  gorgeous today: sunny and breezy. We rose at seven this morning (a little late, but after all that rain and wind I've caught a cold and am sleeping in shifts in between blowing my nose) and went to find breakfast complete with cafe con leche. After breakfast we started our walk: up a giant hill, across a muddy field, and then onto a beautiful wooded path frequented by cows and horses. The quiet of the woods was only interrupted by the squish of our boots in the mud and the occasional greeting as pilgrims passed each other on the trail. At one point, just after we passed Larissona, we were walking along the river and thought: I hope there is a cafe over that bridge for us to stop in for a coffee -- and as we came over the bridge, right there on the river, was a cafe where all the pilgrims ahead of us were already sitting and drinking. It was such a welcomed sight, both the cafe and our fellow pilgrims. In just a short time, we pilgrims have formed a sense of community -- we don't all know each other's names or even speak the same language, but we recognize each other when we pass on the trail or in the towns and smile to greet one another; the sight of my fellow pilgrims makes me feel more at home. 

After we left the cafe, we walked and walked and walked until we finally came to the city of Pamplona. (That would be six and a half hours covering twenty seven kilometers.) I am staying at Albergue de Maria y Jesus, the municipal hostal located just across from the church (which unfortunately is locked except for when they are giving tours that cost eight euro ...) The albergue is inside of an old monestary, and the arched ceilings are gorgeous -- I feel like I'm sleeping inside a church! 

After I checked into my Albergue, Vera and I went off in search of food and found a restaurant that served my favorite: croquetas de jamon. (I've been waiting to eat these since my last trip to Spain!) We originally sat down at an outdoor restaurant on the plaza, but they didn't start serving food until eight -- don't they know that pilgrims are in bed by nine?!? After our bellies were full, we went to the market to get the makings for lunch tomorrow. (Nutella on fresh baguette with carrots and kinder eggs.) and now I'm back at the Albergue tucked into my bunk and ready to rest. As always, tomorrow brings with it the promise of lots of walking!! 

Here are a few pictures of today: 

Obligatory morning selfie -- ready to take on the day in the sun!! 

Hello pretty mountains and green fields! 

Someone told me today "My boots have seen better days." I told her that mine haven't -- they have been waiting their whole lives to be on the Camino!! 

Pretty cool place to sleep for the night, huh? Did I mention this place is run by the Jesuits? 

I know you've all been dying to see how my feet are doing ... haha My feet look loads better than those of most pilgrims. 

And my bed for the night. 

Also: some exciting news today -- I received an email inviting me to interview at Trinity School if Medicine!! I couldn't be more excited!! My new friends in the Albergue and I celebrated with chocolate. haha Today's walk was less strenuous than the first two days, so I had more time to focus on prayer than focusing on the mountain I had to climb; all day I prayed that whatever my future was to hold, that I receive a sign so that I can pursue it with my whole heart leaving no regrets or what ifs. And when I got back to my Albergue after dinner to check my email, there it was. It is only an interview, not an acceptance, but it is a step in the right direction. On a related note, it appears my prayers are pretty powerful over here, so if there is anything that you would like me to pray for, leave it in a comment and I'll be sure to pray for it as I continue my journey. 

Now it is time for sleep. I think I will dream of mountains growing smaller, bridges over rivers, and all the adventures that still await me, both here and at home. 

Buen Camino. 


Monday, April 28, 2014

Day Two: Roncesvalles to Zubriri

If we are operating under the premise that with cold hands come a warm heart, then a freezing body must bring about a spirit on fire! Today's post is brought to you by the weather rain, which it has done every second from the moment we rose and started walking to now. But that's okay -- rain does not deter the pilgrims but rather inspires them to walk more briskly and enjoy their cafe con leche that much more. 

Today we rose at six not to the sound of alarm clocks or noisy pilgrims rustling in their bags but rather to the strumming of the guitars of the volunteers of our alburgue singing "Morning Has Broken". When we were all packed and arrived downstairs, they had changed their tune to "Que Sera, Sera", adding their own verse about the rain. 

I was happy to have Vera as company during my walk today! We walk at a similar pace, her a little faster on the hills and me a little faster on the downward slopes. We talk some as we walk, but mostly enjoy each other's silent company. I also had the pleasure of walking a bit with Juan, a pilgrim from Spain who took pleasure in quizzing me on Spanish vocabulary. (Llueva is rain and charco is puddle.) And I walked again today with Monte, the pilgrim who only gets to walk a week. We left Roncesvalles at six thirty this morning, stopping for cafe con leche around ten thirty and breakfast around eight and arrived to Zubiri around one pm -- about six hours and twenty five kilometers later. 

Today's walk was a little more challenging, partly because of the cold and rain, and partly because our bodies are so sore from yesterday. I can only imagine that after the assault all of the steep, muddy declines today, tomorrow will be even that much more challenging. After arriving in Zubiri we ate a lunch of sandwiches and apples and checked into the Municipal Albergue. We then promptly rid ourselves of the wet clothes we were wearing and put on warm layers, barricaded ourselves inside our sleeping bags, and took a well deserved nap. 

