<![CDATA[Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church - Katie's Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage]]>Fri, 20 Apr 2018 20:31:17 -0700Weebly<![CDATA[This is, In Fact, the Beginning]]>Wed, 19 Aug 2015 23:35:21 GMThttp://ollparish.com/katies-camino-de-santiago-pilgrimage/this-is-in-fact-the-beginning
When I went to confession in Santiago de Compostela (to the same priest, German Fr. Stephan, that I have the picture of Rachel going to confession to in my last blog), he said, "Katie, you know that Santiago de Compostela is not the end of the Camino. It is the beginning. This is the new beginning for the rest of your life. You take what you have learned here, and you apply it to all that you are and all that you do as you go back home. This is, in fact, the beginning, and it's a glorious beginning." 

At the same time that Rachel and I were both hearing this, unknown to us at the time, Julia was sitting outside on the cathedral steps journaling. As she finished her last entry, she moved to the bottom of the page to write, "The end." And her pen gave out after the first letter and never wrote again. 

Tina, who, having begun her journey one day after the rest of us, and having walked on a miserably rainy day on that first day's passage through the Pyranees, also arrived in Finnestare soaking wet. She said that at one point she was close to despair, absolutely miserable and several kilometers away, when she suddenly realized that she was ending just as she began ... and in a way it was so fitting. Even though her external circumstances looked and felt the same, she herself was no longer the same. The Camino wasn't exactly what Tina, or any of us, expected -- but it was exactly what we needed -- or perhaps, what we continue to need as we all arrive back home and pick up our "normal" lives.

To all of you who have followed our journey on my blog -- thank you! Your encouragement has helped us, and knowing this was being read has kept me blogging! From ALL of the "camigos" whose story you have participated in vicariously, we all appreciate your support of us! 

Buen Camino!

St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City -- what a perfect place the end a pilgrimage!
El Duomo in Florence (the outside is almost more amazing than the inside!)
The dome of the Duomo in Florence -- except a horrible picture because we photobombed it. Caitlin (center) and I went to high school together at St. Mary's Academy, and she and her friend Meaghan happened to be in Rome the exact same two days as me!
Beautiful Firenze! Farewell, Italia!
The biggest gelato I have ever been given. We ordered without seeing the cones -- the place just had a long line so we figured it would be good! When they handed them to us we were actually terrified. (I am not holding the cone closer to the camera. This is legitimate.)
The Trevi Fountain in Rome.
Meaghan, Caitlin and I in the gardens of the Medici palace.
The inside of the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and Martyrs, where I happened to go to an English Mass on Sunday! I didn't even notice until suddenly I realized that I weirdly understood what was being said. Also, OCP lives on because we sang hymns from Spirit and Song. I just laughed.
<![CDATA[The End of the Earth (or of the Camino, but not really)]]>Mon, 17 Aug 2015 16:44:51 GMThttp://ollparish.com/katies-camino-de-santiago-pilgrimage/the-end-of-the-earth-or-of-the-camino-but-not-really
At the end of the Camino, I think everyone who walks the way (or at least walks the way for a significant amount of time), experiences the same thing: an unsettled, restless, confused feeling of "what now?" We're here now! We celebrate, we rejoice, we put our feet up! 

But suddenly, everything changes ... we no longer have to walk! People leave. Santiago changes everyday, and suddenly our pilgrimage community is different. Rachel and I both felt almost immediately that our time was done, and we were ready to go. Almost like we NEEDED to go, like Santiago was no longer where we were supposed to be. The problem? We walked much faster than we had anticipated (thanks to our ultra-motivated friends), and arrived in Santiago five days before our flight! Whoops. (This wasn't just us, actually -- two other groups who kind of melded with ours at the end had also been, on their own, keeping pace with us -- and we all completed the Camino in 31 days.) To break for a day would have been to lose them, and we all seemed to just keep moving -- making shorter or longer days accordingly, but always moving.

The second day of our Santiago stay I woke up at (get ready for this) -- 8:00! WOW! That's like three hours of walking and around 15k, people (because we now measure time in increments of distance). It felt SO GOOD. This day we took it easy. A group of us went to eat breakfast and to get our Pilgrim Credentials; people napped; Robert and Tina and I wandered around the city and to some tacky tourist shops ... but mostly we sat at cafes. We would walk one street, and find a cafe and sit for an hour. Then we would wander a few more streets, and find a new cafe. At the end we realized how ridiculous we were -- we started from a cafe, where we had been sitting for at least an hour and a half, back to our albergue (about one kilometer away), and didn't even make it all the way before we stopped at a street market, bought some fresh strawberries and chocolate muffins, and sat down on a ledge in a park. 

We're tired, people. 

The next day we all split -- the beginning of the Camigos parting. After a last breakfast all together, Tina and Robert took off to walk to Finisterre, the "other" end of the Camino, on the coast of Spain. About 90 kilometers further, Finisterre is about a 3 days walk Camino style, and is popular with more committed pilgrims, who enjoy again the quieter, more peaceful way, ending at a point where the land literally ends (hence the name, Finnes - end and Terre - land). Mary and Sanne took off shortly after them to walk the same way, though slower, planning to arrive one day later. Rachel and I went back to the cathedral to hug the statue of St. James above the altar (this tradition is more popular than venerating his relics directly below the altar for reasons I do not understand), and thus, for the first time in my life (I think), I hugged a statue. 

"Thanks, James!" Rachel said, bear hugging the statue, and then we both started laughing and had to leave. 

Rachel then took off for Finisterre by bus, and Julia and I stayed behind for one more day in Santiago. 

The next day we both took the bus to the sea in Finisterre -- and oh, was I ready! To suddenly be on the coast is a wonderful thing, especially after being overwhelmed for days coming from the Camino into a bustling city. Rachel met us at then bus station and escorted us to a room she had booked in an albergue, and then up to the lighthouse -- the final 2.2 kilometers of land contained in the Camino. Up and up we went, to the lighthouse at the top, and a place where you can climb down the cliff toward the water, and where people traditionally (and illegally) burn items they have walked with. Around this point I was consumed by hunger and had to go back down with some other friends, or else fall on my face.

A word about hunger. If I could sum up in one word how I have felt on the Camino, the first word (at least describing my physical state) would be HUNGRY. Like, I'm about to try to eat grass kind of hungry. Those who know me will vouch that I have a really high metabolism rate -- but as my body adjusted to walking 30 kilometers a day it also started wanting FOOD ALL THE TIME. Like, men on the Camino were laughing about how much I could eat. Which was more than they could. I rest my case. 

This night was probably the most impressive that my metabolism has yet surprised me with, as (I had not had lunch), I ate a steak dinner and felt like I had only eaten a light snack. I later accompanied my friends to their dinner at a seafood restaurant, and ended up eating another meal. That was, truly, the second night in the whole Camino that I felt not hungry after. What a wonderful feeling! I hope this stops, or else my grocery bill is going to be awful, but this has been a very real suffering of my Camino, as well as something that has made it very real. It has also served to make me much more grateful for all that I have!

On another note, Fisterra (the town is Fisterra and the cliff on the end where the Camino ends is called Finisterre as far as I could make out) is a gorgeous little coastal town. We explored, walked a little, went to a small beach, ate together, and enjoyed the sights. 
The next day ... we did nothing. We were all amazed, but what happened was this. We woke up at 10 AM (that's the time by which we should have walked 20 kilometers). We slowly got ready, and walked down the street to find a breakfast cafe, which we sat at for over an hour. We walked back to our room and climbed into our beds, and read and napped. Around 4 PM I left, summoned by Robert calling that they had arrived, to find Robert and Tina and show them to our hotel where we had reservations for them. I walked once to the grocery store, one block away, to get dinner. 

Rachel and I were supposed to take off at 7 PM back to Santiago in anticipation for our flight the next day, but as Tina said. "No! That's stupid. Why would you do that?" We had to agree! It was silly. So we stayed one last night with our friends, and celebrated our great victory, the five of us, in our hotel room, laughing and talking until late at night.

The next morning our friends walked Rachel and I to the bus station and bade us a final farewell -- as we unknowingly climbed onto the SLOW BUS. It has taken one and a half hours to get to Fisterra, so we anticipated the same. Two hours later we saw a sign that said Santiago was still 40 kilometers away, and we began to panic. Our flight! We leaped off the bus at the next town, grabbed our packs, and hailed a taxi, who got us to the airport in time to stand in a really long stressful line ...

But as we were standing we noticed people we knew. Mario, an Italian professor of English literature who speaks with a posh British accent, and who once told me very firmly that it was James Joyce who was the master of the English language, and not Virginia Woolf. Razan, a Palestinian girl a little older than us, who lives in Dubai, and who we both had connected with deeply early on in the Camino. We soon joined together, along with Razan's Italian boyfriend, and an Italian girl none of us had met on the way, but who has also just finished her walk. We found our flight together and discovered ... we were delayed for three hours. At least. 

And so, the Camino continued, as we sat and talked and processed our walk with one another for hours, before we finally took off for Rome.

When we landed, Rachel and I suddenly realized we had to say goodbye to one another as well - how strange! Until now she has been my other half, my walking partner, my closely bonded buddy. Though we have mostly walked separately in our group (just naturally having very different paces), we have been together since the start. She was picked up by friends in Rome and headed up to a friend's wedding in a small town north of Rome. 

I headed into the city, to await the arrival of my friend Caitlin (from high school at St. Mary's Academy!) and her friend Meaghan, who happen to be arriving in Rome the morning after me, and spending the same number of days as me! Providence, I tell you what. Their main goal of this trip is to relax, eat delicious food, unwind, spend time de-stressing, and be rejuvenated -- which is perfect, as I have tendinitis, have been hungry for five weeks, and have a lot to process. What better place than Rome?? I mean, really! 
It was ... a little windy.
At the lighthouse at Finnestare it says 0.0k! No kilometers left to walk!
Spending time together NOT walking!
Our faithful friends seeing us off ... in true dramatic style.
Our Palestinian friend Razan, who we met several times on the Camino early on. We were so sad that we never saw her in Santiago -- until we saw her in line for our flight to Rome!
The Santiago Cathedral seen from the pilgrim's office.
Tina (Slovenia), Julia, Gregory (Belgium), me, Robert and Rachel waiting in line for our Compostela's -- our pilgrim certificates.
Rachel getting her Compostela in the pilgrims office in Santiago.
The remains of St. James are venerated in a small chapel under the main alter in the center of the Cathedral.
Robert and Tina buying tacky souvenirs in Santiago. Sometimes you have to do it.
Robert, Tina and I on our quest for chocolate muffins and strawberries (our 6th food stop of the day).
The girls eating breakfast on our last morning all together -- Mary and Sanne took off to walk slowly to Finnestare, Robert and Tina to walk quickly, Rachel to take the bus to Finnestare, and Julia and I to stay one more day in Santiago.
Our "camigos" group!
Rachel going to confession in the Santiago Cathedral. You're probably not supposed to take pictures of this, but it seemed to capture the mood.
Fistare is a beautiful little coastal town. I ate the best seafood I've ever had here, except the shrimp had eyes, and the waiter poked me in the back of the neck with the shrimp's antennae things accidentally, and that was freaky.
What a glorious ending!
Traditional "Santiago Cake" -- this is everywhere, and it's delicious!
Us in our messy room ... with a lot of junk food. This is how we party, people.
Walking to the bus station in Fistera, where Rachel and I departed for Santiago and then to Rome.
Sad goodbyes!
Rachel and I in the airport about to take off for Rome ... It seems like so much time has passed since our original airport photo!
<![CDATA[Gifts of the Camino]]>Mon, 10 Aug 2015 21:28:02 GMThttp://ollparish.com/katies-camino-de-santiago-pilgrimage/gifts-of-the-camino

This morning I woke up at 4:10, shoved my stuff in my pack in the dark, and stumbled outside to meet my friends (who had all ended up in a different albergue.) The sight of four sleepy girls, bundled up and wearing head lamps greeted me, and off we went, on our last walk of the Camino. I was delighted to be walking again, despite any pain, and we walked through a dense forest that I'm sure was beautiful but that we mainly couldn't see because of our headlamps. 

