Moonset on the Meseta

Moonset on the Meseta

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Day 23 on the Camino, past Sarria

There have been some days of rain, but walking in Galicia is beautiful.  Climbing up over O Cebreiro was a highlight, beautiful in the early morning.  Today I walked from Triacastela to Barbedelos.

Yoko, Linnea, and Eva in Villafranca del Bierzo

The day of Foncebadon I met Yoko and Eva and we walked together to Ponferrada.  It has been good to have companions on the walk.

All day rain!

from Faba to O Cebreiro at dawn

Heading up to O  Cebreiro

At Barbedelos with Jean Paul, Marie Christine, and Eva and Yoko and a German man

Another rainy day, but actually very good and beautiful walking. Hip pain went away, whether from prayers you have all be sending or a dose of Eva´s 400 mg ibuprofen. The first pain free day in a long long time. A couple of sore toes on the left foot, otherwise very good, even walking in the rain, and going a long way before a stop for a second breakfast about 11:30 a.m. Even though I mention wine and chocolate a lot, I am really getting a pretty well-balanced diet. A bit heavy on eggs, cheese, and jamon, no doubt, but I guess I am burning up those calories. For an afternoon snack today I had the ubiquitous ensalada mixta, which is lettuce, tomatoes (getting some really delicious fresh tomatoes these days), onion, olives, tuna, asparagus, with oil and vinegar dressing. Occasionally yummy soup. Last night it was macaroni in tomato and meat sauce followed by chicken and potatoes, and ice cream for dessert. What I have not seen on any menu, broccoli, zucchini (although I have seen them growing in the fields), Anyway, I am doing quite well with food, and have pretty much stopped buying and carrying bread and cheese since it is easier to just stop at a cafe or bar, and they come pretty frequently, although today it was a good 12 km before we found one.

We walked through some beautiful woodsy sections today. Some quite steep. Up on stony tracks with mossy stone walls lining them, and huge beautiful old chestnut trees. Sometimes it was quite slippery. At the first bar in a long long time this morning, about 8 km from Sarria, the place was packed with wet peregrinos and their backpacks, all sitting around a long wooden table. It was about 11:30 -- we got a late start, not waking up until nearly 8 a.m. this morning, and nearly 8 before we headed out of Triacastela. Oh, I saw I beautiful great blue heron in a stream just outside of Triacastela. Anyway, when it is 11:30 I am never sure whether it is time for another cafe con leche or beer. So, this morning it was beer and a freshly made tortilla (eggs) with Spanish ham sprinkled on top. Very good.

That got me through the next 8 km to Sarria, where I had ensalada mixta and sampled some pulpo (spicy octopus) off a neighboring diner´s plate. We then decided to continue another 4 to 5 km to this little village of Barbadelos, and to stay at a private albergue, which costs more and is pretty spartan, but has a nice dining room where I hope to have a good supper. All in all, it was a beautiful day of walking. Galicia is very green, unlike the meseta through which I was previously walking.

I have been meeting more of the same people again on the trail and in the cafes -- including the Spanish young men who took my picture. Many people are hoping to reach Santiago by Sunday, which will be 10/10/10. So I suspect there will be an even larger than usual crush of pilgrims arriving. We will see. I think we can easily make that -- 4 more days of walking, whether in rain or not. At least walking in the rain is not hot, except when scaling hills, and there have been a few today. Yoko and Eva and I all get very hot, and end up having to take off layers as we climb up, and then put them back on as it starts raining harder, or we get cold when we stop.

I am sitting here now wearing my fleece jacket and longsleeved shirt, and my fingers are getting numb. I´m ready for a cup of hot tea, but I think I can get dinner in another hour. I am in a room with 14 bunk beds, nice bathrooms down a circular staircase that will be fun to navigate at 3 or 4 a.m. I am in a top bunk next to a window with a beautiful view out over a green valley with a big eucalyptus with birds maybe 50 feet away. I´m going to sign off and climb under the covers -- they did provide an extra heavy blanket -- and look out the window and try to stay awake until dinner time.

Thinking of all of you as I walk. It is good to have found some congenial walking companions -- we are quite an unlikely combination, but get along well.

Our last day of walking -- almost to Santiago!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Day 12 on the Camino: Carrion de los Condes

I haven´t been keeping up the blog, but sending group emails.  Here´s one I wrote today:

It was a short day today after doing 66 km in the previous 2 days. The next stretch of camino is 17 km with no stops, so it was either continue on and do well over 35 again today or make it short. I´ve been having a little pain in backside and left leg, so decided it would be better to keep it short today. I had a lovely evening in Fromista, which was a very nice little town, having dinner in a restaurant with Mario from Montreal, and Mary from Ottawa. I found out that Mario is a "jack of all trades" and that he had wanted to do the camino for about 10 years and was finally giving it to himself as a 50th birthday present.