After our nap, we rose and stretched our sore muscles, organized our packs, put out our clothes to dry, and went to find dinner. I had dinner with Vera tonight, the first warm meal since I left the United States -- mushroom risotto with chicken and a fried egg (do not knock it -- it was absolutely delicious!!) We also shared a pitcher of sangria (again, delicious). After dinner I went to the church, but there is no mass tonight and the gates were locked; I suppose tonight I will have to pray my rosary in my bunk. Now I am back in my sleep room of the alburgue where there are twenty bunks housing forty pilgrims. It seems more like we are in a home for the invalid than a shelter for pilgrims, everyone limping and moaning and sleeping, but I know God will give us all strength to get up with the sun and do it all again tomorrow. 

Here are a few pictures from today: 

The wake up crew singing us on our way!!

Vera and I before we were drenched -- let's get this Camino started!! 

The famous sign marking our way!! Only 790 kilometers left to go. 

There were lots signs of encouragement along the way, even if that wasn't their original purpose ... 

Cafe con leche in the rain! This might be my most attractive look yet. haha

This is a rescue donkey (that we didn't need). He was much faster on the trail than we were. 

A warm meal on a wet day does a body good. 

This is the view from my bunk ... a cozy spot for a good night's rest. 

And I'm off to sleep. Please pray for all the pilgrims tomorrow as we set out on another long day!!

Buen Camino. 


Sunday, April 27, 2014

Day One: St. Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles

Today is the day, the day I have been planning for the last two years: the day I start walking my Camino. I knew it would be physically challenging (though we are going to get to just how challenging I didn't know it was going to be in a moment) and I knew it would be a little awkward not speaking any French and speaking only enough spanish to converse about the weather, my hunger, and your medical ailments, but I also felt like it was where I was meant to be - I felt like this was a path I needed to be on and a pilgrimage I was meant to complete. 

It seems fitting that I start my Camino today on the canonization day of Pope John Paul II. Pope John Paul II said "Have no fear of moving into the unknown. Simply step out fearlessly knowing that I am with you, therefore no harm can befall you". Fitting, yes? 

I got up at six (but let's be honest: I woke up at two and four as well thanks to some ridiculously loud snoring from a man who should probably be sleeping with a CPAP) and quickly got dressed and packed my belongings and headed down to the kitchen for breakfast. Jan (pronounced John) handed me a bowl of hot water and put in two scoops of brown grainy powder and said "Sit! Sit!" I sat at the table where there was a spread of breads and butter and jams and smelled my bowl of brown liquid -- coffee. Go figure. After two pieces of toast and a bowl of coffee, I was ready to make my way out of St. Jean. I walked down the cobble stone street and over the old stone bridge and then walked straight. up. hill. Welcome to day one of your Camino. 

The mountains were absolutely breathtaking: I know my pictures won't do them justice. The higher we got, the prettier the view. But as breathtaking as they were, they brought on quite a bit of huffing and puffing along with aches and exhaustion (but thankfully no blisters!!!). I kept a running mantra in my head: I can do all things through The Lord who strengthens me. (step) I can do all (step) things through the (step) Lord who strengths (step) me. As I went uphill, I chanted this in my head (and sometimes out loud) and it kept my pace even, my breathing even, and my mind focused. When I did need a break, I allowed myself one decade of the rosary for recovery time, asking the Lord for strength for the next part of the path. There was no up and down, there was only "straight up" and "slightly less straight up". Today I hiked 32 kilometers (which is 19.87 miles) starting at an elevation of 170 meters and topping out at 1450 meters (if you want to know what that's like, try to walk up your bedroom wall). I left St. Jean at 7:25 and arrived at Roncesvalles at 3:35 -- just over eight hours. Today, according to the people in the Pilgrim's Office, is the hardest day. 

After a day of crazy weather (we got rained on, sleeted on, snowed on, and nearly blown off the mountain) and going nowhere but up, the last three kilometers were straight down. In the mud. Blech. Although I have to admit: the squishy mud felt really good under my feet after all those rocky paths! I got to Roncesvalles and stood in line to get a room at the city alburge and promptly took a shower -- never underestimate the joy that comes with being warm, dry, and clean ... which was what my clothes needed to be, so I did my first ever load of laundry by hand. Next I needed a full belly: four euro got me a sandwich of fresh French bread, thinly sliced ham, and goat cheese (mom: I can hear you groaning, but goat cheese is my favorite so I couldn't have been happier!) 

I've met so many wonderful people along my path today: Sue and Linda, two friends from Florida who are writing for a travel newspaper, a couple from Croatia who are trying to complete the Camino in just twenty one days, a lady from Barcelona who is completing here fifth Camino, a girl from Italy who is only doing the first five days of the Camino (her boss wasn't nearly as wonderful as mine and only gave her a week off if work), two fellow nurses, one from California and one from Arizona, and a girl named Vera from the Netherlands who is in the bunk opposite me tonight and who is sitting next to me blogging herself right now. Though our bunks are cozy, we found a cozier nook down next to the laundry room that is warm and dry and quiet. 

Here are a few pictures from today: 

Yellow arrows are everywhere showing us where to go -- no getting off the trail! 