Three hours later we stopped for breakfast at a cafe and then headed off again. At the top of a hill was a small chapel that we stopped at, and where we were soon joined by Robert and Tina (who had left the same albergue at 6 -- we're really slow.) Together we turned the corner from the chapel to begin down the hill ... and we froze.

Directly below us was Santiago de Compostela. 

To walk so far, for so long (exactly one month today - July 10 to August 10), and to suddenly see the end ... it's overwhelming. A million emotions surged through each one of us, and it took a moment before we could continue. 

"Okay, go back!" Julia yelled, jokingly. "Maybe this is why we see people coming the opposite way on the Camino! They get here and get scared and go back to St. Jean Pied-de-Port!" 

And scared is exactly what we felt. Of what, I'm not entirely sure. Of ending a journey that has become so comfortable? Of reaching our goal and finding we need to make room for new ones? Of embracing "normal life" again? Of the separation that is inevitably coming? 

We went down that hill together, and we went up another one together. 

We crossed a bridge that tried to kill me. 

This was, literally, the most rickety bridge I have ever crossed, and it was over a freeway. It was wood planks (above iron rods), and most of them were loose. As we were crossing the second half of the bridge, Julia stepped on the left side of one a millisecond before me, the right side shot up completely, and whacked me straight in my bad leg. This hurt, but was also so unfortunate that it was just funny, and we moved on. 

We stopped at the Minor Seminary albergue to book rooms and drop off our stuff -- which was amazingly convenient, but also may have dampened our arrival experience. We all imagined ourselves arriving, dirty and tired, into the cathedral square and throwing our backpacks down. It was a very romantic notion. What really happened was that we arrived into the city, walked out of our way to the albergue, waited in line for an hour, threw our bags into the common area, and literally ran to the cathedral for the 12 PM pilgrims mass, the traditional end of the Camino. In retrospect, everything was timed perfectly, and we were so blessed.

The last kilometer of our Camino was by far the fastest. We essentially ran to the cathedral -- and then around it in one giant circle trying to find the correct door. Once we finally found it, we squeezed in and got fairly far up the left side, where we could just see past the pillars. This was unfortunate for Mass as we could barely see the altar and the priests (the altar is absolutely amazing), but it turned out to be great at the end.

In Santiago de Compostela the "botafumerio," what they call a thurible (or an incenser), is massive and hangs down off a chain from the center of the Cathedral's dome. The rope reaches from ceiling to floor, and it takes about five large men to swing the botafumerio. This, apparently, doesn't happen all that often, except on feast days, or when a pilgrim group covers the cost (it's expensive). Some pilgrims have said they've been to several of these masses and never got to see it. Upon our arrival, we got it!

There was a short pause after Mass. Then lots of hushed whispering and excitement. We couldn't see anything, until finally people started moving in towards the center and an organ started. Robert and I had moved to the side of the church after communion, and he grabbed me saying, "It's the thing!!!!" We found a spot under one of the pillars where we could see -- the rest of our group was in the side aisle, which proved to be the best (and most frightening) part. This thing SWINGS! Once they get it going you think, "Wow, that's really swinging!" It swings low but far, over the heads of the people on either side.

But they don't stop. They swing and swing this thing until, I kid you not, it is inches from hitting the cathedral ceiling (and for real, there are holes in the ceiling, so I'm sure they most have hit it in the past). Then it dives low and looks like it will hit the people, all of whom duck (Rachel may or may not have screamed once.) They keep this up for quite a while, with music playing and incense perfuming the church. It is, to say the least, massively moving. We kind of stood there, holding onto each other, overwhelmed by the whole experience, and not fully able to process that we're actually here, that we had actually made it, and that our Camino was complete! 

After Mass people crowd to see the relic of St. James, which we stood in line for for about 15 minutes before we decided we were too hungry and would come back later. We tried the same thing with our Compostela, or pilgrim certificate, but again hunger won out for those who didn't have sandwiches in their pockets (yes, people do that around here.) Pilgrims crowd the streets here, along with tourists and locals, and give the city an energy all its own. 

But for us, it's a city filled with energy, but also fatigue (which won out for most of the day today). It's also a city filled with joy and sorrow, and more mixed emotions than I could explain. We see other pilgrims we've walked sections of the Camino with; we hug and cheer; we bid goodbye to friends who are now normal parts of our daily lives. It's exhausting! One thing is for sure -- I never expected this experience to be quite as intense as has proved to be. It feels part athletic feat (like a marathon), part spiritual battle, part personal triumph, part graduation, part rite of passage, part completion of a life goal. I never expected to cry on the Camino! But I have cried -- out of pain, frustration, fear, joy, sorrow, relief, and from the sense of beauty that I constantly feel here. It has been soothing, in its own sense, and I think (because I am hardly the only one who can say this about the crying), that that aspect has also been healing and renewing. It's hard, sometimes, to allow yourself to cry, but the Camino has a way of dragging it out of us. 

The greatest blessing I received on this Camino was my group of "Camigos" -- exactly the people that God intended for us to meet and walk with. The greatest hardship I endured was not the pain of my ankle, but having to surrender those two days and take the bus, ridding myself of my coveted "perfect Camino" in which I walked all 800 kilometers without a problem. 

The greatest gift I received today was a leg and ankle that held up for all 20 of the final kilometers into Santiago! 

There are so many more things besides ... and I am intensely grateful for all of it! 

This looks great and effortless, but it almost killed us. I'm on the ground bc I couldn't even try. There was a lot of moaning after everyone bravely sacrificed themselves for the greater good here.
The morning of our final walk into Santiago de Compostela!
A dog adopted us for a little bit along the way. She wouldn't leave! We were starting to wonder what you do in a foreign country if a dog won't leave your side ... how does one explain this?
Our first glimpse of Santiago ... I told everyone to portray their feelings about this moment dramatically on their faces. They didn't look at one another first, and clearly everyone was feeling really different!
Walking down into Santiago!
Julia had to help me walk down the hill (the movement that hurts most). I looked (and felt) like I gained 60 years overnight.
Our view of Mass was a little odd, but we were so happy to be there.
The girls in the cathedral.
The altar in the cathedral.
I was taking a picture of the cathedral and I got photobombed. This is what happens when you photobomb me, Robert.
Our fancy finishing group shot! The Cathedral is (and has been) under construction for quite some time, but it's still quite beautiful.
<![CDATA[Almost There!]]>Mon, 10 Aug 2015 02:31:45 GMThttp://ollparish.com/katies-camino-de-santiago-pilgrimage/almost-there
I've been procrastinating. We're almost to the end -- and in the last few days we've had a plethora of adventures! The Camino never stops surprising us, it seems.
The morning after my last blog we departed, aiming for a city called O Cebrairo, that was, as someone said, "after a bit of an uphill." This, it turned out, was actually a 400 meter climb (try a little more than 12,000 feet!) Whee! We walked all day through beautiful forests alongside a riverbed ... and then we saw a small uphill. We began up it ... and right when we thought it should be about to even out, it became (what felt like) a 90 degree angle, upwards. 

We conquered that hill! 

It was broken up into three sections -- after one third it let out at a small town, where some stayed at an albergue, and where we all dunked our heads under the icy water of a local fountain. The next third let out at a vending machine on a small patch of flat, followed by a cafe about 50 meters away, that none of us made it to. We collapsed by the vending machine instead. The final third brought us to the city of O Cebrairo -- quaint, cobblestoned, clean, and set just over the crest of the hill, overlooking the entire countryside. This was the only place so far that we had seen tour busses and tourists -- and they were everywhere (it was easy to see why!)

On our climb up, we all had different experiences. Rachel plowed through it, and I chased her, not allowing myself to stop unless she did (she didn't, except in the designated places). Mary and Sanne paused after the first third, and when they went to continue they rounded a corner and found that someone had plugged a radio into a window somewhere, and the song playing was The Proclaimer's "... and I would walk 500 miles ..." We've been singing this along the way, and boom -- here it was, perfect motivation. Julia got stuck behind a train of horses all the way up, and even when she stopped to take a break at the fountain they showed up again, right behind her this time. This was a frustrating experience for her, and a really funny one to hear about from the rest of us.

When Rachel, Mary, Sanne and I got to the top, we found Julia and Robert sitting at a cafe waiting, with bad news. All the albergues were full, and there was nowhere to stay. We'd been hearing this rumor all day, but we're generally very optimistic, and kept thinking, surely there will be something. Nope. Even worse, the next town (down the mountain) was also full -- and sleeping outside would be ridiculously cold, especially as we only have sleeping bag liners. In the end we found two rooms in two different hotels, and Sanne and Rachel took one, and Mary and I the other. No sooner had we walked in but we were rejoicing in our mishap. We would have always chosen an albergue -- but here, just by circumstance, we were blessed with our own room, and our own bathroom! I was just getting my shampoo out of my bag to shower when we started hearing yelling from outside that sounded like, "KATIEEEEEEEEE????" 

Yep. Julia and Robert had no idea where we all had gone, so their solution to finding us was to walk around O Cebrairo calling our names. This made me laugh really hard (and they say Americans are loud!)

Robert and Julia came around the side and climbed through our very large ground floor window (no screens in Europe.) Watching this made me a little afraid for the safety of our stuff while we were gone. About an hour after they came in, we heard again (from the hallway this time), "MARYYYYYY?? KATIEEEE!!!" Rachel and Sanne had adapted the same location technique. We are really classy. 

The next morning, after a really, really good nights sleep in an actual bed, we headed back down the mountain and into a small mountain town called Triacastella. This town was absolutely delightful -- but again, was filled by 1 PM! People begin sticking backpacks in a line several hours before the albergues even open, creating a sort of desperate race to the finish approach to these final days. We were lucky enough to get beds, but another group we frequently walk with ended up on the grass outside until the town generously opened up a gymnasium for them to sleep in. 
The next day was monumental: we passed Sarria, the marker for the last 100 kilometers of the Camino de Santiago! This was the moment where we all realized, oh my gosh, we're going to make it! (A little too soon on my part, which we'll get to soon.) We went a little further to celebrate at a private albergue one town further on that had a swimming pool! This was like a resort oasis, and provided a much needed break! We were there by one, and were able to spend the rest of the day resting by the pool, swimming, and laughing. 

