Here I go...

Finding magic under the stars of the Camino Santiago de Compostela

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Camino Santiago: A Typical Day

Before actually walking the Camino, 
some people have interesting ideas 
about living life as a pilgrim. 
 One of the most interesting was a woman 
who told me she planned on introducing herself
to the Basque witches when she arrived 
and fully expected to be invited 
to midnight rituals in secret caves along the Way. 

I'm pretty sure that didn't pan out for her 
- the "real" Basque witches most likely survive 
the same way their ancestors did, 
by NOT opening their arms to strangers.
 This woman's fantasy was so upset by reality 
that she returned to the United States 
after only several days on the Camino.

Although there are as many different ways 
to experience The Way as there are pilgrims, 
I thought it might be helpful to post 
about my own experience 
and share with you a typical day on the Camino for me. 

Your days can be good ones or bad ones, 
depending on YOUR attitude, 
and the first piece of advice I'll give you is
"Chill Out!" 
 This is going to be an experience unlike any other. 
Learn to bend like a sapling in a storm and you will survive. Have unrealistic expectations, 
and you will snap.

The Camino can be wonderful and it can be terrible. 
The more open minded and flexible you are, 
the less you are likely to suffer. 
You soon discover that some circumstances 
are not under your control. 
I would say that you are not the center of the Universe, 
but that isn't exactly true. 
 You ARE the center of YOUR universe 
and you can CHOOSE how you respond to challenges 
on the road. 
Difficult situations can become nightmares 
or they can become wonderful life-changing lessons. 
It all depends on your response;
in that you always have a choice.

We have to begin somewhere, 
so let's begin at about 5 a.m.
You have slept in a very crowded albergue.
It was difficult to fall sleep 
because the place is packed 
and the air is thick and stuffy.
 About midnight, you opened the window 
beside your bunk bed to get some fresh air,
but the person in the top bunk promptly closed it. 
You quietly opened it again, 
only to have her sit up, 
give a HUFF, 
and slam it closed! 
You decided not to argue, 
and eventually fell asleep among 
the snoring, farting, and whispering peregrinos. 
And now, in the darkest dark, 
what should be the quietest quiet of the morning, 
you are rudely awakened by the rustling of those 
horrid plastic grocery sacks!
 Squinting your eyes open, 
you try to see where the noise is coming from 
and you're suddenly blinded by someone's headlamp - 
You wonder what in the world is happening, 
then you realize, 
it is morning and several pilgrims 
are joining in the daily "race for a bed!"

Some folks find it impossible to leave 
their Type A personalities at home!
Why can't let their guard down 
and trust the Camino to provide?
They live in fear - 
"Where will I sleep? 
What if there are no beds at the next place?"
 To assure themselves, 
they awaken at god-awful early times 
and roust everyone else with their readyings.

You turn over, put your pillow over your head, 
adjust your earplugs, 
and do your best to get another 2 hours of precious sleep. 
But the rustling bags, the loud whispering, 
the clicking of poles on the floor continues, 
and after about an hour, 
you give up along with almost everyone else 
and join the crowd as they hurry to get on the road.

If you are lucky, 
you have stayed in a place that refuses 
to unlock the doors until 7 am. 
They do exist, but they are few and far between.

Last night, after your shower, 
you put on today's walking clothes.
You slept in them, 
and so this morning you only have to stuff 
your sleeping bag into your pack to be ready. 

A quick look around to be sure you aren't leaving anything 
and you are out the door.

There was no breakfast here today. 
But you remember you have some "Marias"
in your backpack.
There is a fig tree in the yard with a sign
"Gratis" and so you pick two
and enjoy a small breakfast of 
figs and cookies.

Sometimes the albergue will offer you breakfast. 
This usually consists of bread 
donated by a local bakery, 
packets of butter and jam, and coffee. 
Sometimes there will be cereal or fruit, but not often. 
Spanish bread is lovely. 
Baked fresh each day, it contains no preservatives, 
so it may be a bit tough if old. 
But it's tasty and the only thing you're likely to get to eat 
for a few hours, so you accept it 
and express your thanks to the hospitalero 
and the Camino, remembering, 
"A Pilgrim Is Grateful."