Mario and Patricia

The albergue was nice last night, and not full. People were friendly. I caught up with Mario on the road this morning, then we split as I decided to take the alternate track along a canal and water instead of along the road. I didn´t see anyone for a long long time. A couple of hours. There were parts of the road that made me think I was back in Stephenson, MI, 8 or 9 years old, running barefoot along the road bordered by small shrubs and cornfields. I went right back in time, thinking about my grandfather, Aunt Viola (Ola) and Old Harry (Harold, my uncle), and how the death of my grandfather was my first real encounter with the death of someone I loved, and that I don´t think I was ever allowed to fully process it. So, on and on... the memories were so very vivid and had me in tears. Then I looked and on the top of a hill behind me was a whole flock of sheep outlined against the ridge of the hill with the morning sun behind. When I stopped I could hear their bells ringing. The sun came up and the moon still shone in the full sun, and I was walking right into the setting moon. It was a rather emotional, but lovely morning, and seemed so timeless, with the cornfields and sheep, and lots of small birds flitting in the trees and bushes.

Sheep after Fromista

After maybe 3 hours I came out at this church, and right behind me came the Colombian couple, Ximena and Francisco, and then along came Mario, who had decided he didn´t like walking along the road and had turned around. I had noticed that he was pulling on the straps of his pack, and that indicated that it was fitting him right. So, when he put it on, I helped him adust it -- the shoulder straps were not right, and the band across the chest wasn´t right, either. By the time we made all the adjustments he said he it was much much better. I´m starting to think of myself as the camino pack doctor. Then I stopped in a church for quite awhile, then had a tortilla and cerveza, joined by the Spanish couple who do not speak English but our paths have been crossing and we have stayed in many of the same places for about 19 days now. Mario had continued on, but I think he was planning to stop here because of his blisters, although I haven´t seen him here.

Francisco y Jimena

I just met a Japanese man from Hokkaido. Eitan, which sounds like a Jewish name, not Japanese! And then there was a couple from Oregon in the kitchen of the hostel just now. The last part of the walk today was along the road, which was distinctly unpleasant. After I arrived here, it turned cold. I am now wearing fleece and long sleeves and long pants, and it is still chilly. It was pretty depressing walking around town in the afternoon, with absolutely everything closed. I had to wait for this internet cafe to open up, and then it was full. Oh, and I have found my first horse peregrino! When I came back to the albergue after wandering around town in the cold, there was a horse at the door! The rider said he thinks he is somewhat famous, as everyone tells him they´ve never seen a horse peregrino, either. He unloaded and unsaddled, leaving the saddle in the garage of the albergue, and last I saw he was leading the horse off somewhere. It has always amused me that the Miam Miam Dodo guidebook always lists whether horses are welcome and whether indoor or outdoor stables are available. So, there is an option for those of you who would like to do the camino, but not walk!

Horse peregrino in Carrion de los Condes

I have bought a few things to have for the road tomorrow, for the long stretch with nothing. I need to decide wether to try to go nearly 40 km to the larger town of Sahugun (3000 people) or stay in some tiny place along the way. I am one day ahead of my original schedule, and would like to add at least one more day, preferably 2, which I may be able to do, as I have some short days in the original schedule.

A young couple who is friendly with the other Spanish couple invited me to eat with them tonight -- they will cook. So I said yes. The young man in the couple speaks quite good English, and has helped me translate from time to time. I think Mario is here somewhere, but I have not seen him, but have met several of the other pilgrims I have been seeing along the way, including the old guy (from Brazil?) who walked with me in the dark yesterday morning. There are several albergues in this town, and a few hotels, too. I should get out now and visit some of the churches while they might be open. Big black clouds looming although sun is shining at the moment. It may be a long cold walk tomorrow.

They were so kind to me -- do I have their names?
General note:  I have been getting up early in the mornings, usually by six, walking the first hour in the dark as it doesn´t start to get light until after 7, and the sun has been rising a little after 8 a.m.  For the past two days the moon has been magnificent in the morning, and it was also shining last night as I walked back from dinner at 9 p.m.

Moon in the morning after Hontanas

Friday, September 17, 2010

First Four Days on the Camino

 I am trying to catch up here.  I arrived in Pamplona by train on Monday night, got lost finding the Jesus y Maria Albergue where I had stayed in May, and then got lost again finding my way back from the Plaza del Castillo, which I thought I knew well.  I set off early on Tuesday morning, and walked to Puente La Reina.  It was a good walk, but hot.  I stayed in the Albergue Parrochial, and enjoyed walking about the town in the evening.  Day 2 took me to Estella, which was another good day, but hot.  Yesterday, from Estella to Los Arcos.  The description follows.  This evening I am in Logrono, in lots more rain.

