Camino de Santiago ~ May 22. 2017 the last big climb and Spanish toilets 

Today I walked literally until the cows came home. (Picture to follow.) The internet connection is not good, so I will post pictures tomorrow. We are at 1,400 meters, and most of that climb over this mountain was during the last 5 k. There is a great commaraderie as people from all nationalities encourage one another for the steep climb. The saving grace was the little villages all along the way where one could stop for a snack or a bite to eat, and of course, the views. John Bierly’s guide book is often used by English speakers, and of the last 5 k he said, “gird up your loins!” For tonight, I am sitting on top of the world, and the view from my bed in the municipal albergue is spectacular! (I just heard they ran out of beds, glad I left at 6 am.)
I wanted to share about the basic needs along the Camino, toilets! Anyone who knows me knows that I drink a lot of water, consequently, I often need facilities. For the most part, there are plenty along the route. The other day there was a primitive hole in a wooden shack, which I will picturelater. Often you need your own paper, but what drives me crazy are the auto turn off lights in the toilet stalls. Most are timed to go off in a short time period. The first time I ran into that problem was when I used the stall after someone else had used it, and before I was finished, the light went out, and it was very dark. Sometimes your business takes a little longer than the auto timer thinks it should take, and once again, you are sitting in in the dark. This gives an entire new meaning to “Being in the dark.” Thank goodness for lights on cell phones!

Camino de Santiago ~ May 21,2017 Villafranca and music on the Camino

Camino de Santiago ~ May 21,2017 Villafranca and music on the Camino

Sunset from my window. There is a kind of freedom in waking up every morning and knowing that your only job is not o get up and start walking. You walk, find your food, and find a place to lay your head. 

But today there was another decision on o make. My time on the Camino is nearing its end, so I must choose where I want to walk. Those who want to receive the Compostela, the official paper saying you walked here, must do the last 100 k. Those last 100 k tend to be more crowded and a little less pretty in scenery compared to other parts. I have already walked 200 k and do not have the need for a piece of paper, but I am jumping ahead a little bit today in order to experience another part of the Camino which is supposed to be another mountain of beauty. Villafranca del Bierzo is my destination. I hung out in the bus station with a German woman who is also limited on time and is jumping to do the last 100 k. We exchanged showing each other pictures of grandchildren. 

As I was waiting I got in the bus station who walks in but the dad of my Swedish friend with whom I had dinner the other night. They were the Sam ones who jumped with me before. His son is running today, and he is taking the bus. (We could not hav planned these meetings, even if we tried!)

I have not talked about the music one hears on the Camino. The Spanish love their music, but I have not heard any Spanish music. It seems each albergue owner and each bar plays what they like, very loudly. One place I stay d played classical music, and in the morning he played songs that I knew that were done almost in a style of Gregorian chant. You have not lived well until you have heard “Bridge Over Troubled Water” slowed down and sung in a very different style than originally created. And when the song “We Are the Champions” came on in the same style John and I just could not stop laughing. 

That same day I stopped in a bar for lunch and they were blasting Handell’s Messiah. I came in just when they were playing the Hallelujah Chorus, and I did not know if I should sit or keep standing. Later, on one of those long, hot stretches where an entrepreneur put up an “oasis” they were playing “I Got a Feeling” by Black Eyed Peas. 

The other night in Rabanal, there was an evening service in the church and the monks did sing the liturgy, it was true Gregorian Chant. Thanks hat night a German woman and I were invited to read the scriptures for the day in our native languages. 

Camino de Santiago ~ May 20, 2017 The Cruz de Ferro

Camino de Santiago ~ May 20, 2017 The Cruz de Ferro

Not all 18 k hikes are the same, especially if there is a big difference in elevation. Another famous “landmark” of the Camino is the iron cross. At 1,505 meters high you do feel like you are on top of the world.  It was a great hike. 

Pilgrims from all over the world bring stones from home to lay down a sin or a burden or a hardship. I brought a stone from home, but on today’s hike I also collected stones to lay down for others. By the time I got to the cross I had a pretty big pocket of stones. I marked several of them: for my family, for our MUMC family, for friends, for the folks on the prayer list, and one for Claire. There is a stone here in Spain at the Cruz de Ferro for Claire. I spent about an hour praying here. There is something special about praying where many others have prayed, especially the Saints of long ago. 

The scenery was spectacular! It truly was on top of the world!

Part of my daily prayer is that I would have Godly encounters all along the route. Today there were several that were divine appointments. (A woman from Poland, the hospitality of the British who had apples and peanut butter for breakfast, chats with folks from South Africa, and all over the world!)

Now I have a top bunk in an albergue tucked away in these mountains that cost me 6 Euros. The woman on the lower bunk is French and we are going to have the pilgrim meal together, for 11 Euros we get a three course meal!

Camino de Santiago ~ May 19, 2017, Astorga to Rabanal

Last night when I got off the train in Astorga I was surprised  to see a Swedish young man and his dad get off the train. I had walked with them earlier and they, too, had jumped ahead. (They figured out how to take two trains to get there.) We had dinner together and enjoyed the local specialty meats of the area. 