You step out into the dawn and begin to walk. 
One foot in front of the other...
 You may walk alone or you may begin in a group. 
The people in the group will come and go 
as the day progresses. 
You may walk fast or slow, 
and as others pass you, 
they will greet you with "Buen Camino!"  
You quickly learn this phrase and begin to offer it 
to others you meet along the road. 
You are reminded what it's like 
to have people look at you when they speak to you. 
It's refreshing to see people interacting 
face to face instead of online. 
This human connection touches you 
and heals you in ways you can't explain.

This morning's quest is to find a bar 
where you can have a "real" cup of coffee 
or hot chocolate or zumo (juice). 
It's usually found within an hour or two 
of leaving the albergue.

You began this morning wearing layers against the cold. 
After about 1/2 hour of walking, 
no matter the weather, 
you find yourself peeling layers off. 
The morning air is fresh and clean. 
You can smell the hay and the cows. 
The sun rises higher and you begin to sweat. 
You listen to the birds and the quiet of the countryside. 
You feel alive for the first time in a long time.

You continue to walk... 
one foot in front of the other...
alone for a couple of kilometers. 
Then a pilgrim passes you. 
Another steps up beside you and walks with you for a while,
then turns off to rest under the shade of an oak tree.
One foot in front of the other... 
over a bridge...
through vineyards... 
along the banks of a canal. 
You wonder at the wildlife. 
You see nesting birds, butterflies, grasshoppers, frogs. 
You walk a long time on a hot, dusty track. 
A car passes you. 
The person inside honks and waves. 
"Buen Camino!" they shout!
You wave back, happy to be acknowledged. 

One foot in front of the other... 
onto some old roman road. 
Walls on each side of you make the path shady. 
Ivy clings to giant ancient trees. 
You pass a bici-grino fixing a tire. 
"Buen Camino!" 
Your stomach growls - it must be lunch time.
 You walk around a bend and there is a bar! 
It is OPEN! 
The tables and chairs outside 
are filled with hungry pilgrims. 
Backpacks and walking sticks are leaned against the building.
People are going in and out. 
You take off your pack and leave it outside. 
The first time or two you did this, it worried you, 
but you now realize that nobody wants your pack 
and it's o.k. to leave it for a few minutes. 
The bar owner doesn't want it inside 
because too many pilgrims don't pay attention. 
They turn around and knock things off counters 
with their big packs. 
They also carry bedbugs and dirt inside the establishment. 
It's understandable that the packs and walking sticks 
are required to be left outdoors. 

You get into line and order your coffee. 
You use Spanish to order. 
It's becoming more and more comfortable every day to speak Spanish. The people here do not speak English. 
A frustrated American speaks his order 
in S-L-O-W, LOUD English. 

The bartender scowls and shakes his head. 
He doesn't understand. 
Speaking loud slow English won't get you far 
in this country, 
but an honest attempt to speak the national language will. 
You step up and help the pilgrim order. 
He does not thank you. 
You silently bless him anyway. 
While you're at it, you silently bless the bar owner, 
who was happy to serve you 
but cranky with the other pilgrim. 
It doesn't matter. 
You choose to smile and be grateful 
for the food and drink and service. 

You see a stack of bocadillos on the counter 
and you order one for second breakfast. 
You laugh at the thought of second breakfast,
but the excessive walking makes you more hungry
than when you're at home.

You find a place to sit and enjoy your coffee 
and sandwich.
The tables are full, 
so you sit outdoors on the ground 
leaning against the building. 
It matters not where you sit; 
the food and steaming coffee lifts your spirits! 

