Written a few days ago.
You may be wondering to yourself, is walking the Camino and staying in Albergues something for me? Let me relate two in incidents.
Last night as I was lying in bed, awake, but with my eyes closed, Hetty witnessed the young woman in the bed next to me getting changed. Her back was facing me but I was oblivious. She then changed for bed, undressing to her g-string briefs. Hetty said the next morning that if my eyes had been open she would have leapt across me to protect my eyes.
The next day, as pilgrims were coming in from their day’s walk, a group of middle aged, portly Frenchmen came into our dorm. They insisted in walking around in their jocks with bellies spilling over. Or as one brother-in-law oft repeated, “there was a large veranda over the tool shed.” The two young women in the beds across from mine didn’t know where to look. Hetty was ready to throw up. One man didn’t get back into pants for ages. The young women fled well before that to save their eyesight.
The accomodation is cheap and there are great moments when you meet people and chat with them but there are also times when one’s sensitivities are pushed to the limit. For me, I would do it again even if my wife has to hurl herself over me to protect me.
Seminario Menor in Santiago but without the g-strings and bellies.
The Yo Yo day:
From two Spanish ladies wrecking my sleep to a beautiful meal with my birthday wife.
The day started very early. Two Spanish ladies addicted to their cell phones were communicating with others and each other in the early hours of the morning as I was trying to sleep in a bunk only half a metre away. Then at 5 am with headlights attached they started packing up and leaving the Albergue. It was like trying to sleep in a disco as their lights strobed around the room. That was a downward plunge of the yo yo. Then at 7 am when all the civilised pilgrims decided to rise and shine I told them it was Hetty’s birthday when Hetty was out of the dorm. When she returned they all sang happy birthday to her. The yo yo was on the way up.
We started walking at 8 am and entered the next village a few kms away and there was a beautifully kept bar with a friendly host who served croissants, coffee and fresh orange juice. We reconnected with some of our fellow pilgrims. The yo yo was still going up. However we needed to catch the bus as Hetty’s knee was hurting badly. We walked 4 kms to the bus stop only to find out the timetable was out of date and the next one wasn’t coming for hours. Yo yo going down again. After a frustrating time trying to work out what to do a lady stopped at the bus stop and insisted we get in her car and she drove us to Burgos. All she asked was that we pray for her. Monty was her name. Yo yo flying up.
My head was still pounding from spending a night in an airless disco dorm and when we got to the Pensión I wasn’t in a mood for making decisions but we had to and a domestic situation ensued. Yo yo plunging.
After a big deep breath Hetty went to the doctor who said she had to rest the leg. Good to know. Contacts in Madrid said they would be happy to see us next week. Yo yo up.
After a nice rest we entered the bustling crowds of Burgos at 8:30 and went to a pizza restaurant for a birthday dinner. Yo yo very up.
To mix the metaphors “Some days are diamonds and some are coal”. Today we had them both but the diamonds shone more brightly. My wife tells me she is the diamond.
Sadly there was no Palm Sunday church service in Villafranca Montes de Oca today. Many villages in Spain are without priests and the church is mainly frequented by the elderly. So we started walking. Today’s experience was walking through falling snow but the wind had, thankfully, died down.
Our destination was San Juan de Ortega. Due to knee issues we are walking shorter distances. Today was only 12kms. All up we have covered 98 kms but we have cheated for 15-20 of these. This morning the early sections were quite hilly winding through pine plantations and the road was muddy due to frequent use by log trucks.
In San Juan we found a warm bar and had a coffee and tea with a piece of cake and then another coffee.
Now all we have to do is wait for the Albergue to open and hope that the backpack is there. Yesterday I slipped on a drain grate and my backpack took me for a ride. 20 kilos is hard to stop in mid flight! All that was hurt was my sprained wrist and my pride.
We took a short walk today. Only 11 kms. We have some aches and niggles in our legs so we thought we would be nice to them. We have stopped in Redecilla del Camino. It is a small town made up of a street of vey old stone buildings and C12th church. Over the busy road are some more modern buildings. But like many small Spanish towns it seems in decline. There are deserted Spanish villages for sale if you are so inclined.
Our devotion this morning was on Eph 2:10. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Physically, at present, the handiwork is feeling a little run down and worn. Yet the idea that our eyes and hearts always need to be open and ready for service is very heartening and life enhancing.
Strange observation: as we were walking along the other day there was a cross. Now many Spanish towns and roads have Christian crosses. But this seemed rather simple and not ornate. I asked Hetty if it was a cross or a power pole. She opted for cross. We got closer and there were three of them. On closer inspection they turned to to be redundant power poles. There is a sermon illustration in there somewhere.
We are currently staying in the town (Santo Domingo de la Calzada) that permanently keeps chickens in the Cathedral because of ‘miracles’ that occurred in the Middle Ages. These involved the returning to life of a German pilgrim and the returning to life of two chickens on the bishop’s plate when he refused to believe the original miracle. Added to this I found a in a local church a sign proudly selling plenary indulgences. If I am right last year was the 500th anniversary of the nailing of the 95 theses against indulgences, by Martin Luther.