Cold, wet, and on the Camino!! Also: we now know that my yellow rain coat is waterproof!!

Water fountains for refilling my Nalgene were prevalent for the first eight kilometers ... then no more. (Luckily they warned us so that we were sure to fill up.)

This one's for Becky (so someone make sure she is reading this!!). I found horses!!! But none of them would let me ride them. 

See those towns down at the bottom? That's where we started ... and I'm only about half way to the top. 

My pack is wearing his shell (yes, my pack is male ... and named Hector) which is the sign of the pilgrim. 

And my bed for the night. 

It has been a truly beautiful day -- through the pain and the wind and the fear of failure came something so joyous: the satisfaction of completion and the knowledge that I am stronger than I thought. 

Buen Camino.  


Day B -- Arrive in St. Jean Pied de Port

Today had a very early start. I was up at five to catch the metro so I could catch my seven am train to Bayonne, and from Bayonne I caught a bus to St. Jean Pied de Port. It all went so fast (probably because I was sleeping) and before I knew it I was in St. Jean. 

St. Jean Pied de Port is so pretty ... and completely built into a hill (practicing for those mountains every step of the way!) The first thing I did when I got off the bus is went to the Pilgrim's Office and registered. I got my first stamp and received my sea shell -- this trip just got real. At the office they asked me if I had a bed (of course I did not) and they promptly assigned me to one just up the road. I dropped off my pack and set out to find the church. Notre Dame Cathedral was at the bottom of the hill -- I went inside and was overwhelmed by the quiet and age inside. I could sense the presence of all the pilgrims that have gone before me. I made my way up to the front to a plethora of candles all burning at different heights in front of a statue of the Blessed Mother. I said a rosary and prayed for a safe trip as well as those at home. I then lit a candle that is supposed to burn for forty days, well past my time on the Camino. 

After I left the church, I explored the town a little, finding a sandwich shop and getting food for dinner. I took it back to my hostel and ate with fellow pilgrims: Suzzane and Christian from Germany, Christie from South Africa, Mario from Italy, Hu-Yong from Korea and a few more whose names I didn't catch, including a lovely couple from Colombia, South America. After we had eaten, Hu-Yong told us not to go anywhere and reappeared with a huge camera complete with tripod. If the sight of him setting up his camera didn't double us over with laughter, his grabbing people two by two and posing them in ridiculous poses did. Laughter is for sure the universal language, and we got a healthy dose of it tonight. I can't wait until he sends us the photos so you can all see Suzanne and I making a heart. haha 

And now I am showered and tucked into my bed, exhausted and knowing tomorrow is the longest and hardest day. Say an extra prayer for strong feet, strong knees, strong legs, and most importantly, a strong spirit. 

A few pictures: 

Five am selfie in the metro station!! Also: this is what my hair looks like if I don't dry it and sleep on it wet ... so expect this look from now on. 

Just hanging out in Bayonnne, waiting for my bus and enjoying some fresh air before I have to get back on public transit. 

Passport Office!! 

My first stamp!!!! 

Praying before I set out -- my candle is in there now, too! 

Hu-Yong demonstrating the pose ... 

And Christie and Christian being good sports about it!! (Note: this is how all of our photos were taken.) 

And my bed for the night. 

Buen Camino. 


Friday, April 25, 2014

Day A -- Three Planes, A Train, A Bus, and the Eiffel Tower

They say that your camino begins the moment you walk out your door, so my Camino officially started yesterday (April 24) at 8:15 am when I left Red Bud for the airport. I caught my plane to Chicago and then my plane to Madrid and finally my plane to Paris. Out of everything I have to be worried about on this trip, the part that had me most concerned was getting from the Paris airport to my hostel -- though I don't know why, because my feet acted as though they've been walking that path their whole life. I had to catch a bus from the airport to the metro station, change two metros, and then navigate the four blocks to my hostel: not one wrong turn (which I hope is a forshadowing of the rest of my trip). Now that that part is over, I feel totally at peace for the journey ahead. 

I checked an item off the bucket list today: I climbed to the top of the Eiffel Tower!! (Well, as close to the top as they let you climb.) I only have a few hours in Paris and figured a selfie with the Eiffel Tower was in order, but when I got there and they were still letting people climb up, I figured that was the best way to get my jet lagged legs ready for the long walk ahead. 

As for now, I'm tucked into my hostel -- I need to get some rest before my train leaves in the morning. One more day of rails and wheels before my feet take over as my means of transportation! 

Here are a few pics: 
Wondering what made the backpack cut? Here's the official list!! Things not listed: my rosary, a rock, and a picture of my family. 

There's Spain!! Just really tiny ... 

There she is!! 

You guys better get used to selfies, because there isn't anyone to take my picture (yet).

At the top!! 

Isn't it beautiful? What a pleasant way to end a day of travel. 

Buen Camino.  


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Practice Post

Hello All!! This is just a practice post to make sure: a) that the blog can be published from my phone and b) that those who want to access my blog can see it. 

Come back after April 24 to see how I'm doing on The Way. All of your prayers are welcome!!