Sunset, Pamplona 12 September 2010

I wished for rain, and it has been drizzling off and on all day.  Still quite warm, but it made for good walking.  Just over 20 km today, so a short day, and the last section was mostly gently down hill on dirt roads, my favorite kind of walking.  Through vineyards and brown fields with views of old churches and ruins, and castles on mountain tops in the distance.  I did not meet too many people on the way.  I left Estella in the dark, and it started to rain shortly after.  The signs leaving town were not very good.  I missed the turn from the highway to the winery and monastery, so missed the fountain that dispenses free wine to peregrinos.  Alas.  It meant I walked way too long on the edge of a busy  road, but finally connected with the Camino where it went through lovely woods.  It is probably just as well I did not get to the wine fountain at 7:30 a.m.  I might still be there.  Someone I met said people were actually filling up their water bottles there.

I am in a municipal albergue Isaac Santiago this afternoon.  I had a nice lunch outside at a restaurant in the square by the church.  This is really the first regular meal I´ve had since leaving Santiago.  There were lots of little birds flitting in the bushes today.  The overcast skies and drizzle didn´t make for good picture-taking.  Tomorrow will be a longer day --- 28 km I think.  The legs started to hurt by the time I was a couple of hours from here.  I could have continued 8 more km to the next town, but decided it was better not to overdo it.

Puente de la Reina

I passed some marker about General Eisenhower, something about Cabanas de Munions or something.  I should have written it down.  It looked like it was something about him ordering no bombing of this area, that there were Allied supporters here -- anyone know anything about this?
Last night was group dinner at the hostel, tortillas with patatas and a yummy tomato salad with a bit of green pepper.

At the church they sang the song we sing in Spanish at Newman Center.  The one with the barcas and otra mar -- now I can´t remember the words or the rest -- it was nice to hear a familiar hymn.  This church actually had people attending the service at 7 p.m., and a young energetic priest -- the first I´ve seen in Spain.  He gave out lollipops to the little kids afterwards!  Anyway, it was good to see there are some churches that are more than just museums and relics here.

Note:  The hymn is "Lord, you have come to the seashore...Pescador de hombres"  Here's a link:

There is internet at this hostel, which has real sheets on the beds.  Last night´s were some kind of plastic.  I was glad I had my sleeping bag, which is working very well, and my square of silk, which I put over the pillow.  The same people who were up latest last night, making lots of noise, were also up earliest this morning, doing the same, but none of them had left the hostel before I did.  I guess that is the way it goes.

There is such a mix of languages -- the French man who wears a kilt (and wore a skirt yesterday evening) is here again tonight.  The Italian man who would hardly speak to me when I met him on the road out of Pamplona, now looks glad to see him and says a few words in English.  He is from Sardinia.  He is traveling by himself.  I also met an interesting woman, Gail, from Massachusetts, who is walking for 40 days.  I suspect I am going to be ahead of her by tomorrow, though.  We talked in a churchyard yesterday afternoon, and exchanged life stories (in brief) and she gave me a crystal.

There is also a man named James from Philadelphia, I think here tonight and at the hostel last night.  Well, my time is about to run down, and I have not posted anything to the blog.

I think it will also be overcast and drizzly tomorrow.  I need to read up on the route.  At one place on the trail today, two Japanese women jumped up and offered me a slice of apple as I walked by.  Wasn´t that nice?

I have been thinking about little questions, like the meaning of life.  All I can come up with is love, those sayings we learned in the cradle, God is Love, Love One Another.  How hard can that be?  Very hard, I guess, considering the state of the world.

Outside of Criauqui

Many more thoughts as I walked today, setting out at 7 a.m. in darkness.  Then a red sunrise.  Then mist and rain.  Not many photos today.  There were good moments and bad.  Much beautiful to see, the city of Viana with its cathedral was quite wonderful.  I got rained on off and on.  There were joyful moments, when it felt wonderful to be walking among the grape vines and blackberries and chickory and thistles, and hawthorn, and other fall things growing and going to seed.  Then, by the time of the 4th or 5th downpour, my hat was flopping down onto my face, my shirt was totally wet, my boots covered in mud, the charm of the rain began to pale.

The last 4 km into Logrono were quite miserable, and those last 4 km always seem the longest of the day.  I walked about 28 km today, which was the most I´ve done this trip so far.  Tomorrow will be another long day.  A dog followed me and a couple of other walkers from Viana, and he came close to death several times as we crossed a busy highway.  I managed to get the security guard at a big factory on the road to keep the dog.  It took a lot of doing to try to explain that he was not my dog, and would he please hold him.  Finally, he understood and said he would call the police, and then let the dog into his office space.  Whew!  A woman from Japan stayed on the other side of the road, watching to make sure he would be all right.  A Spanish man, who in retrospect could have explained the situation, just continued on his way, paying no attention.  I am in a new private albergue here, but I don´t think it is any better than the less expensive parochial or municipal albergues.  There are clothes drying racks outside, that may not be moved under any circumstances, even though there is room inside the hostel.  So, of course no one can use them, and there are signs everywhere saying ¨NO¨¨ to hanging clothes on the radiators.  Of course today everyone´s clothes are all wet.  I thought this would be a step up from the crowded municipal albergues, but apparently not.  I guess this would have been a night to have sprung for a hotel.  I am going out soon to talk around the town.  It has stopped raining for the moment.  I have met many wonderful people along the way.  More stories that will have to wait. I am buying time on this computer at an odd little shop down the street, and the connection is so slow that I haven´t been able to reply to any of my gmail messages.

