Moonset on the Meseta

Moonset on the Meseta

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.