You ask the other peregrinos; 
"Where did you begin today? 
How far will you go?"
You recognize someone you met 2 weeks ago 
in another town.
"Hey! How ARE you!? 
So nice to see you again!"
You hug like long lost friends!
Photo from Pilgrim Roads
 After you eat and drink, 
you pick up your pack and once again, 
you walk.
One foot in front of the other...
for another few hours.

You stop at a tienda in the village and buy food. 
Tuna, bread, tomatoes, and and apple. 
You see the local fountain and stop
to fill your water bottles with cold spring water. 
"The water in Spain is much cleaner than at home," 
you think to yourself.

You walk again... 
one foot in front of the other... 
up and hill and down, 
athrough herd of sheep. 
The shepherd's dogs eyeball you, 
wondering if you're a threat. 
You hold your walking stick tighter.
They decide you are not bothering them, 
and trot off into the dusty wake of 100 bawling sheep.
 You turn your face to the sun.
It feels so good, so warm.
You come into another small village.
The streets are narrow and pristine. 
You spot a house with a bright blue door. 
There are clean clothes hanging from the upper windows,
flapping like flags in the wind. 
The lower windows are filled with geranium planted pots; 
a study in reds, hot pinks, and greens. 
What wonderful houses the Spanish live in!
Watercolor by Joy Laking
 You walk out of this village and into the countryside. 
There are sunflower fields on each side of the dirt path. 
You are curious about the ancient irrigation systems.
Who made these?
How long have they been here?

In another village,
the church bell rings from the village behind you 
and you pass a group of local grandmothers 
waiting to attend a special Mass for a friend
who passed away yesterday.
 Each smiles at you and blesses you 
with a "Buen Camino!"
You grin back, and say "Thank you" 
in English.

You walk...
one foot in front of the other...

After an hour, 
one of your toes is hurting. 
Each step is becoming painful. 
You realize it is a hotspot - 
a red tender area where your shoe or sock is rubbing. 
You need to make a decision. 
You can continue and get a full blown blister, 
or you can stop and take care of this now. 

There is a horse trough next to the path,
and you stop. 
You sit on the ground 
and take off your shoes and socks. 
Your feet thank you! 
You briskly rub them all over, 
then plunge them into the ice cold water trough. 
It is shockingly cold, 
but it also feels so good! 
You soak your feet for 5 minutes, 
and then dry them off with your towel. 
You dig in your pack for the Compeed you bought last week. 
It came in many sizes and you bought one of each. 
There is one made just for toes! 
Some pilgrims pierce their blisters with needles,
but you don't want to chance infection,
and besides, it is not a full-blown blister yet.

You carefully cover the hot spot with Compeed. 
It will remain on your skin until it falls off. 
You put your socks and shoes back on and breathe a sigh. Oh, that is so much better!

And you begin walking again...
one foot in front of the other... 

Three pilgrims pass you. 
"Buen Camino!" you wave. 
They respond, "Buen Camino!" 

You pass a pilgrim on crutches.
She has one foot in a cast and is limping along.
"Are you ok?" you ask. 
Se nods and grins. 
You continue walking...
knowing each pilgrim must walk
their own Camino.
You can not take away her pain.
You can only pray for her and bless her.

Lunchtime comes and goes. 
You pass another bar. 
You have a picnic lunch in your pack, 
but decide to go inside instead. 
You order a big, cold cerveza con limon. 
It is so refreshing and comes with a small bowl of olives. 
You look at the menu and see they offer for lunch... BOCADILLOS!
You order and eat another bocadillo. 
Have you ever eaten so many sandwiches in your life?
It is good and gives you energy.  
It's filled with thin slices of local ham and cheese. 

Other pilgrims at a nearby table ask, 
"Where did you start today? 
How far will you walk?"  
These questions are beginning to form a song 
in your head.

You finish your lunch and ask to use the bathroom.
"Dónde está los servicios?"  
You are directed to a tiny closet sized room.
There is a hole in the ground. 
It is a squat toilet. 