Sunrise, leaving Najera 18 September 2010

Friday, September 10, 2010

In Santiago, but not a pilgrim yet

I have been in Santiago for several days now for the IBBY conference, and visited the cathedral three times, including attending a pilgrim mass on Thursday evening. The area surrounding the cathedral is like a circus, full of people and performers at all hours. I have seen many pilgrims, but only a few of them look like real pilgrims who have walked for weeks. On Monday I will take the train to Pamplona, an all day ride, and begin walking on Tuesday morning.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Old Boots/New Boots

Old boot with 500 miles on it with identical new boot.
Five weeks of walking through rain, snow, rocks, dust, and lots of mud, took a toll on the boots that were new when I started the walk.  I wonder what the new pair will look like after the next 500 miles?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

August: Planning my return to Spain

In one month I'll be back in Spain, so I'm starting to prepare for the second half of my camino.  I ordered new rain pants, since my old ones were worn out, and an incredibly lightweight Mont-Bell down thermal sheet sleeping bag that just arrived today -- 13.8 oz.  Sadly, my pilgrim credential has gone missing, with all those wonderful stamps and the record of my journey so far.  I've ordered a new credential, but I still hope the old one will show up.  My friend Elsa Ross, a pilgrim herself,  held a tea in celebration of the completion of the first part of my camino on Sunday, July 25 -- St. James' Day!  I showed my first iMovie!

Pictures of the tea may be seen here:

Camino Tea

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Home: Still Dreaming the Camino

I have now been home for almost 4 days.  The patio is a welcoming riot of roses and oregano, the sun shines, and I am still dreaming of the camino at night and waking very early each the morning, often wondering where I am.  Shopping in gigantic Costco yesterday was a shocking contrast to the tiny shops and open air markets in the small towns where I walked.  The huge quantities and enormous size of the store reinforced my perception of American excess.  In France I would buy one carrot, the smallest slice of cheese, half a loaf of bread, one small container of yogurt if I could find just one, and perhaps one apple, orange, or banana, and a bar of chocolate, because whatever I bought I would be carrying for the rest of that day and perhaps the next one, too.  One day I bought a head of lettuce that bounced in a plastic bag attached to the outside of the pack until that evening.   Yesterday it took three trips to the car to haul into the house what I had bought.

I've added a few pictures to to blog, if anyone wants to go back to take a look.  I'll be putting more up on Flickr soon, where anyone can see them.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

San Sebastian May 19 Now Just a Tourist

A peregrino no longer, I am now just a tourist.  Moving up in the world, I am at a very nice pension that is twice the price of the one I had last night, but also twice as nice and with free internet.  The bus ride here was beautiful through wooded mountains drifting with fog and clouds.  The weather is brisk, but clearing, with surfers in one of the bays.  San Sebastian is beautiful, but very touristy.  The waiters, hotel people, and even the man at the ticket window in the train station all spoke at least some English.  I splurged on lunch today, finding a Michelin 1* restaurant, and thinking there would be a line at the door or reservations needed, but I was only the second party to arrive.  It was all very  lovely and delicious with artistic presentation of the food on white plates.  I took a picture of every one of 5 or 6 courses, having a hard time remembering to do so before I ate them.

Although afterwards, after two glasses of white wine, I wanted to go back to the hotel for a siesta, I walked around one of the sea walks instead.  I am back now, and like a good pilgrim have washed my socks before logging into the internet.  Barcelona by train tomorrow, and then home on Saturday.

The author of the book that inspired me to walk from Le Puy (his name is not in my mental file) said that the pilgrim is part of the landscape while the tourist views the landscape.  I have thought of that many times in the past weeks, and now am not sure I ever want to be a tourist again, as I feel I am here.  I watched pilgrims cross the road in front of the bus this morning as we left Pamplona, and wished I were walking with them, not watching from a huge bus that separated me from the earth below.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Pamplona. Tuesday May 18! It is finished!

I finished walking early yesterday afternoon, 20 km or so from Zubiri where I spent a restless night in a dormitory room with 40 or so other pilgrims and all their movements and noises.  And rather dirty and crowded toilets and showers across a courtyard, and kitchen where I could find no more than two coffee cups.  It was raining again in the morning, but a gentle rain and now and then sun broke through.  I did not put on my rain paints, which I discovered when I washed the mud off them on Sunday night have frayed apart on the leg seams.

After Zubiri I walked past a huge manganese factory for nearly half an hour.  Very ugly.  But very pretty villages once beyond that.  There are many more pilgrims on the trail here than in France, and people from many different countries.  I met a couple from Vancouver, a man from Australia, a woman from Sweden with two companions for Norway, and many people from Spain and France as well.  I met up with Anja from the Netherlands again on the trail yesterday morning and again yesterday evening.

