Unless you go back to the 12th centuryCodex Calixtinus, there are no official stages of the Camino, but to me it felt like there were chapters. In terms of topography, the second stage of my pilgrimage moved from the mountainous first stage to the flatter terrain of the meseta. On a personal level, I gradually turned my attention from my peers to the inner workings of my heart and spirit.
Any of these words could describe the best of my days on the Camino. Yet none of them really scratch the surface. Because a good writer is supposed to “show, not tell,” I’ll try my best to describe this superlative day, among my very favorites on the Camino.
It was early and not yet bright as we prepared to leave the albergue in Atapuerca. I laced up my shoes on the outdoor patio while the girls were getting ready. While I waited, I took a short stroll alone down a side street that ended in a pasture, and was treated to a front row seat of the early morning sunrise. The air was alive with birdsong in every direction. The dark blue sky seemed huge above me. On the horizon, the clouds lay in swaths of deep purple and pink, shot through with slivers of gold from below.
From my journal: “My feet are only sort-of sore instead of falling-off sore.” This was progress!
The walk to Atapuerca today lifted my spirits. I could have sung from the top of my lungs, I felt so happy. The sun shone brightly in the crisp air as we left the castle-like hotel-albergue and headed straight up the steep hillside — the first of three. I stopped for a moment to look back and was treated to views of distant, snow-covered mountains and rolling oak-covered hills, barely budding green, with wisps of ground fog settled into the far-away valleys.
The theme for the next two days of walking was consistent: foot misery in the daytime and, when the walking was over, recovery and camaraderie in the evenings.
This expected physical pain lasted for almost a week it encompassed all my thoughts during the day, and at night, I worried about the next day’s walk. It colored the entire experience. My journal entries are short but list specific pains in great detail.
I’ll spare you the minutia of blisters and aches and, for the sake of brevity, am condensing the two days into one entry.
I’d been working up to it for almost two weeks: today I would ask for what I wanted. I came to do the Camino alone yet I had been walking with friends since the beginning. At last I stood in my truth and the most delightful things happened.
When I woke up in the morning, I knew I was ready for a rest day. I told Katrin this and suggested that, if she wanted, we could meet the next day in front of the church in Santo Domingo de la Calzada. I felt so good about this decision. Suddenly, I felt free to choose my own path. I wasn’t sure how was going to meet her, but I was open to all possibilities.
Imagine my surprise and delight when I learned that my blog has received a Libester Award from Samantha and Samuel from the blog, A Couple of Backpackers! It’s a special honor since I really love their blog — it inspires me to set my sites on pilgrimages beyond Santiago in the future!
You would think that staying well-fed wouldn’t be an issue on the Camino with places to stop for a snack or a café con leche every few miles, but today I managed to get so hungry I couldn’t think.
Before we left this morning, we checked on Lies to see how she was feeling. The patient looked much better and her fever had gone down dramatically. Not perfect, but good reason to be relieved and even a little hopeful. I felt torn between wanting to keep her company and needing to go my own way.
On the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails there are trail angels who, in the driest stretches, leave bottled water caches for through-hikers. Or set up a barbecue at a common hitching spot and provide a hearty meal. Or a leave out a cooler with cold soda. Trail angels are volunteers who self-select to be of service.
In Spain, there are Camino angels. Although not nearly as deliberate or organized, they are everywhere. Sometimes they are locals, doing a kind turn to the pilgrim — from a friendly wave, or donativo snacks, to foot care and massage. Sometimes they’re fellow pilgrims, helping one another as they collectively struggle toward Santiago — lending a hand, dispensing ibuprofeno, or a kind word at just the right moment.
“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.'” ~ Mary Anne Radmacher
Because there are no coincidences on the Camino — or in life — I chose this quote at random from a collection of inspirational “fortune cookies” for pilgrims at the albergue in Logroño. It was a fitting message for the day following debilitating pain which hobbled my body and my spirit.
I didn’t roar that morning when I awoke. I sat up in bed, grinned at the giggling French ladies across from my bunk, and tentatively put my tender feet on the floor.
From my journal: “I’m not really sure I can do the whole Camino. I seriously entertained giving up today.”
But, let me tell you, there was nothing entertaining about it. From the comfort of my living room I can type these words with the confidence of one who knows how it all turned out. But as I scratched them with pen into my spiral-bound notebook on a cold, damp day, I had no such certainty.