An important side note for me: this was August 6th, the date that one of my dearest friends from college made her final vows with the Sisters of Life in New York City! Despite the fact that I'm halfway across the world, this beautiful woman was on my mind all day, and Rachel (who knows her as well) and I were able to attend Mass at the exact time of the vow ceremony back in New York. That was a huge blessing! A mutual friend video recorded it and texted it to me, and we watched Sr. Mariae Agnus Dei make her vows, under a tree on the Camino the next day. We both cried, and in typical Camino style a bunch of people offered us bandages and chocolate milk until I tried to explain that I was just happy. Congratulations, dear heart!!! 

As we were walking to that mass, however, I discovered that I had a massive pain in my left leg -- a resurgence of the shin splint I'd had a few days before but that had disappeared. This one kept getting worse overnight, and by the time we got up I was limping significantly. Mary walked slowly with me, until after 18 kilometers I realized I couldn't go any further. I'm not generally a wimp with pain, but this was bad. Thinking it was probably worse than just a shin splint, I stopped in Portomarin, planning to take a taxi the rest of the way and meet my friends at their destination. No sooner had they left, however, I realized this was a bad idea -- as I had no idea if I would be able to walk the next day, and I was in a town with a bus. To take a taxi into a town in the middle of nowhere might mean also needing to take one out, and I had no idea how expensive that would be.

And that is how I found myself Camigo-less and in pain three days before Santiago. 

Actually it wasn't that bad. I was trying very hard not to have a pity party and to make the best of it (but also not allowing myself to cry over it), when I walked out of the pharmacy and looked up to see none other than Mike, our doctor friend from DC. I think I said something like, "Mike, my leg hurts," and then burst into tears, and then cried more because I felt ridiculous that I was crying. (Lesson number one of the Camino: everyone cries.) Mike diagnosed this as probably a very bad shin splint, massaged the muscle out with his hiking pole (which hurt, yes), and ate ice cream with me. We spent the rest of the day chatting and sitting in the square at a cafe, and I learned how to find ice in Spain (go to a bar and explain that your leg hurts). 

The next morning I found a German medical student with blisters covering the bottom of his feet in my albergue, also facing his destiny in the form of the Santiago bus. Together we shuffled to the bus stop, through the station at Lugo on our layover (where we got passed by several people in their 80's), and into Melide, a small city famous for its "pulpo", otherwise known as octopus. (It's a food.) And we ate it! It tastes -- I know, big surprise here -- like chicken, except really, really chewy. Robert swears a suction cup is still stuck in his throat. 

Today, again, my camigos left on their 35 kilometer hike, and I stayed behind in Melide to take the bus. This wasn't until noon, being as it was Sunday, so I spent a leisurely morning in a cafe, passing through a street fair, and in the Iglesia San Roque, where I arrived at 10 when I had been informed Mass was, and had some peaceful quiet time until 11, when Mass actually was. 

I also had ample time to reflect on this situation. The Camino is such a journey, and throws such unexpected things (good and bad) all the time. I never thought I would end up taking the bus 50 kilometers from the end. Is this disappointing? Certainly! Is it embarrassing? No, not really, as it could happen to anyone. Is it frustrating? YES. But, one thing the last five weeks have really taught me, is that what is meant to happen happens -- that God is always, always in control, and that his plan for my life is so far beyond my own. The Camino might be a microcosm of this, but it's one that my peewee little brain can understand and integrate. Where life is overwhelming to grasp, the Camino presents these lessons in very learnable stages, one day to the next. I am content. I am injured; I will be shy of meeting my goals of how far I walked; I actually may not receive my Compostela ("certificate" saying I walked to Santiago), but I am absolutely content in all of it, and I trust that all this has happened for a reason. To be disappointed, or to complain (even to myself) would be to let the negative overshadow the miracles of the last few weeks, and that would be a huge discredit to the wonder of this experience. And so, I accept it willingly!

... except I am definitely, DEFINITELY, walking into Santiago de Compostela tomorrow -- no matter if I have to limp, crawl, or if Robert has to give me a piggy back ride. I am way too stubborn to not do this, and I know I need to. (I also have medical approval, everyone who is about to freak out at me!)

Last night I was sitting on the third floor of our albergue with my friends, who were taking amazing care of me in my pain and emotional struggle with accepting this. I was just saying to Julia, "I wish we knew where that other American doctor is," referring to an ER doctor from Boston we've met many times. 

"I ... think he's right there!" Julia said, pointing out the window. Sure enough, there he was, in the courtyard of the neighboring albergue, eating dinner. Julia went to get him, and he came up and made a personal medical call to me in my orange plastic chair in the albergue common room. After some poking and questioning he "diagnosed" me with tendinitis -- not a stress fracture as I was afraid. 
"Have you been doing any repetitive, heavy exercise or heavy lifting?" he asked jokingly. 

Today we arrived in Pedeouza -- our last stop before reaching Santiago de Compostela. Emotions are so mixed, and so many! We'll be there tomorrow! But this also means the end of a group, of a lifestyle, and of the beauty and freedom of the Camino! Part of me wants to say stop, wait, have I learned enough?! Am I different that I was?! Was my Camino "successful"?! Another part wants to say no, wait, I'm not ready to go back to "real life"! Another part wants to hold onto my friends -- these dear, dear friends from all corners of the world, each of whom I have grown to love so dearly. Tomorrow is a celebration, and also the end of a very good chapter -- a joy and a sorrow.

But first, we walk! 
Picking figs! The man holding Mary is Jonathan, our professional walker. We found a good use for him.
Portomarin in the early sunlight and fog.
Someday after the Camino we're going to have a culture shock when we can no longer just sit wherever we want on the street and not look weird. Here is Rachel sitting in the crosswalk, Robert on the steps, and Tina (Slovenia) under a street sign. This is how I found them.
Early morning view of a pilgrim statue in the town of Villafranca de Bierzo.
Dinner in O Cebrairo after our long ascent!
What our early morning walks look like when I turn around (ie, how I know my friends are behind me.)
This poor cafe owner was all alone and overwhelmed by hungry pilgrims. I came in to get a coffee and found our sweet Sanne behind the counter, doing his dishes. My friends are quality :)
Overlooking the view, partway up the mountain.
From the heights! We climbed all of this from a valley below the visible ground. Our lungs were on fire.
The lines of backpacks outside albergue's now look like this. By 1 PM when the municipal albergue opened there were 56 backpacks in line, filling the albergue to capacity.
Our friends who didn't get space in the albergue in Triacastella setting up camp for the night (fortunately the town opened a gymnasium and they were able to stay there in the end).
The municipal albergue in Triacastella.
Mornings are beautiful!
Galicia (the province we're in now) looks a lot like Oregon. We've been so blessed, as usually it rains every day -- and we have had nothing but clouds turning into sunshine.
Reaching Sarria! This signifies 100 kilometers left to go!
A local chapel just outside of Sarria, where we attended Mass.
Sweet Rachel carried my pack like this the last 3k into Portomarin, to reduce the pain I was in! It was quite a sight. She brought a lot of laughter to the Camino!
Jonathan (Israel) and Robert about to eat pulpo, the traditional food in this region. It tastes like chicken but ... has tentacles ...
Rachel and I and the pulpo in Melide.
<![CDATA[Getting Antsy!]]>Tue, 04 Aug 2015 15:54:00 GMThttp://ollparish.com/katies-camino-de-santiago-pilgrimage/getting-antsy
All of the days are melding together in my mind at this point! They say 21 days makes a habit (or at least I think that's what they say?), and we've been at this for 25 now -- which means that when, suddenly, we DON'T any longer need to wake up and walk for 10 hours straight, safety pin our laundry that didn't dry to the outside of our backpacks, and collect stamps verifying our daily whereabouts, we will be very confused! By our count at some point today, Santiago is 220k away (or was, relatively, at some point on or around today.) One thing about this Camino is that the distances are ALWAYS off. Julia's book will say from one town to another it is 26.7k. Tina our Slovenian friend's will say it's 31.2. My book will say 27.6, and Rachel's will say 28.9. And Rachel and I have different editions of the same book! The only thing certain about this is that at the end of this Camino we will actually have no idea how far we've walked, because the guide books don't even agree on that! One day, quite a while back, we passed a sign in the morning that said "555 K to Santiago!" Late that evening, seven hours later, we passed a sign stating, "573 K to Santiago!!!" plastered with smiley faces. These motivational signs are everywhere, and are basically just not helpful. Therefore, we have started designating distance in terms of days. 

By our count today, we have about 8 days left, unless we walk fast the last 100k. The roads are getting clogged now with pilgrims who have begun in Leon, Astorga, or other towns along the way, and if you leave at the wrong time it can be, as a very frustrated Mike/DC described, "a train of refugees fleeing a war!" 

These newcomers are easily identifiable by their chipper, carefree walks. They zoom by us up hills and on the flat parts of the trail. Their shoes are clean and they don't have even the slightest bit of a limp. We grin at them knowingly, and they grow slightly fearful as they gaze at our sunburned and bug-bitten selves, in our dirt-doesn't-wash-out-anymore shirts, and our mangled feet in sandals. At least I think that's what happens. We give them a heartfelt "Buen Camino!" and turn our focus back to not falling over rocks on the trail. It's a challenge that not all of us (*cough* Rachel) have succeeded at thus far. 

As we all left the Maseta a few days ago we said, "Gosh, that really wasn't that bad!" Crossing back through the mountains yesterday though we all said, "... gosh, the Maseta was TERRIBLE!" It was breathtaking yesterday and felt like being in a Spanish version of The Sound of Music; and the trail was brutal, but we loved it. It wasn't flat, it was pretty, you couldn't see your destination miles away, and there was no treadmill effect! Bliss.

Upon arrival in our town on Sunday night we kept hearing that we had to get to the next town for sunrise -- that it was breathtaking! We aren't ones to miss that, so we were up and out and hiking up a mountain at 5, mainly by the light of the glorious bright stars. Julia was the only one with a headlamp (Rachel's is lost and mine had broken), and part way up the silent, dark mountain she screamed:


Then she started laughing and yelling, "Oh my gosh! It's a donkey! A DONKEY!" As it happens, sometimes when you have a headlamp on in the dark and an animal looks directly at you, you see nothing but their eyes reflected at you. Usually this is small, and no more than three inches above the ground (mice, raccoons, cats). But when suddenly Julia, in front, had two MASSIVE glowing eyes almost at human level looking at her ... it caught her by surprise, to say the least.

Across from an albergue in the next town we found a rock wall perfectly positioned, Robert and Tina (who had walked to this town the night before), and an assortment of coffees and teas in the dining hall of the albergue. We grabbed coffee and some blankets and climbed up on the high rock wall (really the ruins of an old house) to watch the sun rise. It was glorious. Except at first it was pretty boring, and we thought it was kind of a dud, and we were cold. We were just thinking it was over and time to get off the wall when I looked up to see a golden shimmer just clearing the mountains. It looked like molten gold, surrounded by brilliant pink -- and suddenly it shot up above the mountains in majesty! 