The returning thought that comes to me is that for most people the Camino to Santiago is a secular trek. The hostels are handy and cheap for accommodation … and it is handy for meeting the opposite sex.
There are however opportunities to explore one’s spirituality. Some hostels take the Christian discipleship dimension seriously. One such Albergue is in Villamayor de Monjardin where the volunteers at the Albergue Hogar Monjardín see hospitality as a crucial part of their discipleship role. They are planning bigger and better ideas for the future.
I need to see these bright lights as otherwise I would become despondent because the Camino would be just another expression of our slide into secularity. It is wonderful to see Christians take opportunities, like the Camino, and step up to the opportunities.
We crossed the Pyrenees yesterday but not as true pilgrims. We cheated. We took a bus across and passed all these freezing pilgrims trudging through the snow. I felt guilty but not that guilty that I wanted to stop the bus. Our driver told us that he had to pick up a Korean lady who had collapsed on the road from hyperthermia, on the previous day.
We arrived in Villamayor and met the people from a Christian albergue/hostel who make it their business to create a welcoming environment for pilgrims. They are a positive presence in the local villages giving the potential of new life in villages that seem to be dying by degrees.
Now the weather is icy outside. Tomorrow we begin walking the next stage of the Camino. Inside the fire is burning and it is cosy and warm. We are steeling ourselves for the reality to come.
One of the discussions we have while walking is, would we do it again. When the the joints are aching and the feet are sore we answer in the negative but when reflecting in calmer moments we realise the achievements we have made.
I would still love to walk the whole Camino from France but have come to the conclusion that I would do it without a 14 kg backpack.
We went from Villamajor to Torres del Rio. The walk was uneventful. We passed many vines and olive groves. The albergue was fancy but not good for the independent pilgrim. No kitchen or communal facilities. From Torres del Rio we went into Logrono. There were some steep climbs and steep descents. The descents are tougher on the knees than the ascents.
We ended our walk at Logrono and took the bus back to Pamplona. 120 kms of walking was undone in a two hour bus trip.
It was great to meet some fantastic people and to pray intently for certain people and circumstances.
We are back in our tent and looking forward to more of Spain and Portugal.
Day 4 & 5 Camino Continued
Last night we went for a walk before dinner (which in Spain is about 8 pm). Earlier in the day I went to the John the Baptist church and encountered a priest teaching a group of about 30-40 children. Both he and they were enthusiastic. When we returned in the evening a youth choir was practising a series of songs with choreography. They stood in front of the altar and sounded sublime. I said to Hetty, “I want the album!” Seeing children and young people in cathedral like churches is encouraging because far too often all one finds in curious tourists.
Today we decided to have an easy walk of 9 kms to Villmayor de Monjardin.
We ended up at a Christian albergue run by a Dutch evangelical group. It was a nice change from some the big impersonal albergues. We had a meal together and a meditation before bed.
1. Last night on the way from the supermarket we stopped in at a church as the choir was practising. It was amazingly professional and would be the envy of any church.
2. Later we were speaking with a young polish couple. We said that we were Christians and were spending a lot of the time praying for friends and family. The young lady’s eyes lit up and asked if we could pray for her brother too because he had some serious issues to deal with. Then she added that she would like prayer for them as a couple.
3. This morning as we leaving Puente la Riena at 6:30am a group of about 10 men were huddled around a doorway. Cynically I said that they were waiting for the tavern to open. As we got closer we realised that one of the men held a large crucifix. As we got close one man rang a bell and they walked solemnly up the street towards the bridge with us not far behind. At the bridge they rang the bell and started singing. It was amazingly beautiful. I have no idea what the words were but I hope that they were words of faith and prayers for the town
4. Then this morning as our feet were getting tired we looked for a coffee shop but found none open. There was a stone wall fence that we sat on. A lady over the road was sweeping her garage out. She motioned us over and gave us a chair to sit on. She was cooking some delicious meatballs in the garage – as you do. She came over and gave us each one. When we left she wished us a “Buen Camino”. Real hospitality!
Day 3.We stayed at a very friendly albergue (which I have been spelling incorrectly) in Zariquiegui. Breakfast consisted of a sweet roll, black coffee and orange juice. By 7am we were on the road to Puente La Riena via Alto del Perdon a peak which was quite a steep climb and an even steeper and rockier descent. At the top of the ridge is a line of wind turbines which would have excited Don Quixote.
We had committed ourselves to pray for friends and family on this walk (more than usual) and various issues that
have been exercising our minds. As we arrived at the top of the hill, wind and a rain squall hit us. However, in the midst of that we saw a magnificent rainbow. It was a reminder of a covenant God who keeps his promises. It was an incredibly uplifting moment and inspired our prayers.
We went through a number of small villages but sadly they all their churches are closed. I like to go in and pray for the people that attend – as well as have a sticky beak around. Now it is time to find an albergue and then find the pilgrims bridge I first encountered in 2006.