I spent last night in the Maria y Jesus Albergue in a huge old church, up on the second level under domes and arches with a big IHS above my bed.  It was quite nice for such a huge place, but people were up and down and walking past my bed all night it seemed, well, at least whenever I awoke.

The most exciting event yesterday was meeting up with Steven and Lisa again!  Lisa had walked 40 km yesterday from Roncesvalles, leaving the Abbey there about 5:30 a.m. in the dark, running through the woods.
Steven had stopped along the way in between, having his own room in comfort while I was sharing the room with 39 others in Zubiri, thinking Lisa and Steven would be proud of me for living like a real pilgrim -- I was always the one hoping for a more comfortable place and willing to spend a bit more to have it.

When I got back from a frustrating, but ultimately successful day of running around here in Pamplona, often lost, there was first an encounter with Mark from Vancouver that Steven had arrived at Jesus y Maria, and then I found a note on my bed from Lisa.  I rushed to the Castillo Plaza where they were meeting, but I was already more than half an hour late, and could find no one to try to text or call them for me.  I wandered around the plaza several times, then walked the nearby streets, peeking into doorways and windows.  At last, I spied Steven´s feet and recognized his sandals and blisters!  So, I joined them and two other walkers in this little tapas place, where we ate well and went through two bottles of red wine.  Lisa was very tired, as was to be expected, but it was so good to see them both again.  We met again for breakfast this morning, as they were going to have an easy day today of only a little over 20 km, so we said good-bye again, and I have returned to life as a tourist now, and pilgrim no more.

I was tempted to cancel my hote reservation for tonight and go to the bus for San Sebastian, but I really have not seen much of Pamplona.  I have 1 hour of free internet at the biblioteca today, where I also spent some time yesterday.  So, as for the other activities yesterday.  I went to the biblioteca because by the time I was checked into the albergue it was 2 p.m. and everything closes in Spain from 2 until at least 4 or 5 p.m.  I tried booking a train from San Sebastian to Barcelona, but could not tell if I had done so or not or whether my Visa card was charged.

Next I went to the bus station to find out about buses to San Sebastian, but got lost and went long way around.  I did get bus schedules, and then stopped in El Corte Ingles (nice department store) which was open during siesta and bought some chocolate.  Then to the train office where they said the only way to find out if I had bought a ticket or not, and if I had I wasn´t sure if it was the right one was to take the bus to the train station, which was on the edge of the city.  I got wrong information twice about where to take the bus, and wrong information about the cost (1 euro and 10 cents each way), and got to the train station finally where the man at the counter spoke no English and had no idea what I was talking about.  A nice young many offered to help me, and I was able to put my Visa card in the machina and find out I had no reservation, which was good.  The young many went back to the man in the ticket window with me and helped me get information about the schedules of trains (most of which I had from the internet) from the man who really looked as though he just hoped I would disappear.  Then back by bus and to the tourist office where I got a list of rooms in 1 star hotels nearby.  I looked at one where they only had a suite for 60 € and then found another with bath and window on the street for 25€, which is where I will be tonight

My hour is nearly up, so I will finish.  Soon pilgrims will be trickling into town for the night.  I will go and watch them arrive, and maybe find someone to talk to.  I got to San Sebasatian tomorrow by bus, then to Barcelona on the 8 a.m. train on Thursday, where I have a room reserved since before I left home, and then I fly home on Saturday, via Atlanta, so I hope there will be no volcanic cloud to keep the plane from flying.

I cannot believe my adventure (this part) is really over.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Zubiri, May 16

It was a short walk from Roncesvalles to Zubiri today, but by the time I got here just before 3 p.m. I was ready to stop.  Rain all morning.  Continued cold, but sun out now.  I am in a 6 Euro per night albergue -- bare bones -- but I feel like a real pilgrim and it was satisfying to be able to pass many on the route today, through mud, rocks, and up and down hills.  I will look for a place I can spend a couple of nights in  Pamplona while I  make the rest of my travel arrangements.  I may go to San Sebastian to get to Barcelona, so I will need to check with travel people or tourist office in Pamplona tomorrow.  I don´t know if I´ll connect with Steven and Lisa again.  We did exchange text messages on Anja´s phone yesterday, but I don´t know where Anja is tonight.  I may look into getting a Spanish phone for when I come back.  There is snow on the mountains all around, but I walked through beautifiul beech trees that still had red tinges to them.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Roncesvalles May 15, 2010

Josef Oswald in the snow

I am in Roncesvalles, really on last 2 days of walking. We had disappointment today crossing the Pyrenees. I got 2 thirds of the way through and had to turn back in blizzard, trail totally invisible under the snow about about 1200 meter with about 8 km left to go to get here.