Most places have what you would call "normal" toilets, 
but these squat toilets do exist along the Way. 
The toilet is not necessarily clean. 
It was most likely cleaned this morning, 
but hitting the hole takes practice, 
and some pilgrims have never seen such a toilet! 

You pull down your pants 
and place your feet on each side, 
squatting while trying to keep your clothes 
from touching anything.  
You wish you had used the toilet at the albergue 
this morning before you left. 

You finish and realize there is no toilet paper, 
not because it is not offered, 
but because previous pilgrims have stolen it. 
Why do they do that? 
Why not just buy their own? 
Luckily, you have a roll in your pack 
that you bought in St. Jean. 

At least there is a toilet here. 
You remind yourself again, 
"A Pilgrim is Grateful."  
You wash your hands, 
put your pack on your back,
and walk out the door. 
"Buen Camino!" says the bartender.

You again put one foot in front of the other...

Up ahead, you see the weather is changing. 
You feel a cold wind beginning to blow.

Soon dark clouds roll in.
Then, suddenly it begins to rain! 
There is no shelter. 
You take off your pack, 
and dig into it for your Altus rain poncho. 
You put it on over your pack, 
pull the hood on and button it up. 
 The trail quickly turns to a muddy slush
and your shoes grow heavy
as the thick clay sticks to them,
making each step difficult.

And still, you put one foot in front of the other 
and walk....walk... walk...

You have been walking steadily for 6 hours now 
and you are beginning to feel tired.
You have passed many pilgrims 
and many pilgrims have passed you.
You have stopped for breakfast, 
to nurse your feet, 
and for lunch.
You are ready for this day of walking 
to be finished.

Soon, in the distance, you see a hill, 
and at the top, a village.
This is where you will sleep tonight, hopefully.
You wonder if you can make it. 
You really don't want to sleep in the weather tonight, 
so you push yourself to walk on and on, 
the village getting closer and closer,  
the hill feeling more steep with each step.

As you finally enter the village, 
you see the yellow arrows, 
and painted signs directing you to the albergue.

You have arrived around 3 pm after walking all day.
As you approach, you see a sign.
It says 

They are full! 
Oh NO!
What will you do?
You plop down on a wall, 
drink water, 
rub your face, 
and think. 

Another pilgrim comes up to you and says,
"There is another albergue at the end of the village. 
Perhaps they'll have a bed for you."  

You thank him, 
then turn and begin walking up the next hilly street 
in the indicated direction, 
one heavy foot in front of the other...

You reach the albergue 
and find it is open. 

This albergue is "donativo" 
and offers dinner AND breakfast!
What a blessing!
You sign in and place 10 Euros in the box, 
understanding that this money will buy 
tomorrow's breakfast and dinner for tomorrow's pilgrims.

You are shown to your room. 
Sometimes you can choose your own bed, 
but in this case, one is assigned. 
You are lucky today; 
the sheets look CLEAN! 
There is even a pillow and a small blanket at the foot, 
carefully folded. 
These hospitaleros are good ones! 
They care!

You look for signs of bedbugs. 
Seeing none, 
you quickly mist your bed with mosquito spray. 
You wait 5 minutes. 
No bugs. 
Satisfied, you put your sleeping bag on the bed 
to hold your place.  
If you had found bugs, 
you would have asked for a refund and moved on.

Digging your clean clothes, towel, and bath soap 
out of your backpack, 
you also grab the zip lock bag you carry 
for your valuables, 
and then you head for the showers.
There is no line and the showers are not only clean, 
the water is HOT!
Maybe the first albergue being closed
was a blessing!
You are lucky again!

You undress, 
putting your money belt in the zip lock bag.
You take this INTO the shower with you.
You never leave this precious bundle anywhere ... 
It reminds me of a sign I saw that said, 
"In God we Trust; all others pay cash."
It's ok to trust people, 
but it also pays to be smart. 
If your cash and cards are stolen, 
it could mean the end of your journey.
It would be nice to think that no pilgrim would steal, 
but that's just not the case.
There's always that one... 
no need in tempting him or her.