When we finally continued on, we climbed up to a giant Cross set on a pile of rocks -- the one where pilgrims traditionally leave a rock that they have brought from home, signifying some trials or problems they hope to leave behind on the Camino. Only Tina had remembered a rock, but we paused for a while and watched the others, and reflected on what we did want to leave behind us.

When we moved on we set off into mountains again, and into a hike that (we hear) is more difficult than the Pyranees on the first day, but that we are now a lot more prepared for. We absolutely loved it, and the views were breathtaking, the wind cool and wonderful, and we felt we were walking on top of the world.

In the last morning we happened upon one of the most bizarre places I have ever been. A donativo albergue (donation only), was built ramshack-style into a series of long abandoned house ruins. Flags were flying, banners were fluttering, and animals were running around the yard. Music could be faintly heard. Intrigued, we entered the yard, where we saw a long wooden bench-style table in a garden courtyard, beyond which was a large room filled with goods, food items, kittens, and a man in a full on Crusader outfit (complete with large cross) who welcomed us and invited us to sit and stay. We sat at the outdoor table, gave a few Euro for some milk, and began to make cocoa with Julia's camp stove. 

Suddenly bells began to ring. All the dogs howled in unison. Then Gregorian Chant began to play, and this knight (whose name is Tomas) and a man who seems to be his assistant processed from the house, past us, with Tomas in front bearing a sword and the second man behind, carrying a statue of Our Lady. This began a long religious ceremony of sorts in Spanish, most of which was done by the help of a really old tape deck, and which we understood none of. We were also awkwardly holding bread and cheese, heating milk, I was threading a new blister with thread and bandaging it, and we were blocked into the table by a very affectionate large yellow dog. Finally the service ended, Tomas came back and told us to be really careful with our wallets and passports on the way and we all drank some cocoa, and then we went on our way. 

We eventually made our way into the town of Molinaseca -- a town that obviously has more of a tourist (vs pilgrim) thrust, as we had to walk over a kilometer out of town to get to the albergues. We walked back in and had a wonderful dinner at a restaurant right along the river, where we watched fellow pilgrim friends of ours jump into the freezing water ... from a distance.

Today was flat, gearing up for tomorrow's hill climb. We passed first a castle built for the Knights Templar, which is quite impressive -- but sadly is closed on Monday. Nearby was a beautiful church in which I snatched several quiet minutes of prayer before heading out of town. We passed through miles of rolling vineyards today, green and beautiful. In the midst of them I developed a shin split/leg cramp (yet to be determined) and hobbled with my wonderful patient friends at a very slow pace. We finally plunged down into the city of Villafranca del Bierzo, in a vast basin between mountains, where Rachel, Mary, and I got probably the last 3 pilgrim beds in the city (we were slow today.) The others are at a castle, or at least what looks like a castle, close to the city center, where we all joined up together to laugh and talk. 

We're closing in on the end, even though it's still quite a ways, and we're all getting antsy! Especially when we'd gotten so used to the relative peace and quiet of small albergue's, familiar faces, and open roads, the sudden busyness and bustle is a little overwhelming! Each day we get significantly closer to our goal -- and none of us are quite sure how exactly we feel about this! 
The group of us, and some guy in blue, below the Cross on the hill of rocks.
The mountains!
The albergue of Tomas, the modern day knight.
Sanne and Julia (and a dog) in front of Tomas' albergue.
Rachel descending into a city.
Mary entering Molinaseca.
The castle of the Knights Templar.
Rachel in a vineyard ... possibly tasting some grapes.
Our road through the vineyards.
What charging your phone in an albergue often entails.
<![CDATA[22 Days Down, 13(ish) To Go!]]>Fri, 31 Jul 2015 19:40:58 GMThttp://ollparish.com/katies-camino-de-santiago-pilgrimage/what-would-you-guys-think-about-going-for-a-little-walk-today
We are officially through the Maseta, beyond Leon (the final city we will pass through before entering Santiago de Compostela), and well past our halfway point! We can't believe it, but we just counted, and today completes our 22nd day of walking, leaving only 13(ish). 

Every morning our day starts off with Mary asking in a perfectly serious voice, "So guys, I was thinking ... what would you guys think about going for a little walk today??"

And then we walk. 

The Maseta was long and flat, and generally along a path running parallel to the highway, with large loose stones all over it. Essentially, I think I didn't look up for four days, because every time I did, I tripped. We took far fewer pictures, and our distances decreased, while seeming way further. It was flat and straight, and we walked.

One night we stayed at a quaint "donativo," a pilgrim hostel running on donation only, which usually provides crowded bedrooms and rickety beds, but far makes up for this with wonderful hospitality and community meals. This was no exception, and we dined outside with everyone at our hostel, and our fabulous three hosts -- Camino volunteers who take shifts and spend three weeks per summer serving pilgrims at this albergue. We prayed together in the chapel, and then headed outside where we blessed our meal, and then ate mounds of pasta, bread and salad (in that order), followed by watermelon. At this point our hosts passed out a piece of paper with lyrics on it ... and then reappeared on the front porch in front of us decked out in costumes, wigs and crazy glasses. We cracked up simply because they were having so much fun! They got us all, a group of 40 or so from all over the world, to sing this funny pilgrim song they had written, which was hilarious even though I had no idea what I was singing. 

Then they yelled, "FRANCES!" and called all the French pilgrims to the "stage," handed them toilet brush microphones, and instructed them to sing a song from their country. They got us all singing a song about the Champs-Élysées; Slovenia sang a sweet children's song, and then they yelled "English!!"

This consisted of Mary, Rachel, and myself. Apparently this group wasn't good enough, so Julia, Robert, and someone else ended up in our group as well, which greatly complicated things as we now had to sing a song in English that we all knew. We sang a really inspiring rendition of Hakunah Matata from the Lion King, for lack of anything else, and because our Disney song skills have been improving vastly this last week in the Maseta. Then Robert and a Danish guy graced us with a performance of "Barbie Girl" from the 90's, in which Robert got really into it when he sang, "...you can brush my hair ..." and brushed his hair with said toilet brush microphone. 

"... Do you think he knows what that is ...?" Sanne whispered to me. 

We walked a very non-descript road the next day, and stayed at a hostel with what you could call our "Maseta Pilgrim Community." There were a group of us who began the Maseta on the same day, and all seemed to be walking at the same pace, as every day we would see the same group at our albergues. This was fun and encouraging, and also kind of funny. On our second Maseta evening, Robert found a guitar at the Albergue, and the courtyard turned into a giant sing-along. Pilgrims sat scattered all around a courtyard, surrounded by laundry dying on lines, potted plants, and vending machines, on plastic chairs. 

Around 8 PM, a very intense looking Spanish woman entered the courtyard and set a large box of things down on a stool with purpose. She then pulled on a pair of hospital gloves, and grabbed Robert, twisted him around in his chair, and grabbed his foot. She then began poking and prodding his foot with her fingers.

"Does this hurt?"


"Does this hurt?"


Does this hurt?"


Robert's blood-curdling scream could be heard down the street. 

He jerked his foot and howled. The Spanish lady held on, never even flinched, and looked at him with a steady look that only said, "Really?" Really. She then pulled out a sterilized needle, antiseptic, and bandages, and went to work. 

After Robert, she set to work on the rest of the courtyard with a level of efficiency that left me in awe. At this same time, my feet had swollen to about twice their normal size, and I was sitting with them propped up in the courtyard, hoping to get the swelling down. Julia asked her about my swelling and she came over asking, "What did you walk in?"

We pointed to my Birkenstocks, which I did wear that day even though I now have running shoes, because I got a nasty toe blister the day I walked with Eva, the speed walking German. 

"WHAT!!" yelled the lady, grabbing one of my sandals. She then took a giant step backwards, moving as if to heave my left Birk up on top of the albergue roof.

At this moment, my life flashed before my eyes. 

"Nooooooo!!!!!" I yelled, sort of frantically lunging/falling out of my plastic deck chair. "No no no! Please! No!" 

Until this moment I had not realized how attached to these shoes I am. Without them, I saw my Camino coming to a rapid halt. Everyone in the courtyard by now was staring at us, with her holding my shoe up over her head, and me begging for it back. She is, however, a very helpful woman who not only returned my shoe, but also added gauze pads to the bottom of my shoe liners in my running shoes, to even our where I put pressure. I'm not sure it's helping, but it's certainly not hurting. 

The next day we walked into Leon, our final city before Santiago de Compostela. Leon was a total opposite experience to us than Burgos was, evident immediently. From the moment we entered the city limits, people we passed started not only saying, "Buen Camino!" (something we never heard in Burgos), but cheering for us as well! Groups of people we passed started clapping, whistling and calling out words of encouragement, as if we were finishing a marathon. Two nuns in a car slowed down for a stoplight, rolled down their windows, and blessed us from the car. Our albergue welcomed us, and then began a new event in our Camino:
Bed bugs.

We were napping in the early afternoon when our Slovenian friend Tina came back into the room and quietly took her sleeping bag off her bed. "I got bit by bed bugs!" she whispered, "and they're taking me to be sanitized!"

This made me immediately think of the scene in Pixar's "Monster's Inc." where one of the monsters becomes contaminated by touching the sock of a human child, and immediately the cleaning squadron is upon him. He is put into a yellow plastic hygiene tent, hosed down, sanitized, and finally let go.

Fortunately it wasn't this way for Tina, or our friend Amanda, who both went through this. This was, actually, a very convenient place to discover bed bug bites, which they probably contracted days before. Their sleeping bags and clothes were washed, and their backpacks sterilized, all with the help of the Camino volunteers.  This, however, was not an isolated bed bug incident. 

We got to explore Leon on the eve of Sanne's birthday. Rachel and I went to Mass at the gorgeous cathedral, which took our breath away. We were so sure this was the Cathedral that Fr. Robert Barron used in his "Catholicism" series, until Mike showed up and told us that's actually in France. It was, however, fabulous, and Mass always provides a beautiful solace that can be found nowhere else. We walk in exhausted, beaten down by the day, and tired -- and we leave refreshed and filled. God never fails to supply for our every need. 

That evening we walked to see a concert done by, we assume, a local high school orchestra in the city square. We went out to a tapas bar with many of our fellow pilgrims who had just walked the Maseta -- Spanish, Slovenian, Belgian, French, Israeli, German, and Italian. 

The next day we walked a road that was not the Maseta, but pretty much looked like it except with some trees. (These are very, very helpful when you have to go to the bathroom along the way! That was challenge #37 of the Maseta.) We ended at a rather sketchy albergue, that sort of looked like it had been an experiment of the 70's, gone slightly wrong. This was okay with us though, because it was cheap, and there were beds.

Mary was napping in the other room when suddenly we heard a yell, "KATIE!!!!"

I ran in to find Mary laying in bed, pointing with a horrified face and wide eyes at the bottom of the bunk above her. 

"Is that ..." she whispered, pointing at a small, crawling bug above her.

"ROBERT!!!!" I yelled, for lack of anything better to contribute to this situation. Robert ran in, looked, and said something I won't repeat on this blog. 

"Google it," he said, and a quick search confirmed our suspicions. However, our albergue hosts were suspicious.

"We don't have those," they said. We all insisted we had seen it, and they cleaned the room -- but these things are pests. Also, their bites (very itchy and in patches), tend to materialize hours to days after they bite.