It was a long walk back to the gite where we spent last night. It continued raining at the elevation of the gite, but had turned to snow as we walked. An Austrian man and I were in the lead, and a Dutch couple caught up to us after 2 hours of walking as we neared the spot where the trail left the road.  There we could see no sign of the trail as it wandered across open ground, and it was freezing and snowing and blowing, and we were all totally cold and wet, boots soaked through. I thought someone might find a group of pilgrims huddled together and buried in snow like a flock of sheep.  We all agreed it was impossible to continue as we could not see where to walk.  It was a dispiriting walk back.  We looked like a string of refugees, and kept meeting more walkers climbing up who also turned back with us. I got colder and wetter as I walked, through all the rain pants and rain coat.  When I took off my pack briefly along the road, snow fell off in a pile. The gite where we spent the night, the only place for many miles around, was jammed with wet walkers, packs, people in all states of dress and undress. I had to make an instant decision to catch a taxi to Roncesvalles in 10 minutes, which I did, and found a warm hotel room shared with a Dutch woman, Anja, I met on the trail yesterday. Several others who were with us this morning also made their way here by various means, but none by walking.   It was only about a half an hour taxi ride, but we would have been here in less than 4 hours had we been able to keep walking. I will see what tomorrow brings. Tearful hasty goodbye to Steven and Lisa whom by now I think of as my children.

They will try to get here tomorrow, and I will decide whether to continue on in the morning, or stay here one more day, perhaps walking back up to meet them. But, it is still raining and cold. It was snow here in Roncesvalles when we arrived by taxi in early afternoon.  I went to pilgrim mass in the abbey here before dinner.  I did feel that I truly experienced the Pyrenees crossing even though I didn´t get all the way throug.

We had a lovely farewell dinner on Thursday night in Saint Jean Pied de Port with our Swiss friends.  So the group that has been walking together off and on for the past 3 and 4 weeks is splitting up.

Thankfully the Spanish keyboard is a bit more like the American version, making typing a bit easier and faster.  I will see what tomorrow brings.  And in any case will stop walking in the next 2 to 3 days and make my way to Barcelona. What a trip it has been!  Every day a surprise.

But, I am looking forward to the comforts of home and not living out of a pack and a series of plastic bags.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Saint Jean Pied Le Port at last! May 13

Branka and Linnea enter the Saint Jacques gate in Saint Jean Pied-le-Port
I have arrived in Saint Jean Pied Le Port, the final stop before climbing over the Pyrenees on Friday and Saturday.  It is quite cold and has been raining, but it is very exciting to be here.  I met new pelerins at the Saint Jacques gate to the village. Their clothes and especially their boots are spotless and they look full of energy. The mud will probably never come completely out of my boots.  It is cold and we had rain this morning.  It is a French holiday (again!) Ascension Day, so although the tourist office is open the bookshop connected to it is closed and the post office is closed, too, so Steven and Lisa cannot get their mail until tomorrow after 9 a.m., too late to cross the pass.  I have confirmed my reservation at Orisson, 10 km up, and we have managed to get a reservation for Steven and Lisa in a tent at Orisson for tomorrow night.  Tonight we will meet with Pierre and the Suisse for a celebratory dinner.  Even though it is cold and rainy apparently there is little snow in the high pass on the Route Napoleon. so I should be able to make my dream come true.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Navarrenx May 11

The real world is seeming farther and farther away, or maybe this pilgrim way is the real world.

Yesterday Lisa and I were enjoying a picnic lunch in a shady spot off a busy road near the entrance to a gite, when who should walk up but Francois whom I met on my first days of walking.  It was very emotional to meet him again after more than 2 weeks.

I have not been able to find internet for several days -- I am nearing the end with only a few more days of walking. We can see the Pyrenees now full of snow. We have had alternating rain cold sun after over a week of quite steady rain and cold with lots of mud. I cannot believe it is almost over. I have a reservation for Friday night at Orisson which is only 10 km up the mountain. I am really hoping that the Route Napoleon is open as I have dreamed of making that crossing since I was a teen-ager.

This old body is holding up amazingly well.  No blisters.  Every night the feet and legs hurt, but every morning I am O.K. again. 
I was caught in a huge cloudburst two days ago, on an open road with forks of lightning hitting nearby.  By the time I got my poncho out and then my jacket, I was quite wet.  I soon came upon a farm with a woodshed facing the road, and waited for 10 minutes or so until the rain let up a bit.  A few meters after leaving the woodshed I realized I had a rock in my boot.  I thought maybe it would shift out of the way, but no such luck. so I had to stop again, leaning against a tree while I took the wet boot off and dumped out the rock.