You enjoy the 5 minute hot shower, 
then you get dressed, 
returning your money belt to your body.
It's damp, 
not from the shower, 
but from your sweaty walk.
It doesn't matter.
It is your lifeline.
You must always wear it next to your body.

You take your dirty clothes out to the washing station.
There are no machines.
Laundry here is done by hand.
You wash out your clothes 
and hang them on the provided racks.
Everyone uses the same racks.
You will gather your clothes before you sleep tonight 
or in the morning before you leave.

You check the "free" box 
to see if there's anything you might need.
You find a lightweight long-sleeved shirt 
that will be good sun protection.
You leave a can opener
and a sleeping mat that you've decided
you do not need.

Time for a siesta! 
This is a perfect time to catch an hour or two of sleep 
before dinner.  
It's also a good time to find a computer 
and email family at home or to visit with other pilgrims.

After a short rest, 
you explore the albergue 
and find this one has a well-stocked kitchen.
Asking the hospitalero, 
you discover there is a small tienda 
in the village and it is open.
You take a short walk and do some shopping, 
then return to the albergue to cook your own dinner. 
It will be pasta with a homemade tomato and onion sauce.

You will save the food you bought yesterday 
for tomorrow's lunch. 
You have heard there is no place to stop 
along tomorrow's etapa.

You begin cooking and soon, 
other pilgrims come along.
"I have a bottle of wine!"
"I have a loaf of bread!"
"I have some lettuce and tomatoes"
"I have a can of tuna and some olives!"
"I have apples and bananas!"

Your meager pasta dinner has become a pilgrim potluck !
The hospitalera arrives and reminds you
this albergue offers dinner!
You forgot!
Oh well, you laugh at each other,
set the table for a feast!
You all have a wonderful time 
sharing food, wine, and stories.

You head to your bed about 9 pm. 
On the way, you pick up your clothes, 
which are dry. 
The lights will go out automatically at 10 pm, 
but you are happy to get an extra hour of rest. 
There is a pilgrim speaking loudly on her cell phone.
She doesn't seem to care that her voice
is disturbing others.
A brave pilgrim asks her to please take it outside.
She is embarrassed, and complies.

You crawl into bed in the clothes you will wear tomorrow. 
You are ready to walk. 
All you have to do is get up, 
stuff your sleeping bag into your pack, 
and go.

As your head hits the bed, 
a million thoughts replay.
"Hopefully, those grocery sack pilgrims 
found a place at the OTHER albergue!"
"Wasn't it a wonderful dinner?"
"Weren't those people from Chile nice?"
"The blisters the fellow from Oregon had were horrible! 
Poor guy!"
"Tomorrow, I will walk an extra 5 kilometers..."

The next thing you know, 
you are blinded by the lights being flicked on!
It's 7 am!!! 
You actually slept in!
You look around, 
and most of the beds are empty.
Ok... time to get moving...

You are the last person to get up.
Breakfast is still on the table, 
and there is more than enough food!
"Take some with you," the hospitalera offers! 
And so you do. 
You stuff some bread, butter, jam, and fruit 
into your backpack.
It will make a nice snack for the trail. 
You drink an extra cup of coffee. 
Then you put your pack on your back.
You hear the bell tolling in the village.

As you walk out the front door into the morning air, 
a priest passes on his way to Mass. 
"Buen Camino!" he says 
as he blesses you in the air.

"Gracias!" you answer.

And again you walk...
putting one foot in front of the other....
and the whole thing starts all over again,
like a loop with no end.
For 6 wonderful weeks,
this is the simplicity of your life.
I hope you will enjoy your version.

 "Buen Camino!"

Note:  If you are interested in walking the Camino Santiago, 
but are not quite ready to go it alone, 
consider joining Annie
on one of our small, affordable Camino walks. 
For more information see our website 
at this link: AnnieWalkers Camino