Today I woke up from my afternoon nap to discover a patch of bites on my shoulders.

"It's Mosquitos!" said Julia. 

"GET AWAY!!!!" yelled Sanne. 

"Oh honey ..." said Rachel. 

"Here," said Mary, handing me a dress of hers so I could throw all my stuff in the washer and dryer that is conveniently at this albergue. The creation of bedbugs is something I would like to ask God about one day, but Fr. John just reminded me of the story of Corrie Ten Boom, the Dutch survivor of the Holocaust, who learned to bless the bugs in her prison cell because they prevented the prison guards from coming in to search them, and allowed herself and her sister to keep their Bible. She was so far ahead of me! 
Sometimes the Camino signs are a little confusing ...
Sanne conquering the Maseta.
Camigos having a break, making hot chocolate in the early morning sun on Julia's camp stove.
The Cathedral in Leon.
The girls outside the Cathedral, watching an outdoor symphony on Sanne's birthday.
Mary made the mistake of laying down with her pack -- and couldn't get back up! Here is Julia coming to her aid.
It's been REALLY rainy the last few days ... which means ponchos daily! Here is us on our first time in them, unable to stop laughing at what we look like. Turtles or the Hunchback of Notre Dame?
Playground naps: it's the new thing.
Robert and I eating donated paella, out of a pot, in our albergue. Classy.
The way in the rain, early morning.
Beautiful Scenery
Along the way
<![CDATA[The PAIN in Spain is mainly on the plains!]]>Mon, 27 Jul 2015 17:55:36 GMThttp://ollparish.com/katies-camino-de-santiago-pilgrimage/the-pain-in-spain-is-mainly-on-the-plains
As we were walking today, all I could think was that it's very fitting that the English word for Spain is essentially "pain" with an S in front of it. BECAUSE THIS HURTS. Wowza.

Also, Audrey Hepburn's famous line in "My Fair Lady" should be changed from, "The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain" to "the PAIN in Spain is mainly on the plains!" We're in these plains, and there is pain. And it's boring. Today I got engrossed in conversation and walked ahead of my group, and when I paused to wait for them nearly every couple or group who passed by me was talking about how bored they were. It's amazing to realize how much rolling hills provided us with entertainment ... but flat and straight is mentally taxing. Imagine walking through Kansas, in a straight line, for 20 miles. Boom.

Often we can see an upcoming town upwards of 7k away, and the visual of it never seems to change! It's like walking on a treadmill. Mary likened this to a clip from Monty Python (Watch the first minute or so of this clip: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=GJoM7V54T-c
) where castle guards see a man emerge, running, from the woods. He runs and runs. He stays exactly in place. It flashes from the yawning, slightly confused guards, to the distant running man with no ground being gained. Bored guards. Running knight. Bored guards. Suddenly with an, "AHA!!!!" the knight shows up just in front of the guards and they scream. 

This is the Camino.

The evening of my last blog (whatever day that was), we attended an evening Mass in a local field next to an outdoor shrine to St. Bridget of Sweden, on her feast day. This was followed by a giant feast provided by the albergues to all the pilgrims -- free of charge! All of us in the town gathered in front of the albergue we were staying at, and plate after plate of tapas was brought out, and several huge, steaming pans of paella. Wine was poured, followed by dessert and sweet wine. What a gift! We pilgrims devoured this feast with gusto - especially because, in Spain, dinner time is around 9 PM, and we wake up at 4, walk 20 miles, and eat lunch no later than 1. We snack a lot, and sometimes I feel like the only things I do on the Camino (aside from walk) are eat, wash my clothes in the sink, and sleep. Food is something not to be taken for granted on this way -- along with clean, dry socks, sunscreen, and water! 

The next day we woke and walked up a really, really big hill. Then we walked down it. And then we hit the plains. The amazing thing right now is that sunflowers are a crop here, and are fully in bloom. Sunflower fields are to this region of Spain what corn is to rural Indiana. It is remarkably beautiful. 

We arrived that evening to a small town with an albergue that can only be described as an oasis. The town had next to nothing in it, but the albergue was like a city unto itself. With a giant courtyard, shady groves, a pool, a bar, and a very homey feel (this albergue is run by a family), it provided a very needed respite from the long and dusty road. It was also full of pilgrims, many who we knew, either by acquaintance or by sight, from walking around the same pace. 

Our professional Israeli walkers were two of the pilgrims staying, and a plan was launched by Gregory, our crazy Belgian friend from day one, to make and celebrate a sort of seder meal together for Shabbat (it was Friday afternoon.) The only problem: there was no grocery store in this town; we needed groceries to do this; and the nearest market was 5k away in the next town. 

Not to be outdone, Gregory rounded up the borrowed bicycles of several bike pilgrims, several men who get major gentleman points (ask a teen who went on the Cle Elum Mission trip), and a bunch of empty backpacks. Each pilgrim gave 3 Euros, and off they went! Until they got to the store and tried to load all the necessary groceries into the bags.

I was napping when they came back and heard the story only vaguely through the open window, but it appears that someone at the market took pity on the ridiculous mishmash of bicycle-grocery toting foreigners and offered them a ride ... yet only the groceries fit in the car! So the men had to ride back, independent of the food, and somehow in this story Gregory rode his bike back with a large bag of ice wrapped in his UV Protection t-shirt. (Because that will keep it from melting?) I'm not sure.

What I am sure of is how amazing this was! Shortly after their return, a handful of volunteer pilgrims had assembled a feast! Huge bowls of salad stood ready with bowls of sliced and assorted meats, cheeses, breads, chips, crackers, and olives. There was an enormous bucket filled to the brim with sangria and loads of cut up fruit in it. We sat in a giant circle (around 35 people), and Haggai, the slightly less professional professional walker, sang the Shabbat blessing in Hebrew. We ate and talked and sang until we realized how ridiculously late it was. 

Most people slept in the next day ... except us. As usual, we were up at 4, though (unusual for us) behind another group of pilgrims. Usually no one else is quite this crazy, though more and more people seem to be waking early to conquer the flat plains before the heat (it's over 100 degrees F every day by 3 PM, though the last few days have been quite windy, which is saving us, though making our faces quite raw feeling). 

Generally at 5 AM there are a couple places where we have to search around with our headlamps to find the yellow Camino arrow (sometimes painted on the ground, on a wall, a sign, a post, a tree, a bench ... whatever is handy.) This morning was no exception ... but perhaps because we were surrounded by others, we all naturally trusted the couple in the front ...

and we went the wrong direction. For 8k. We walked along a gorgeous riverbank, with the water flowing on our left. And 90 minutes later realized that we were on the right path -- but the water should have been flowing on our RIGHT. Fortunately we realized this at an intersection with a road that gave us the option for a "short cut" back. Not so fortunately, this short cut was 7k long.

Less than 10 minutes after we began, the girl who got us lost in the first place hitched a ride into town, and left us (a group too large to hitch) stumbling blearily up the road. Buen Camino. This is where the "treadmill effect" as we call it first materialized, as for the entire 90 minutes of walking we could see the town -- and it didn't get any closer! Finally we realized that what we had taken to be a small country church was actually a giant grain silo, which explains part of the problem. 

An hour and a half later we stumbled into the town, less than 5k from where we had begun, and where we had planned to have breakfast. We were greeted by the stares of our fellow pilgrims who knew we had left early -- and who had themselves woken up at 8. We had walked 16k that morning (more than half of what we intended), before eating, and before coffee. And we had 24k left to go!  We inhaled caffeine like it was our job, and then joined Robert (who had blissfully NOT left with us for the first time on the Camino, and thus spared himself) on our long trek.

This was also the Feast of St. James! This is huge, as the Camino is "the Way of St. James," a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, where this apostle is buried. God is good, and we ended up in the perfect city to celebrate this. Carrion de los Campos is a small city, much, much larger than most of the tiny towns we've passed through, and had an evening Mass at a beautiful, old church, that St. Francis also passed through on his journey through this region. A young, vibrant women's religious community is dedicated to the care of pilgrims here, and though we didn't stay at their albergue (we didn't know in time), we experienced their hospitality at Mass.

The Mass itself was beautiful -- and very simple, in a very heartfelt and peaceful way. The church was packed, music was done by the sisters and with guitar, and although we couldn't understand the priest, he emanated peace and love. 

After each Mass, pilgrims are called up to the front for a special blessing -- a lovely idea in practice, but I cannot explain to you fully the pain involved in this. Going to Mass, and standing and sitting, and standing and sitting, makes fire come out of my feet, I'm pretty sure. Getting called to the front AFTER this experience, and standing for no less than 10 minutes while the priest speaks rapidly in a language I cannot follow, is immensely painful. I hate to admit this, but I have actually begin to resent these blessings, as awful as this is. This one was no different in my reaction to it -- everything in me said, "NO!" Rachel said, "Yes!" and ran to the front. I ended up directly in front of the priest, who listed, no joke, every country in the world and asked us to raise our hand if we were from it. "South Korea ... Japan ... Morocco ... South Africa ... Iceland ... Ireland ... Lithuania ... Israel ... Andorra ..." The list went on forever and I wanted to cry. Did he not understand how badly we hurt?! But then he smiled and winked, said "Italy and Spain," and 9/10 of the pilgrims raised their hands, and he turned it over to the sisters who spoke both Spanish and English.

With love that can only be described as divine in origin, they encouraged us, and spoke to us of courage, strength, and the power of prayer. They talked about the meaning of the Camino in our own hearts. They reminded us that we can only see the stars in the darkest nights, and while Camino can seem a dark night, this can indeed be illuminating. They, along with the priest, called us up one by one and blessed us, presented us with a little paper star, and afterwards gathered us together to sing Salve Regina before a statue of Our Lady that has stood in the church for centuries. Perhaps our of fatigue, pain, and from having our own, deeper purposes for Camino affirmed and recognized, most of us were crying -- not tears of sadness, or of joy, but just from being deeply moved. Love was tangible in this place. 

Rachel and I left and walked back to our albergue in a daze -- where we found our friends gathered, with giant homemade hamburgers (a la Robert) waiting for us. 

After this day, our 4 AM wake up call was better today! We began a long, flat road, devoid of civilization for a full 10k. Soon after we started, I was joined by a talkative German girl who fell into pace beside me and started talking. I liked her immediately ... until she started talking about going the wrong way the day before and hitting a ride into Fromista.

"That was you?!" I kind of yelled. Up until this point I had been thinking of her as "the girl who got us lost" -- not that it was her fault, but pain loves blame. 

