Saturday, June 15, 2013

Days 21-25, Camino de Santiago

Day 21. Los Arcos. 
One of the TOUGHEST days on the Camino for me. Not just because it was raining buckets all day. Not just because the famous wine fountain of Irache with free wine for pilgrims was closed (below), and not because Rachel forgot our goat cheese at the Albergue (I promise that before I die, I will forget that ever happened). I just wasn't fully awake and focused mentally, and it was one of those days when the reasons why I am on this pilgrimage seemed empty. I missed family and friends and wished for "normal" life when I don't have to get up early to trudge through the mud for 6-7 hours, then wash, eat, sleep and repeat. 

Day 22-23. Logrono and Ventosa. 
Yesterday's doldrums were gone somehow when I awoke to rain on what would be our longest day yet - 30ish km, about 18 miles. Rachel and I sang a lot on the trail, which helped lift our mood and give us energy. And at a certain point, I stopped caring that my pants and feet were soaked. We met up with some pilgrim friends from Argentina, South Africa, and Orange County (isn't that a separate country?), and went out for tapas that evening in the beautiful city of Logrono, which was celebrating its patron saint. We went to bed at 9:30, just as the festividades were starting! The mural below says "El Camino de Santiago se hace por (E)Tapas," jeje. 

Day 24. Santo Domingo de Calzada. 
Today was a strange day. We walked about 7 hours and reached a mostly abandoned housing development at the top of a hill with an empty golf course and for sale signs everywhere. It was like something out of the surreal suburbs of Phoenix - pavement and tract housing and fake landscape. Tired, we looked for an Albergue listed in our guidebook called the Virgen de Guadalupe. We knocked and knocked and finally a man opened the door with a loud "SI?!" As soon as we stepped inside, Rachel and I both felt creeped out. No one else was there. The man said it would be 13 Euros each, twice what we usually paid for a place. We peeked into the dark kitchen and bedrooms and all the while, the bad feeling grew. I looked at Rachel and without even talking, we decided to get out of there. It was another 6 km until the next village, but we were glad we trusted our intuition!
Rachel even picked up dinner along the way (below). Just kidding, the church in the town we stayed in is famous for a legend involving a chicken. 

Day 25. Belorado
Today was a wonderful time of serendipitously running into friends we had met along the way. One of these was Ann-Dominique. I told her she was the funniest, most genial French woman we had ever met. Ann spoke only French, but I felt an instant connection with her. She is hiking the Camino as a retreat to have some time to herself (context: she has 6 children to care for at home), to see who God brings her way each day, and to pray. One gets the feeling around Ann that she must be close to God because of the warmth of love and joy that radiates from her. She showed me much of the Mother's tenderness and light, and even though we probably talked for only 4 or 5 hours total, we were all in tears when we had to say goodbye. 

Day 26-27. Ages-Burgos
Last days on the Camino! We ran into a mother and daughter who were not doing so well relationally when we first met them in the beginning of the trail - people say to be careful who you hike with - and I thought about them often as we hiked. They were committed to finishing, though, and the daughter said she wanted the Camino to be a way to reconcile with her mom, who she had a painful history with. Praying for a break through for them! 
I left them feeling thankful for walking with Rachel. Though we saw the worst in each other at times, we also learned to depend on one another, communicate better, see the best in each other, and show love through small acts like washing the others' clothes, changing how we would normally do things, or letting the other person shower first.
I'm sure I will have more thoughts on finishing the Camino and what it meant, but for now I am glad to have made it, glad for a stronger friendship with my sister, and glad to be coming home in a few days!
Ours were the last shoes on the shelf at the Albergue today - the journey is over for now!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Days 16-20, El Camino de Santiago

Day 16-17. Roncesvalles to Larrasoana.
One of the most crowded stretches of the Camino so far; I would estimate about 200 people started with us in Roncesvalles. I think the number of pilgrims on the trail created a scarcity mindset, because this section felt rather competitive. Some pilgrims rise at 5 in the morning so that they can be the first to arrive and claim a bed at the next Albergue (Spanish hostels don't take reservations). We left at 6:30 or 7 and arrived at our destination around 2 or 3 pm with three of the five Italians we met that day. The Albergue only had a few bunks left (and it was the only place in town), but the Italians decided to wait for their friends to catch up before checking in, even though they had just met one another. In the end, they all got beds, but 30 minutes later we saw some other sad pilgrims get turned away. 
Below is a picture of a table at the Albergue in Roncesvalles where pilgrims leave behind whatever they carried over the Pyrenees the day before and decided they didn't need. Cast-offs ranged from an electric razor to fancy shoes to a book on how to succeed in business. Rachel and I gladly picked up a National Geographic and a little shampoo, both of which felt like a luxury. Maybe we missed the point of lightening our packs, but the metaphor of carrying only what is essential in life did not escape us. 