I should finish walking on Monday or Tuesday; then make my way to Barcelona. I am in a restaurqnt in Navarrenx for lunch and weather is starting to look bad again and I have 10 km yet to go this afternoon.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Lasserre le Haut May 5 (betzeen Condom and Eauze)

It seems like a long time since I wrote from Moissac on Saturday. It is now Wednesday night and we (Steven, Lisa and I) are in this wildly decorated gite and chambre d'hote which looks like something out of a Fellini movie -- big on style but short on amenitites although there is a laptop here I can use for internet. The only showers are in other people's bedrooms and there are 2 toilets downstairs off the laundry room 1 and a half flights dozn from the big dorm room upstairs. There has been rain ever since Saturday, and yesterday was the worst 25 km in freezing blowing rain allost nonstop. The muddy trails can be a real challenge. It was almost like skiing going down one of the hills this afternoon. I had lunch in the city of Condom, in the square by a huge cathedral with an intircate carved stone choir. We went out of our way to go to La Romieu yesterday where there was a beautiful botanical garden and a ruined cloister and church, but it was raining so hard; we saw nothing; and slept again in an unheated room. On Monday we stayed at an old farm and were the only guests. This time we were in an unheated shed lit by a flourescent light that ,ad a loud buzz, or by tiny lamps with about the power of night lights. Both toilet and shower were in another shed out in the farmyard. We were feeling quite sorry for our selves but then went into the 300 year old famhouse kitchen for supper. The couple was delightful, real hard-working farm folks with a house full of books, and a roaring fire in an ancient fireplace that heats water and other rooms in the house. We hung our wet clothes over chairs by the fire and put our boots to dry and were served what was perhaps the best meal of the trip so far; including a sausage cooked on the coals, tomato soup, lovely tiny lentils and a tasty carrot salad, all with conversations about farming. This is the day I learned of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. No real news; but it sounds terrible. It is supposed to rain again tomorrow: Today the rain has been more of a drizzle. And less wind. I am now worried that we wonùt be able to go over the pass in the Pyrenees. Two weeks from today I should be done walking.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Moissac May 1, 2010

Finally a bit of sun late this afternoon afternoon after 2 days of walking in mud and rain.  Yesterday it was something like 27-28 km slogging up and down hills on many wet and muddy paths.  I really could barely move by the time I found our gite.  Legs and feet ached much of the night, although I slept like a rock. No problem sleeping.  It was cold and I was wrapped in sleeping sack and blankets when our Swiss, Luxembourg and French friends came over from their elegant chambre d'hote next door to see how we were faring in our considerably less luxurious habitation of 8 bunks in a space with a makeshift kitchen and a big table. The minute they left I was out like a light -- I think we all were, and didn't wake up until late, nearly 8 in the morning, only to find more rain coming down, and boots and clothes left outside.

  My socks covered my boots, so they were not too terribly wet.  We found a portable heater which dried them quite well, but Steven's boots had water standing in them, which we poured out.  It was a short walk of only about 12.5 km today, but Lisa took a wrong turn, Steven forgot his poles and had to go back, and when I got to Moissac it was noon and although the Saturday market was winding down, everything else was closed and I spent nearly an hour trying to find the gite, which turned out to be lovely, but I was sent in different directions by different people then once on the right track encountered the Swiss group and then Lisa and Steven came down a stairs in the distance together and we found our way here at last.

There is a wonderful old abbey here and a cloister supposed to be one of the most beautiful in the world.  Lisa; Steven and I spent considerable time looking at the carvings and the beautiful 14th and 15th century statues in the church.  Later I walked to the Napoleon bridge over the Tarn, which is really full of water right now.  We had a lovely dinner here at the Ultreia  Gite with people from many countries and had good-bye champagne with Michel who takes the train to Paris tomorrow.

An amazing moment yesterday was arriving at the end of a very steep descent and looking across a field of yellow flowers to see the medieval city of Lauzerte on a cliff.  I felt it was emblematic of the human condition, with boots thick with mud and eyes on a beautiful city in the sky.  When I crossed the modern traffic circle on the outskirts below the city, I felt like an alien from another century, and when I finally entered the walled city after jousting with an enormous beer truck to get access to the gate, I felt like I belonged there, but the truck and the cars parked outside the walls did not.


Thursday, April 29, 2010

Montcuq April 11

Internet for two days in a row, but I am writing quickly as it is getting late and Steven wants to get on in a bit: It was a bit cooler today and rain may be coming. I just realized that my laundry is still on the line. Washing one's clothes by hand is the nightly lot of the pilgrim, as we have only 1 change of clothes and days are often hot and sweaty. The first thing one does upon arriving for the night is to take a shower and wash clothes in a sink and then hang them out. A couple of nights ago everything dried quickly in the warm afternoon sun, but today is stickier.

Last night there was a beautiful full moon very orange at its rising over Trigodina, where we slept in a converted barn.  The two Swiss women, Cornelia and Branka, and Pierre from Luxembourg and Michel from Paris were also there.  We may meet them again tomorrow night, but for sure in Sat. night in Moissac.