The Camino also loves forgiveness, and moments later I was thanking God for this encounter. Eva is a handball coach and teacher from Cologne, who needs to walk 35k a day in order to make her schedule, so we may not see her again -- but she, in the two hours we walked together, impacted me greatly. These are the encounters that the Camino is made up of. Some encounters, like our "Camigos" group, stay. Some come in and out, like Jose, and like Mike from DC who got lost in the woods and taken down by blisters weeks ago and who has caught up with us again. Some you meet once or twice, but are impacted by something -- sincerity, faith, joy, or love. These encounters make the Camino a more full experience. 
Outdoor Mass at St. Bridget's field.
Pilgrims awaiting the start of our feast on St. Bridget's day!
The remaining six of us enjoying the feast (Sanne, me, Julia, Mary, Robert and Rachel).
A typical albergue evening -- they're watching the Monty Python clip that explains our Camino.
Walking through the ruins of a centuries-old monastery in the early morning.
Passing through a classic Camino town.
The plains.
Sunflowers for days!
Mass at La Iglesia Santa Maria in Carrion de los Campos on the Feast of St. James.
The blessing of the pilgrims on St. James feast.
A centuries old statue in the church that had been reverenced by pilgrims for ages.
Backpacks along a pilgrim cafe wall -- we live to see the classic red plastic chairs of these cafes!
What happens to us at the end of each walking day. We are exhausted!

Eva the handball player walks extremely fast. In my journey with her two things happened: one, I got a blister on the bottom of my right big toe, right where I have to put pressure to walk, and didn't notice because I was so engrossed in conversation. Number two, I left my friends way behind in the dust. I finally stopped outside a makeshift outdoor cafe, bid farewell to Eva, and sat down to wait. 

One hour later I could finally make out Sanne in the distance, visible by her distinct walk. I had begun to feel kind of like an orphan by that point, but was also very much enjoying watching the pilgrims walk by. 

A South Korean who we frequently cross paths with, who we have nicknamed "Captain Jack Sparrow," because his hair and clothes are identical to Johnny Depp's in the movie.

An African woman jamming out to headphones.

An American woman named Laura, from California, who is the spitting image of one of my Edge volunteers.

Groups of Italians yelling and gesturing wildly. 

Two German military men who we just call "the German army" hustling by in perfect time.

An elderly man pulling a cart with his backpack on it. 

Bicyclists zooming by yelling, "Buen ..." because the "Camino" part always gets cut off by the time they pass. 

We stopped one town early tonight because this village is having, what else, but a fiesta! They said that hot chocolate will be available at 4 AM -- which I assume means for everyone who is still awake at 4, but for us means a perfect start to a chilly morning. We said yes, had a siesta, and watched the festival kick off with a town-wide water balloon fight (mostly for kids, but another group of pilgrims created a homemade slip and slide for them, and it was a hit!)
<![CDATA[The Real Camino]]>Thu, 23 Jul 2015 17:01:16 GMThttp://ollparish.com/katies-camino-de-santiago-pilgrimage/the-real-camino
Rachel and I have been reflecting, these last couple of days, on the difference between our "anticipated" Camino and our actual Camino. In our minds (as well as in the minds of our friends), we all set out to do this expecting quiet, introspective, meditative time. We expected solitude; that we would meet people in passing, and hear bits of stories, and wave to those we kept crossing paths with. We expected to be alone (except in the case of Rachel and I, but we expected to be alone, together, if that makes any sense.)

I never expected to fall into an ecclectic group of solo pilgrims and become a bonded, tight-knit group. I never expected to belly-laugh until I cried every day; to talk so much, journey together, and have adventures day after day with these same people, who now feel like family. I never expected to find community like this, or for my/our Camino to be so focused on community! At first I felt like maybe this was wrong -- maybe we were missing "it," missing the point of our Camino. This wasn't supposed to be FUN! Or ... funny?! 

And then I looked at the faces of my friends and at the beautiful, uplifting, friendship we have formed. Seven people and six countries, from all walks of life, different goals, lifestyles, religions, and jobs -- all come together with this one common purpose. This purpose, I suppose, could be defined as finding out what our purpose for this is (I'm not sure any of us are sure yet). I have no doubts that this is all what is meant to be, and I have to laugh thinking about my expectations (which were rather lofty), and comparing it to the joy and camaraderie that I am living daily. I wouldn't change it for the world. 

Two days ago we arrived in the city of Burgos by early afternoon. This adventure began with a 5 AM departure from our hostel in the dark, where we passed through town after town without finding an open cafe (read: no coffee or second breakfast, which are both lifelines out here.) Then we started up a hill. Five minutes later we were still climbing. And ten. Twenty ... thirty?! This was no small hill, but a full on mountain! Problem number one of beginning an ascent by the light of headlamp: you have no idea how far up you have to go. The part that's not a problem is how gloriously beautiful the countryside below is as the sun rises. 

At the top we were greeted by a hilarious (official looking) sign, appearing to read "End of Camino de Santiago." We were standing on the top of a mountain, in a pile of rocks, under a giant metal cross that reminded me of Cross Mountain in Medjugorje. 

"Guys, we're here!!!" Robert hollered. 

We weren't, though, so we sat down on the rocks under the cross, drank a carton of orange juice that Robert heroically (and accidentally) carried up the mountain, and played "Donde Esta Jose?" on Sanne's phone. As we sat there, the sun began to slowly come up over the hills in the distance, and the sky lit up in a glorious shade of pink. We descended in early morning light and walked all together down toward the twinkling lights of the distant city, alternately laughing, talking, and singing "Row row row your boat" in rounds of five languages (Portuguese, Dutch, Norwegian, English and German). This is remarkably entertaining, actually, and I highly recommend it.

At the bottom was COFFEE, second breakfast, and a bunch of pilgrims we met back in Roncevalles on our first day of walking and who we haven't seen since. Greetings are wonderful along the Camino -- they usually sound like, "NO WAY!!!!!" yelled by multiple people, clapping, hollering, and always the question, "How are your feet?" 

No normal person ever asks that question, especially not to someone you've met once. On the Camino, this is standard fare. Except for Rachel, who was so dazzled by the perfect walk of the aforementioned professional walker with the symmetrical pack (who is a 23 year old Israeli Jew named Jonathan and who has become an acquaintance of ours, who we tease frequently) that when he and his friend passed her she asked, "What have you guys been up to??" 
Our "fancy" dinner out. We were hungry! (L to R: Rachel, Robert, me, Sanne, Marie, Julia, and Mary)
The girls outside our albergue in Burgos.
Rachel and I outside the Cathedral in Burgos.
Inside the Cathedral we ran into our favorite pilgrim, Jose! Again. We ran into him at breakfast this morning too. Each time we see each other we all crack up. Jose is great.
Typical Spanish fare, pilgrim style -- tortilla, bread, ham flavored Ruffles potato chips (???), cafe con leche.
"... we've been walking ..." they answered slowly. Shocking, I know. 

Halfway through the day our landscape abruptly changed from gorgeous rolling hills in the countryside to the industrial sector of the city of Burgos. Where we had been walking through (literally) fields of sunflowers, we were suddenly walking by factories, electrical plants and warehouses, and it smelled like New York. Gross. 

Around this point many pilgrims got on a bus, bypassing the final 10k of walking in the industrial zone.

We waved goodbye, and judged them silently. And then we walked on. 

Finally we arrived into the city center, and just after, into the old center of the city, where we found our Albergue located right next to the enormous Cathedral, and one block away from the city square, which the Cathedral looked out over, and was filled with cafes, bars, restaurants, shops, and more. 

Each time we enter a city, it's as if we go through culture shock. We have to remind ourselves to "behave," and that no longer are yelling, dancing, breaking out into spontaneous song, or any of the other things that happen in the wilderness appropriate. Civilization is daunting after walking two weeks in the middle of nowhere, with only each other for company! 

We headed out in the evening to celebrate -- our first "splurge" since beginning the Camino two weeks ago. We're all on a tight budget, and have mostly been eating from grocery stores and markets, a diet that mostly consists of bread, meat, cheese, fruit and vegetables, and chocolate. And in my case, ice cream bars. This has been supplemented by cafe con leche, tortilla (like a potato quiche), and bocadillos (sandwiches with baguette and some sort of meat, usually chorizo, and cheese). This night we put on the most "real" clothes we could conjure out of our packs and went to a real restaurant!

But first we went to tour the Cathedral. And ran smack into -- you guessed it -- Jose! He's everywhere. Apparently Jose is kind of a legend on the way, and pilgrims before and behind us know and admire him. He is fondly referred to as "the gondolier" because he carries a large wooden walking stick which he seems to use as a paddle while he walks; three paddles per side, and zigzags from side to side of the road. We have yet to see this, because we only run into Jose while we're stationary, but it seems to fit. 

When we first headed out to eat dinner, we were reminded of our location as we realized no restaurant in Spain starts serving dinner before 8 PM. Of course. (It was 5:30.) We came across,though, a beautiful little cafe/bar in the city center with a tree inside it, and lanterns hanging off the branches, and tables and benches all around. It's wonderful how we don't get sick of one another's company, and somehow being together in this setting, relaxed and not on the not road, is so different. We ate dinner late at a cafe with windows for a ceiling and walls, and ordered way too much food. As we were eating it began to pour rain and thunder -- which was extremely cozy, except that we could see another group of pilgrims (who we knew) huddled under an awning on the street, caught in the storm, shivering. Awkward. After a while they saw us and came in for sangria with us, and we honored our three Camino compadres who were reaching the end of their walking time in Burgos: Kevin, from Belgium, who injured his knees over a week ago and hasn't been able to recover; Freida from Sweden, heading back home to her job; and Marie, our beloved Norwegian, who took a bus on to Sarria to continue her walk of the last 100 kilometers, in order to get back in the time she has. 

We decided to rest in Burgos one day -- our first rest day in two weeks, as our precious attempt failed and we walked 13 kilometers on it (far less than a normal day, but far more than resting). At this point we were all feeling physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted, and also had just completed Phase One of the Camino, the Pyranees and the grassy hills, and thought it wise to take a break before heading into the endless, hot, flat prairies of the Maseta. 

Psych. Little did we know ...

On Thursday morning we slept in until 7 (that's an additional 3 hours of sleep!), stored our bags in the municipal albergue that we had stayed in, and went out to run some errands. Sanne and I went on a mission to find a solution for my shoe situation, and were successful (I think). At noon we headed back to get our bags and move to a new albergue -- and it all began. 

It's a common rule on the Camino that pilgrims must move each night, from albergue to albergue, and so we gathered our things and walked to a church albergue far out of the way on the outskirts of the city. The next albergue was quite far, and we wanted to avoid putting stress on exhausted feet, muscles and emotions.

But when we arrived, we were greeted by sad news: no, we were not able to stay because we had stayed in Burgos, the same city, the night before. Because we were only moving within the city and have blisters and sore feet, a couple people had sandals on, and the woman who answered the door immediately began accusing us of "faking" our pilgrim passports and trying to stay as pilgrims while on holiday. Julia, our one Spanish speaker, was slightly taken aback, and explained that no, we had pilgrim passports proving our trek since St. Jean-Pied-de-Port in France 13 days ago, with each day's walk dated and verified, and we simply wanted to stop and rest because all of us were experiencing problems due to muscle exhaustion, blisters, and fatigue. In a moment's notice our host began yelling at us in rapid Spanish (namely, at Julia, as she was the only one who could communicate fully), and calling her lazy. We were all kind of stunned, even though we didn't understand her words, and Robert (whose native language is Portuguese and who understands Spanish but cannot speak it) looked like his eyes were going to pop out of his face. We really weren't expecting this, and instead of a simple "no" we were getting a tirade or insults, and were blocked from the exit by the lady, now swearing at us. 
At some point a priest walked into the room, and we all thought he was going to save us -- but he asked what was going on, and then retreated, looking just as scared as we felt. Julia, unable to handle any more, exhausted as she was and not able to get any help in communicating from any of us, burst into tears. And then the woman pushed us out the doors and shut them firmly behind us. Boom.

