Well, Bill, you have completed most of your pilgrimage. How do you feel?
I feel good. Of course, there have been some aches and pains, but overall I am surprised how good I feel. As I mentioned in a recent blog post, my knees have had a difficult time with the steep down hills, but that is more a matter of balance than any real pain. Once I get back on relatively level ground I am just fine.
One of the reasons my legs (and my lower back) are doing so well are my trekking poles. I have learned how to walk almost as fast on level ground with them as without them. I have also learned how to use them to relieve stress on my legs and lower back. And, of course, going down steep hills, particularly ones with rocky or other forms of uneven surfaces, would be impossible without the poles. They have been a real blessing. Thanks to Chris Canfield for suggesting them.
Anything on the trip getting you down?
When I was doing my training in New Hampshire, there were days I just didn’t feel like walking. It would take a real effort to get started. So far that has not occurred on the Camino. Every day brings a sense of, “What will we see today? Who might we meet?” And I feel a great deal of gratitude just being able to do this. As I walk along, I have often experienced the following sensation, “I’m in northern Spain, doing what countless other pilgrims have done. I am literally living a dream. If this is a dream, I hope I don’t wake up until I get to Santiago.” It’s a wonderful feeling, particularly with the natural beauty of most rural environments we walk through.
Let me see, is there anything that has gotten me down? When we first started, I did find it hard to get everything done at the end of each day. It took a while to develop a routine for the evening and first thing in the morning. But I wouldn’t say I was down. Frustrated is probably a better word.
The closest thing to anything getting us down has been the rain. We were so lucky for so long that when we hit these wet few days it was hard getting used to. Gray days tends to make everything gray, and everything is wet by the end of the day and close to impossible to dry. But it is suppose to clear soon. My only hope is it is sunny the day we get to Santiago.
What have you enjoyed the most so far?
Gosh, there are so many things.
First, John had been a tremendous asset. He is always looking out for me, goes out of his way to make sure my needs are being met, and has a great sense of humor at just the right times. I can’t imagine this trip being the same without him. What’s amazing is how well we have gotten along.
You mean you have had no disagreements?
Let me ask you a question in return. Imagine living with anyone you know in extremely close quarters (the twin beds are right next to each other) for five weeks, dealing with the inevitable ups and downs of any trip, each of you with your own unique quirks, having to make countless small decisions each day. Would you be able to do so without any friction or disagreements?
The answer to your question is John and I have had a couple of small squabbles over little things but I think overall it is amazing how well we have gotten along. Having John with me has added immeasurably to my pilgrimage.
The people we have met and spent time with had also been a source of great joy. Let me give you an example. The other day, as we were trying to negotiable a particularly difficult downhill section of the Camino in gusty winds and driving rain, a couple passed me (not unusual at all). The man was about 20 yards in front of his wife. As she passed me, she looked and exclaimed, “Rene, it is Bill.” The husband stopped, turned around, and RAN back up the hill to give me a big hug. It turns out it was the Rene and Silvia from Quebec City we had not seen for two days and had just assumed they had passed from our lives. All three of us experienced such joy seeing other, gushing about small details of our lives. We proceeded down another 50 yards to where John was, had another brief reunion and agreed to stop at the next bar, wherever it was, to have a good visit.
Before we could get started, we heard another female exclaim, “Bill and John, it’s you!” It was one of the two gals who had served us fresh peaches and chocolate under a shade tree a week or so before (sorry, can’t remember their names…they were from Australia and South Africa). Anyways, she was so excited she gave us all hugs, including Rene and Silvia, whom she had not even met!
Imagine going through life and having friends who periodically burst in on your day to give you a big hug and shout with obvious glee something like, “It is so good to see you again!” I have a hard time putting into words how touched we have been by all the friends we have made on our pilgrimage. May I never forget their obvious affection and concern for our well being.