Astorga leads into a new set of high mountains. (By the way, the huge cathedral here is also beautiful and has the Bishop’s house next to it. The Bishop’s house looks a little like a castle) Francis of Assisi walked through this city and stayed here on his way to Santiago!)

Today’s 20 k walk was not hard, but it was windy and cold; Think beach front in October. I was grateful for my green jacket that does a good job of protecting from the wind, and it was still cold!

Today I met Mojo, a four legged friend walking with her person. Her person said it was actually a little hard to find places that take dogs. That dog has walked all the way from France! I also saw my first rainbow on the trail. 

As we started going up into the hills there was a long fence upon which people had weaved crosses made out of sticks into the wire. (Picture below.) I wondered about those who are “simply searching” and what that cross means for them, or if they even put one there. 

Last night’s albergue held 95 people in two rooms. There were a lot of beds and the old building near the cathedral creaked every time someone walked. Tonight I am staying in an Albergue run by the British confraternity of the Camino. Volunteers run the place, and tonight’s volunteers, who all do two weeks at a time, are all American. I am looking forward to high tea at 4:30. 

(Sorry pictures to come later)

Camino de Santiago ~ May 18, 2017, evening, jumping through Burgos to Astorga

Camino de Santiago ~ May 18, 2017, evening, jumping through Burgos to Astorga

Every pilgrim has to make decisions; some have to decide to stop because they have too many blisters or foot injuries. (I know two who have had to stop already, and a third one is considering stopping.) 

My decision came today when I decided to jump forward on the Camino in order to experience a part of the Camino which many describe as the best part. (I don’t know, the parts I have walked have been pretty spectacular!)  In any case, I am not a purist, as many Europeans are, and I don’t know if I will be able to come back. It would be nice to at least SEE Santiago, even if I do not have time to walk all the way. So far I have walked over 1/5 of the way there. But, today I am jumping forward through Burgos to the mountain town of Astorga. It is a good day to jump as there is a major storm today. Pray for the pilgrims who are getting slammed with horizontal, cold rain!

There is no direct way to get to Astorga, except by walking or a 1 am train. The lovely manager of the albergue told me about the bus that would get me within ten k of Burgos. She told me where to catch the bus. There was no busstop sign, no bus schedule, just a regular stop sign where the bus was supposed to stop, and it might come ten or twenty minutes late. My three words of Spanish, (please, bus, where) confirmed I was standing in the correct place. Sure enough, twenty minutes late, it showed up and I  was dropped off two hours later, by then in a lite rain, ten kilometers from Burgos.

 Now I have walked ten k, but I was a little afraid of missing my train connection if I walked, so I asked the cafe/bar worker guy if there was a bus or taxi to Burgos. He said yes for a bus and a lot of other things I did not understand. As it turns out, the bus is only in the morning and evening, so I asked him if he could call a taxi for me. Through the postman as interpreter, who stopped in to get his late morning coffee, I was told by the cafe worker that the taxi was too expensive and I must not take a taxi. He said that I should wait, and he would ask one of his regular customers, who stop in all the time, to take me to Burgos. And, that is what happened. A customer, a kind, nice gentleman, came in for his tortilla and cafe, and said he would take me to Burgos. He even drove me around the old city, which he was very proud of, and then he dropped me off at the huge cathedral. I had time to visit the cathedral and catch a train to Astorga. The rain has stopped, I have jumped forward, and tomorrow it will be time to walk again. (Did I mention how friendly, kind, and full of hospitality the Spanish people are?)

Jumping forward means leaving behind new friendships that have been formed. This morning I said goodbye to two women from Silver Spring who were part of my “first night family.” I also said goodbye to the two German women with whom I was walking and the delightful French grandmother whose company I enjoyed on that really hot day. 

Last night at the pilgrim’s dinner there was a young German man (22) whom I had not seen before. I asked if I could do anything for him as he looked tired. It turns out he had walked 30 k that day, and the day before, and the day before. I asked him why he was walking and he replied because he had the time and to find God. He also said he was already surprised to learn that he didn’t have to find God, but that God was already there and he just had to listen. 

This morning he happened to sit across from me again for breakfast. He was much more refreshed after a night’s sleep. He asked me about my profession, when I told him I was a pastor he asked me, “What does it mean that God is Holy?” I was happy to explain about the holiness of God to him in basic terms (shout out here to Debbie Beall) and then I went on to describe that his response last night was a way of understanding that God’s grace is always with us even before we recognize it. (Shout out here to you, John Wesley.) I read for him a small part of Psalm 139 and explained how God knows us intimately. When I asked if he had ever read the Bible he said he had tried to read it from the beginning, but it was too hard. I suggested he might like to start with a Gospel and a Psalm. He liked that idea. We had a wonderful encounter, and then he walked on, and I went to the stop sign to hope the bus would come, and it did!

Camino de Santiago ~ May 18, morning, pictures from the walk to Viana

Camino de Santiago ~ May 18, morning, pictures from the walk to Viana

Yesterday the pictures would not upload. Here are some pics of the walk to Viana, the churches, and the Camino markers where  people often add their stones. This was the first time I saw an area of written notes, hopes and dreams. The woman sketching was from  Denmark. Check out the stack of hiking boots, which you always take off at the door of the albergue.