We sat on the lawn outside the albergue in the shade for a while, trying to recover and not develop PTSD from this experience, and had just decided to go back into the city center, wait out the afternoon heat, and begin walking in the cool of evening, when the doors to the albergue opened, and the lady came out. We all froze, feeling this was not good. 

It wasn't. She began speaking rapidly to Julia again, this time telling us that we were liars. We aren't sure what she thought we were lying about, but she was very clear about this point. She told us that liars are not welcome, and that she cannot accept us (even though the albergue was empty), even if it's still empty at 8 PM (when albergues start taking non-walking pilgrims); that we needed to have a note from a doctor indicating that we could not physically go on, and that we should know these rules. And also, to go away.

We went. 

We saw Marie, our beloved Norwegian, off at the bus stop -- the end of a wonderful time of walking together, though all of us were so drained by this point that we kind of stood there and mutely waved, unable to process that she was leaving. 

And then we walked out of Burgos. The nearest albergue was 10 kilometers away, and as far as we knew only had 20 beds, so we assumed it would be full, so we went to a market, got groceries for the evening, and headed off to find a place to camp. But there was nowhere. We were either in close proximity to a large prison (didn't seem optimal), near a fountain but in a city park and worried we might get asked to leave (or arrested), or right next to a highway and railroad tracks. 

This was by far the hardest stretch we had done. We'd been expecting to not walk, and by the time we left the city we had been on our feet, with our packs, for five hours, in the hottest part of the day. We we also feeling a little emotionally battered, and exhausted.

Somewhere along this road, our cheeriest com-padre, who is also our live entertainment center, optimist, source of encouragement, and of laughter, who never has a negative thing to say, began crying. Not out of pain, or frustration, or exhaustion, but a combination of all three. This is a moment when the Camino became very real, and the suffering we were experiencing became a close bond.

We pressed on, because we had to, another hour, until we stopped on the side of a road and Robert and I went to investigate a (roofless) abandoned house we saw on the side of the road, which we figured might be our best option. We had just decided to do this when we looked back, and some classic words from the movie, "Young Frankenstein" came to mind:

"Could be worse! Could be raining!" 

A rain storm was very distinctly sweeping our way. With a very cold wind. 

We could vaguely see a town up ahead, but were afraid to push further in that direction if we were only going to be turned away again for lack of room (somehow, psychologically, it seemed far better to "choose" to camp instead of being made to).

At this moment Rachel, our marathon runner, snapped to attention. 

"Give me your shoes!" she told me, referring to the running shoes that Sanne and I had purchased in Burgos (they're the ugliest pair of Reebok's I've ever owned, and we have matching pairs, and they're doing the trick so far!) 

And she put them on, grabbed Julia's cell phone with a European SIM card in it, and ran off to the town. The rest of us moved to a field to eat dinner while we still had light. 

Twenty minutes later the phone rang. "The albergue is full ... I have one more option. Hang on," said Rachel. 
A moment of sheer misery: regrouping on the grass (in despair) after the infamous albergue encounter. I took a picture for posterity.
Rachel, ready to run to find an albergue and save the day, storm approaching.
The Maseta began today -- endless this. Buen Camino!
This morning we missed the Camino sign and were walking the wrong way when an elderly man leapt off a tractor to flag us and tell us we were going the wrong way. Julia said, "Really??" in Spanish, surprised, and he said, "Of course really! Why do you think I jumped off my tractor?!" He totally saved us. What was so hilarious was that when we did find the path (where he pointed), it had this sticker stuck to it: "Listen to Old People.")
Thirty minutes after that the phone rang again and Rachel told us a really long story that we didn't understand except that we had a place, and we had to go NOW before it got taken! 

We booked it faster than our tired feet could carry us, climbed the stairs to a series of hostel apartments above a cafe, and crashed into six twin beds in two of the apartments -- get this -- NO bunk beds! God is good! 

Never have I been so grateful to be warm, dry and in a bed! Never have I been so grateful for friends as well, because pulling through this was made so much better by being in a group of solid, encouraging people. Another group we ran into actually ended up in a similar situation, stress got out of hand, and they all separated.

I looked last night at the smiling faces of my five Camigos (we are six after the departure of Marie), all piled together into one room even after such a day, laughing and talking. What a blessing. 

Today we woke up at, yup, 4 AM to beat the heat as we headed off into our first day of the Maseta - the hot, dry, Spanish plains, flat as far as the eye can see, devoid of shade and water, and lasting one week for us walkers. We arrived at a small town where a man handed us ice cold lemonade, a flyer advertising the Feast of St. Bridget of Sweden and a festival here today celebrating her, in which there is a Mass for the town outside tonight, followed by a celebration where pilgrims eat free. Our albergue room has six beds -- meaning only our group is in it -- and we have our own bathroom. It's cool, and there are no flies. There is a cafe, bar, restaurant, and small store all attached. We are so grateful!! 

We were super confused (yet ready to accept anything) about this excitement over St. Bridget (last time we checked we weren't near Sweden), until I connected my phone to the Internet and read my daily encouraging text from Fr. John, who also apparently has telepathy, informing me that today is the feast day of St. Bridget, who walked the Camino with her husband in the 1300's, and had a life-changing experience. He's so helpful! Thank you, Padre!
<![CDATA[Dónde está Jose?]]>Tue, 21 Jul 2015 17:00:25 GMThttp://ollparish.com/katies-camino-de-santiago-pilgrimage/dnde-est-jose
A shout out to the creators of Birkenstock: you are wonderful, and I am eternally grateful. I will buy Birkenstocks forever. I love you.

Today I passed the 100-mile mark of walking in my Birks (thank you, Mom, for convincing me to bring them.) I'm really hoping to not trek my boots, tied to the sides of my pack, all the way to Santiago, but as of yet I have not been able to put them back on. I take that back: I can put them on, but when I attempt to walk in them I look like I'm 80 years old and the native Spanish snails start passing me. In my Birks, on the other hand, I am starting to feel fantastic. The weariness and pain of the first two weeks is wearing off and I can feel myself getting stronger, and my endurance building. I'm sort of like a steam train: it takes me a long time to get up to speed, and when I start the local people sitting nearby start laughing, but after a few minutes I'm off and going. Slowing down and stopping is also difficult, but I think it's safe to say we are all getting addicted to walking, or at least reconciling ourselves to the fact that we are doing this for the next month. 

Today Sanne/Dutchie sighed, looked pensively at us, and very seriously said, "I love everything about the Camino. Except the walking." 

Walking ... it's a killer. 

Yesterday we were walking on a long, dirt road (you become very clear with your definitions of what kind of road/trail/path you are walking on when you do this) when we were passed by two men, walking extremely fast. One of them whizzed past Mary and I -- with absolutely flawless, perfect form. His backpack was completely symmetrical, the straps pulled tight, every pocket perfect filled out. Even his seashell, signifying his participation in the Camino, was hanging directly down the center of his backpack, which was also positioned perfectly on his shoulders. His hat didn't have a single wrinkle in its wide brim; his clothes were wrinkle free; his sunglasses had no smears on them. His feet made a perfect "swoosh, swoosh" sound as they passed in perfect rhythm over the dirt, each step even, arms moving in perfect synchronized order. With his perfect form he whizzed past us, up the hill, where we witnessed his ascent from behind, where we could see him gaining on Rachel and Sanne. Rachel's bright blue pack was gaping, one pocket was open, it was lopsided, something was hanging off of it, and it was covered in dirt. She was limping, and there was dirt all over the backs of her legs. Sanne's walking sticks were shooting out at weird angles, and her pack was also rumply. We may not be professional -- but we're getting there!

After our "rest day," we headed out early (in the dark) the next morning, and had just headed out of town when we saw the sky light up in a large flash followed by a loud boom. Marie/Norway jumped a mile and said in her perfect British English, "This is quite murdery!" Lightning, far away on a far hill -- but still, very not good. Several minutes later two things became apparent: that the storm was heading our way and that the lightning was striking the ground. But right at the moment we were beginning to seriously think, "Oh, no!" we saw just before us a church with a large covered stone awning on exactly the correct side of the building. We ran under and set up camp where we were soon joined by two Polish men, a Chinese woman, and two Spaniards. Now that we were safe, the storm was marvelous -- and actually didn't cross our path, but blew right on by. It was like a firework show from the distance; a 5 AM show of nature's glory. 

For two days we walked 30k days, crossing over as much country as we could in the early mornings, taking our own "siesta" in the hot afternoons, and continuing on when it began to get slightly cooler. The first day we walked for hours through unshaded hay fields until we finally took refuge under a tree in a vineyard. Though many people are walking the Camino, we're more spread out now, and we had seen no one else for hours. Sanne, catching up, came dancing into our oasis, headphones on, singing loudly, "Donde esta Jose?" ("Where is Jose?") This is essentially the only lyric to this catchy Spanish song that she was rocking out to, which has become a favorite of our group. We played it as we sat under this tree, laughing at its sheer ridiculousness, when a pilgrim -- maybe the fourth person we had seen all day -- walked past, 10 meters away on the road. "Buen Camino!" As he walked away, I jokingly yelled, "It's Jose!" 

The man turned, waved, and began walking toward us. We motioned, "No no, Buen Camino! Perdon!" 

"Did you call me?" he asked in Spanish, looking completely confused at each of our faces, trying to figure out which one of us he knew. No one. 

"Je suis Jose!" he said in French, trying another language to our confused situation. 

"YOU'RE JOSE?!" Rachel yelled. 

"I am Jose! You call?"

Indeed, God has a sense of humor, because we found Jose. Jose is Portuguese living in France, speaks no English, is a deeply spiritual Catholic walking on to Fatima after Santiago and has a marvelous sense of humor. He laughed hysterically when we played him his song. He had become our new favorite pilgrim, and our mascot of hope.

We later took a siesta in a quaint little town also having a fiesta -- our second festival in two days. We napped in a park until we reached a consensus to continue on one more town --- our first time that we have walked in the evening. 

Before we left, we played our new pump up song: "Donde Esta Jose?" No sooner had we hit play, but Jose popped out from behind a festival tent, walking toward us. 

"Jose!!!!" we yelled. 

"Filles!" ("girls") Jose yelled in French. 

We have a beautiful friendship. 

We finally arrived to the top of a very large hill, not to another historic Camino town like we are accustomed to, but to a modern town that came straight out of a M. Night Shyamalan movie. Empty modern buildings stood everywhere with "For Sale" signs in every window. Playgrounds stood empty. Locals went in and out of a local golf club and gathered at the pool, but the town was otherwise eerily quiet, empty and untouched. We walked through this until we came to an Albergue, where our host laughed when we asked him where the market was. No market. No dinner. But there were beds, which we fell into, slept immediately, and rose again at 4 to begin again. 