Another reason for enjoyment has been the growing spiritual aspect of this pilgrimage. When you spend most of each day walking by yourself, often in beautiful country, thinking of little other than the prayer you keep repeating, amazing things are bound to happen. Let me give you two examples.
More often than I can count, I have experienced a rush of pervasive gratitude. So much so that whatever prayer I have been saying is, without conscious thought, replaced by a simple, “Thank you, Jesus.”
And then there is another experience. It has not happened as often but has had a deeply powerful effect on me. It comes without warning and it is an overpowering experience of being loved without condition or reservation. The first time it happened, I just stopped for a moment and thought, “How many times have I told others (or myself) God loves without condition, and yet this is the first time I have experienced this love in a radical and deeply personal way.” Right now, I wish I had a better way to describe the experience but words fail me.
The second time I experienced this love, the following thought went through my mind, “How else could a 76 year old, with two bad feet, two aging knees, a bad back, two arthritic hands, and who doesn’t even particularly like to take walks…be walking 500 miles in northern Spain essentially pain free?” Answer: I am being carried. How can this be true? How can God, the totally other and almighty, bother with me?” And yet he does!
I could go on about sources of enjoyment, but I think you get the idea.
Bill, how do you like Spain?
I have already commented on the country we are walking through so I will say no more about it. Besides, I think the pictures give you a pretty good idea of what we are seeing.
From my perspective, the ordinary Spaniards we have met and interacted with are what has impressed me the most about Spain. Almost without exception, they are courteous, helpful, pleasant and quick to find humor in almost any situation. I think we Americans could learn much from these wonderful people.
Let me give you one example. When we arrived at our destination the other day, we were met by Josefa (she had such a beautiful smile I took her picture). Anyway, she welcomed us with that big smile and, with sign language and some Spanish, made sure we were all right (it was rainy and cold). Once she knew we were, she announced there was only one room left and it had only ONE bed. Imagine our consternation! Then the big smile spread across her face and it became obvious she was just having some fun with us. When we asked whether my backpack had arrived she looked surprised and, with a dead pan expression, told us that Jacotrans (the backpack service) had already been by and there was no backpack. This, of course, turned out to be another joke, as she then showed us to our room, with my backpack already on my bed (John’s bed was also there). After making sure we had everything we needed, she quietly disappeared, and we never saw her again.
I can’t really say much about Spanish food. Most of our breakfasts are toast, juice and coffee. Most of our lunches are some form of sandwich or tortilla (a pie like dish in Spain) and most of our dinners are from what is called a “Pilgrim’s Menu.” This is a fixed price (usually $12 – $14) three course meal, that is nutritious and filling but often a little short on exciting tastes. A typical dinner starts with soup, salad or pasta, followed by a choice of meat, fish or egg main dish, followed by a choice of desserts. I think French fries are part of every first and second course of every dinner we have had. John, God bless him, almost always finds something good in every meal. I am not so sure I am a fan of Spanish food.
Finally, at least for the pilgrim, it costs less to live here than I had thought it would. While we have had several $30 (each) dinners, the usual price is the $12 – $14 I mentioned before. Our hotel rooms cost about $50 – $70 a night (compare that to Hampton Inns!).
Overall, I have throughly enjoyed the Spaniards we have met and the country we have walked through, and don’t think I am a particular fan of the food (I would kill for a bag of pretzels!).
One last question. Have you had any fears?
I guess I was fearful my backpack wouldn’t be delivered to the next hotel for the first couple of days, but soon grew comfortable as the system for transporting bags works.
I have had one real fear from the very first day. I have planned to make this pilgrimage for so long that every day I have been fearful something would happen that would prevent me from completing the 500 mile walk. As a result I have been very careful as I walk (a sprained ankle or something like John’s problem could happen at any time). And when people pass me as I plod along, I just smile and go back to focusing on the next five steps in front of me. And guess what? So far, through the grace of God I am convinced, I am still in one piece. And now I pray, ” Thank you, Jesus; please continue to guide and carry me for these last five days.”
And then, I have no fears.