Internet tonight again in Montcuq.  One more night before Moissac. Walking all these miles with a backpack is hard on the feet, which start to ache after 4-5 hours. Tonight I said to Steven and Lisa that my kids should be here. We made soup tonight with tons of vegetables, but in very small cramped kitchen with sink backing up. We were using Lisa's Swiss army knife to cut the veggies, but finally were able to borrow two sharp knives from the main kitchen. Today was a short day of only about18-19 km. Tomorrow will be longer.

We stopped in a bar/cafe for drinks, ate our picnic lunch there, and afterwards I pulled out my blanket and lay down on the grass. All these old folks were playing cards and other games on picnic tables nearby.  Some were bowling.  It was peaceful and idyllic in this medieval town.  A thirteenth century tower is closed except for July and August.  Today I was sure I was lost and climbed a hill to look for the trail, but there was onlyione possible way to go.  Several times I have gone a km or so in a wrong direction.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

On the road above Cahors April 28

We devoured delicious fresh strawberries in the market in Cahors.

I am still walking with Steven and Lisa:  We stayed in a very nice place last night; tonight we still have a few km to go.  My legs and feet hurt at the end of a long day, but I am doing better than I thought I would.  Mornings start out good, but by afternoon I am feeling the pounding.  We spent about 4 hours in Cahors, a fascinating city with ancient Roman remains and medieval cathedral, ransacked by future Henry IV of England, so much destroyed.  Also a wondeful fortified bridge.  We bought food in the market, so our packs are very heavy this hot afternoon -- so hot the tar is melting on the road and salty sweat is running into my eyes.

Famous fortified bridge at Cahors (Pont Valentre)

Very little internet, but all is well.  Time to move on.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Figeac: 24 April 2010

Internet is far between here. I am doing great. I connected with two 26 year olds, Lisa from Germany and Steven from Belgium and have been traveling with them and sharing rooms for past 3 nights. It is nice to have the company of other foreigners who can speak both English and French.  We have been walking about 20-26 km per day.  Finding food can be difficult.  We had a lovely meal at a chambre d'hote atwo nights ago with a delightful couple, and we were the only guests.

In Noailhac with Simone and Michel Falip, Chambres d'Hotes de Montbigoux

We have also had some wonderful meals cooked together with others staying in the gites.  Every day is different and interesting.  Villages are very small, usually old, and very scenic.  Monique and René who befriended me, we said good-bye to in Golinhac as Monique had to slow down for blisters.  I also was sorry to say good bye to Tristan and Corrine a week ago.

Rene and Monique

Corinne and Tristan

Rain yesterday for the first time for several hours in the morning.

I am holding up well. I am in Figeac tonight staying in a monastery, so we have been exploring the town this Saturday afternoon.  Weather has turned warm.

Exploring Figeac: Steven, Lisa, and Sam

I think of friends and family often along the way, especially when I am not worrying that I am lost or when I am not trying to think of words for things in French.  Figeac is about one third of the way to the Pyrenees I think, and the trail flattens out a bit after this.  Today's walking was beautiful over green fields and flowers, on a few muddy trails and one long hot stretch along a road.  Cars have become like noxious noisy dangerous beasts.

Keep writing and thanks for your comments.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Lot Valley April 20

Thanks to all who have written and also to those who have not.

Twisted Steeple in Sainte Come d'Olt from Gite room over drying laundry and shoes

Walking is going very well. Strenuous sometimes. Yesterday was 24 km. I am on River Lot at Espalion this Morning and internet is 2 Euro per 15 min. No contact with anyone since Saturday.  So I will not write much here. Beautiful places; but quite remote. This is by far the biggest town since Le Puy one week ago. Down lower now after days in snow.  Blossoming trees and wildflowers. Incredibly beautiful scenery.  I spent last night in old village of Sainte Come d'Olt.  I accidentally left my sleeping sack behind a few days ago, but with help of René and Monique a taxi service returned it to me in Aubrac.  Communication continues to be a problem, but I have also met Lisa from, Berlin who speaks English as well as French and German.

Linnea and Lisa, women in pink.

I tried to access my UNM mail, but it is taking too long, so please write only gmail to me.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

April 17 Saturday Aumont d'Aubrac

All goes well.  Not much mail from anyone.  There was 4 inches of snow yesterday morning at Domaine du Sauvage  --  a beautiful wild place in big old stone farm buildings that reminded me of Wuthering Heights.  I have met friendly helpful people; but no one who speaks more than a few words of English, so c'est difficile.  Sometimes I get lost en route and there is no one to ask for help.  I am at internet in toursit office this morning and have another 10 or 12 km to go.  I have been walking with Corinne and Tristan and Monique et René, but since I have stopped here to check internet? I will have lost them until tonight when we will all be at the same place.

Snowy morning at La Domaine du Sauvage

Tristan and Corinne and another French couple at St. Roch Chapel

I need to buy pain and fruit because there will be no stores open -- where there are stores -- for perhaps 2 days -- closed Sunday and Monday.

Thanks to all of you for prayers and energy you are sending my way.  I have many thoughts as I walk of friends and family.