And again, we walked and walked. Up and down, through fields, across fields, past fields, above fields, and around fields. We pushed ourselves, encouraged one another, and drank copious amounts of water in the hot sun. We laughed, sang every Disney song we could think of at the top of our lungs, sang "Row Row Row Your Boat" in rounds in three different languages, intermixed with spreading out and spending time walking by ourselves. 

Rachel and I ran into churches, as we could, for moments of quiet prayer. We offered up our blisters and prayed for those who asked our prayers. 

On several occasions we ate ice cream bars before 7:30 AM. 

At the end of this road we pushed through to one final town, largely because it awarded us today a late-morning hill climb (that we would have hit either at 5 AM, in the dark, or 3 PM, in the heat). More sweaty than I have possibly ever been in my life, we climbed a small hill to the first albergue, and were rewarded at the top by running nearly smack into Julia/Germany, our long lost friend! Robert sat nearby, impressing some pilgrims with his yoga skills. 

Reunited, and it feels so good!

Rachel and I headed to Mass after showering, where we got a half an hour of quiet prayer time before. But about ten minutes after we sat down, my feet began roaring. There is no other way to describe this feeling. They were ON FIRE. All through Mass I couldn't hold still (or concentrate) because of this burning pain! Rachel was experiencing the same problem -- often it is worse right when you stop, and this was no exception. Each time we stood up, it burned; sitting hurt; kneeling was okay, but very brief. The priest gave us a blessing afterward and laughed when we walked up -- and imitated what we looked like. A man from the church said, "Bailar!" and imitated the dance it looked like we were doing during Mass. Lo siento!

So this morning we began again -- 4 AM wake up call; dysfunctional packing process; slightly delayed communal departure; group of 7. We climbed today, starting with a glorious sunrise, passing through a quiet and beautiful herd of milk cows, through a magical forest that reminded me greatly of the Pacific Northwest. Today felt short comparatively, and we arrived in our new town in early afternoon, where we gathered in the courtyard outside our albergue and ate enormous salad, aimed squirt guns at each other, and talked about our feet. 

Tomorrow we end the beginning of the mountain and hill stage as we walk into Burgos -- the last day before we begin the Maseta, the high, flat Spanish plateau, with no shade and the same scenery for days. This, in the words of Marie, is "where most people see Jesus -- maybe because they're hallucinating, but either way, it's intense." 
The sight of red plastic chairs from a distance makes hearts rejoice!
The rolling hills beside our path.
Naptime above the view.
A pilgrims prayer poem, graffitied into a wall along the way.
We stayed in the lobby of this grocery store for a ridiculously long time. It was air conditioned. I think the workers thought we were moving in.
Storm clouds above the fields.
Our friend Jose!
Typical way markers.
Sunday Mass (once again I don't remember the name of the town.) (Iglesia de Santa María in Belorado, Spain)
Amazing sunrise!
Our forest path today.
Julia and I in front of stones that spell out Buen Camino!
My socks are looking really good these days.
<![CDATA[Camino Amigos - "Camigos"]]>Fri, 17 Jul 2015 20:13:03 GMThttp://ollparish.com/katies-camino-de-santiago-pilgrimage/camino-amigos-camigos
Today our fellowship of "Camigos" suffered a sad parting as Julia and Robert pushed on ahead and Rachel, Mary, Sanne, Marie (resurrected from her blister issue) and I stopped for a rest day. It's funny to say that we're so sad, because in the scheme of things we only knew each other five days -- but the Camino is funny that way. After walking so far (over 150 miles now), suffering, pushing ourselves, encouraging one another, laughing, and facing so many challenges together, it feels devastating to separate from friends. We may, of course, run into one or both of them again and we hope to. We had begun to feel like a little family of pilgrims; there were a lot of hugs and tears involved in this parting. After we got past the initial goodbyes, we had to stop in the park later to cry and let it go. So there we were, five of us on a park bench, crying about this parting, and bicycle pilgrims were zooming by calling, "Buen Camino!" and probably thinking how lucky they were to not be walking, as we were clearly mourning our lot in life. 

After a couple more days of 4 AM wake up calls and 12-hour walking days in 100(ish) degree heat, we're pretty tired -- physically, mentally, and emotionally. The Camino demands a lot; in a sense, it demands the entirety of your will. It breaks us down, bonds us, and forms us. Physically, we are all worn down and have a variety of strange injuries including bug bites, scrapes, blisters, heat rash, mysterious peeling lizard skin, and sore muscles. The middle finger on my right hand has gotten stung by two different poisonous plants in two different occasions, and for some reason the muscles in my ankle/Achilles heel will no longer permit me to wear my boots, so I have been, and still am, walking the Camino in my Birkenstock sandals with my boots tied to the sides of my pack. With socks on. I look really cool. I do know, though, that an American group of Franciscan Friars hiked this in Chaco sandals, so they pass before me as inspiration! It's actually been quite comfortable so far. 

When you walk for hours upon hours every single day, one unavoidable thing that happens is that you get a little delirious. We are no exception to this, and (at least in our non-separated group) we were/are also pretty loud. Each day we laugh to the point of crying about things that would make little to no sense if I repeated them. We have laughed uproariously at Sanne rocking out on the trail ahead of us, headphones in, using her walking poles as an air guitar (earlier today she actually smacked into Marie, and as explanation said, "Oh no! So sorry! That was the bass."). Two days ago while we were sprawled in the dirt, oppressed by the heat and hours from any town, miserable and taking a group nap, I woke up to see a shiny white sports car making its way toward us on the Camino. I started laughing because here it was, brand new, surely air conditioned and I imagine filled with people listening to music and drinking cool, fresh drinks, passing us, sweaty, feet aching, bandaged, dirty and exhausted, looking like we just collapsed and died next to a swampy stream. "Buen Camino, car people!" Last night someone who was walking with a donkey stabled it in the courtyard outside our room, and at random intervals it began making very loud donkey noises (which sound kind of like someone blowing a trumpet really, really badly). Julia was sleeping with the fan on her feet and when I woke her up her first words were, "Is there a wind storm?!" 

These moments, silly as they are, are hysterical to us because they are what creates the fellowship and support that keeps us going. It's impossible to walk this route without a sense of humor, I think, because the whole darn thing is so completely inconvenient! EVERYTHING GOES WRONG, ALL THE TIME. But by "wrong," I mean that your shower goes ice cold right after you get shampoo in your hair, and then heats up again right when you rinse it out in temperatures resembling the North Pole; donkeys hee-haw outside your window at random intervals and scare the day lights out of you; you limp in the most creative ways you could ever imagine, and every time you need to get something you have to dig it out of the giant abyss called "backpack." Sanne's smells like cheese and mine has breadcrumbs all through it. Also, there is a very inconvenient thing called siesta, which doesn't exist when you're walking, and inadvertently happens nearly always right when you get into a town and want food NOW. 

One other type of suffering that deserves its own paragraph: upper bunks. The word makes us shudder, much like the word "downhill." This is an unavoidable fate that hits at least one or two people every night. Let me tell you, because I assume that most of us have not slept in a bunk bed since we were 7: upper bunks are much harder to get into after the age of 10. They are also neither fun, nor cool. Also, the upper bunk you had at the age of 7 probably neither rocked, squeaked, swayed, leaned, and was not directly above a bed populated by a 50 year old snoring man. And it probably has a ladder, foothold, or some general way of helping you get into it. And you were not so sore that you walked like Quasimodo, constantly. 

Buen Camino. 

But these things ARE Camino in a very real sense -- and the most extraordinary and beautiful thing is that, though we acknowledge these challenges, we laugh about them, thank God for them, and no one complains. Even two days ago when we were so hungry we felt comatose and the one grocer in town never came back to reopen his store after siesta, and we waited for hours ... not one word of complaint. Instead, everyone reached into the depths of their bags, pooled what food we had together, and we blessed our meal and ate with joy in one another's company. This is an amazing thing to be a part of. 

We arrived in the city of Lorogne yesterday and got to stay at a Catholic Church with an adjacent albergue -- for free (we left a donation). This building was wonderful -- we had our own "secret passage" into the enormous church, which we all went through (Catholics, Christians, atheists, agnostics, and everything in between) to say night prayers with the Spanish priest who led us over. This was completely optional, but most people went -- including most of our friends. Religious or not, it was moving -- because essentially, in this walk, we are living prayer (even when some of us are rocking out to headphones and singing in Dutch). 

Lorogne is the first city we've seen since Pamplona, but an entirely different experience as this one was not brimming with a festival. After we power-napped, we all headed into the city, where we nearly raced into the first frozen yogurt shop we saw. We ate our treat with our feet in a large fountain, which is probably illegal, and we apologize. The following episode is also probably illegal.

As I was sitting on the rim with my back to the fountain, Julia came up behind me and put her hands on my shoulders. "Do you have any electronics?" she asked. "YES!!" I yelled, knowing she wouldn't pull me in with my cell phone. But then, oh so quickly, Robert grabbed my feet, Julia removed my purse strap from my shoulder (that's when I knew this was getting real) and grabbed my arms, and I was suspended above the fountain. Until Robert accidentally slipped on the wet marble and dropped my feet, and I got a Spanish fountain baptism. Thanks, guys. They are some great amigos, looking after my electronics and passport that way. 

As we walked yesterday, five of us decided to take a rest day today, which is why we separated, as the other two didn't want to quite yet. This originated with the idea that we would stay in Lorogne another night, only switching hostels (only one night is allowed per pilgrim hostel). Then we decided that we would sleep in, and just walk to the next town, and then stop. It turned out that town was 13 kilometers (about 8 miles) away. And then we woke up at 6, because people were moving, donkeys were braying, and there was chaos. We also got a little stressed about the 30 kilometers tomorrow holds, and wanted to cut some time off of it. This was perhaps a bad idea, because once you start walking, it's hard to stop, now that we're used to it. 8 miles now seems like a stroll -- and we realized we were crossing into danger zone when we started talking about "just going the remaining 15, and meeting the others there." No. 

We forced ourselves to stop -- and wonderfully, there is a street festival (much smaller) in the town we stopped in. This means, in other words, cheap food, beautiful art and culture, and music to listen to through the albergue window as I lay on my (upper bunk, you guessed it) bed with ice on my ankles. 

Our feet are kind of a theme. We took this picture because of the abundance of bandages.
Julia and Robert throwing me into the fountain.
Rachel, Mary/Canada and I, being way too entertained by our shadows while walking one very long morning.
Even the graffiti is affirming of the Camino!
This is my favorite one so far ...
Rachel, Mary and I meeting a local Spaniard on the Camino, who walked about a mile up the road from Lorogne to stand on the street in one of the hottest places offering pilgrims free refreshments of homemade Spanish tortilla (it's kind of like a quiche with potato out here) and wine!
Coming upon our faster friends, who waited a long time for us in the park so we could stay at the same albergue (Sanne/Dutchie, Julia/Germany and Robert/Brazil).
Rachel (who is massively ticklish) getting her feet cared for by Mary/Canada, while flailing out of her albergue bed.
Sometimes sleeping in albergues is really awkward -- our Belgian friend Kevin woke up from a nap with Robert/Brazil's hand literally in his face like this. He jumped a mile.
Lorogne is a beautiful city!
The church we had the secret passage to!
What happened when Robert slipped and let go.