Day 18. Pamplona. We stayed at a huge Albergue with hundreds of bunks in this city, famous for the running of the bulls. One of my favorite days so far! Rachel and I went to lunch with Lisa and Allison (below), teachers from Phoenix who work with special ed kids and were inspired to walk after watching "The Way," a movie about the Camino. 
And here is Rachel running from some bull statues... We both were a little "bull-headed" later that day and got in our first fight of the trip, but after some alone time and apologies, we realized half of our troubles had stemmed from hunger. Five tapas later, things were back to normal. 

Day 19. Puente la Reina. Today I walked for a few hours with a warm, talkative man named Alfonso who does the Camino de Santiago every decade, and is walking this time for his 70th birthday! He lives in Valencia but is Basco. Since we are walking through Navarra, Basque country, it was interesting to hear a little about the history and politics of the region from him. Alfonso's brief history of Spain went like this, "Guerra, guerra, guerra, y despues, Franco." War, war, war, and then, Franco. He understandably did not seem to want to talk about the nearly 40 year dictatorship, which he experienced until he was 33 years old, except to say it was a terrible time. 

Day 20. Estella. 
I would be remiss not to mention the many signs, flags and graffiti in this part of Spain that assert Basque independence. They show that the creation of national boundaries and the unification of autonomous kingdoms still feels like recent history. I think the economic downturn only heightens some of the Basque discontent at the national government, especially for this ethnic minority that was self-ruled for centuries. Wish I could stay to learn more of the fascinating history here, but we will soon be leaving the region of Navarra for the great wine-producing lands of La Rioja! Saludos!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Days 11-15, Camino de Santiago

Days 11-12. Arrived at Conque, our final destination on the French side of the Camino! We stayed at a Benedictine monastery famous for housing the remains and relics of St. Foy (Santa Fe), a girl who was tortured to death by the Romans in the 4th century because she professed to be a Christian. Below is a monk explaining the ornately carved tympanum of the Last Judgement over the door to the church, where we later gathered with about 40 other pilgrims for evening prayer and singing (compline). 

Day 13. St. Jean Pied de Port. This is our starting point for the Spain side of the Camino de Santiago; it is a fortified city in the lower Pyrenees on the French side of the border. It has been good to rest since Rachel has a sore throat and I'm having some arch problems because of my flat feet. Here she is in front of the scallop shell symbol, which pilgrims carry on their packs and is a sign of the Camino. 

Day 14-15. Crossing over the mountains. Before leaving St. Jean, I received word that a young man died who I worked with last year at Community Roots Garden through a gang reduction program. He died after a fight from stab wounds. I hiked over the Pyrenees with heaviness, remembering Erin and carrying his family, friends and enemies in Oxnard with me. Praying for an end to violence like this, for those who carry heavy burdens every day, and that I may be a part of the things that make for peace.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Churches along the Way

I've been thinking about how Catholic Christianity in Europe (the little I have seen so far, at least) is so different from the forms of church I have grown up with. It feels very foreign, like another religion altogether. I can't seem to wrap my mind around it or identify with its practices and beliefs, though I have worked and worshipped with Catholic-based groups without feeling this great of dissonance in the past. When we stop along the Camino to visit towering gothic cathedrals and Romanesque churches, built as far back as the 10th and 11th centuries from beautifully carved stone, wood and stained glass, I feel as if I am in an art museum rather than a place of worship. I admire the holy relics, but in the back of my head, I think that the gold and jewels would have better served the poor. The people who come now are mostly tourists; even the water in the stone baptistries has dried up. 

As we walk through these former hubs of religious and political life in Europe, I find myself remembering my Anabaptist ancestors, who were persecuted by the Church authorities a little further north of here during the 17th century, who gathered in mountain caves as their places of worship, and who secretly baptized followers of Jesus in the wild, muddy rivers that I still see flowing through these hills.