Hi there! This is a special edition, one that I started over a month ago and thought I had lost via a bad wifi connection one day at the San Bruno hostel, a lovely Italian run place where I had a great night with many lovely Italians, a few Americans, two Brazilians, and one French woman. Can’t think of the town we were but it is one of the many stops after Carrion des Condes (sp?). As it illustrates more of the magic of the Camino Frances which I now more than ever believe in since running into Danish Andy a few days back in Santiago. Andy has been on a mission to walk all the Caminos and has been at it for the last 18 months. Andy confirmed that the magic seems to be focused on the Frances which cements my theory (in my mind at least) about the pull of the Milky Way above and the supposed magnetic energy field below that follows along that particular route to the Atlantic Ocean. Two must-see “sacred-site” destinations include the seaside towns of Muxia and Fisterra (and possibly a third sacred site in Naoi – tho I didn’t get a chance to visit that one). This “magic” may be why many have walked this path even before historic records were kept – but for more info on this, see my earlier piece entitled “So what about the Pagans? https://mycaminojones.com/2018/05/20/so-what-about-the-pagans-1-day-to-takeoff/ . But the following is my true story that I was able to attach a fitting ending to in the last few days. Enjoy!
….The magic continues. As I had been feeling so grateful for the poles and the sandwich ( see https://mycaminojones.com/2018/05/31/magic-of-the-camino-part-one/ and https://mycaminojones.com/2018/06/02/magic-of-the-camino-part-2/ ), I made it my mission to try and return the favor, keeping an eye out for lost items along “The Way” and trying to find their owner. Also, I have been thinking about the things I would like to manifest just to see if they would show up too (like the razor I lost in Pamplona).
In Logrono, I bunked next to a man named Len who turned out to live five minutes from me in Fort Collins. The next day I decided to walk with him to the next town as he seemed to be pretty lonely, having started a longer version of the walk in France 23 days before me, a stint that hadn’t included any “English speaking pilgrims”.
On our way, Len I were split up when I ran into Terry and Jeff from Virginia. I slowed down to talk to Terry as we had run into each other a few days earlier when I was walking with the Californian Shira sisters, Patti and Janet and their English buddy Clare, a nurse with a deadline to finish the Camino in time to return home for an Eminem concert (talk about balance…I like her style!).
The Shira sisters and I had all been at Orisson the first night of our trip. We didn’t get to talk that night but I remembered them sharing their story at dinner, as is the custom at Refuge Orisson https://maps.apple.com/place?address=D428%2C%2064220%20Saint-Michel%2C%20France&auid=3263663677069212223&ll=43.108741630296066%2C-1.2392234802246094&q=Refuge%20Orisson.
Australian Mary, who had also been at Orisson that first night (you can read more about her in Camino Magic 1&2), and I had bumped into each other again for the like 5th time just outside of Pamplona and decided to grab a coffee to catch up on the last few days of our journeys. We were just finishing up when the Shira sisters walk into the cafe with Clare. We chat for a bit and they give Mary and I each a little angel they had made to give to people they met along the Camino. I tell them that this reminds me of the gifts people make and give out at Burning Man and it turns out that Patti (Shira 1) had gone to Burning Man too.
Mary, headed out to catch a bus to Estella as she had a bum knee she needed to rest for a few days (and that would be the last time I would see her). I was going to leave too but something was holding me there and the Shira sisters invited me to join their table. Patti and I start talking “Burning Man” and I tell her about the last time I went, taking my Dad’s ashes and how I almost didn’t get into the event at all. I’ve told this story so many times by then, so I was really surprised that telling these ladies brought me to tears (the second time I’ve cried on this trip). We all end up sticking together for the rest of the walk that day and that’s when I meet Terry and Jeff for the first time at a break at the top of the first hill out of town.
Fast-forwarding to the second time I meet Terry and Jeff (with Len): Len, being a fast walker moves ahead (“my pace is my pace”) and Terry and I chat for a bit. She becomes my new inspiration to stay positive about the physical discomfort of the trip as she suffers from the side affects of Lime Disease and has severe pain in her feet so has to take it really slow. She explains how important this trip is to her even though the disease has left her in a constant battle with her body.
We catch up with her husband Jeff who had been chatting with another pilgrim up ahead. I move-on ahead of the couple to and stop at a cafe for a quick coffee and an apple. Twenty minutes later I walk up the street towards the town square of Navarette and run back into Len who had stopped for a lunch break. I sit with him in the square and he, being a generous guy, offers to share his Serrano ham and cheese with me.
While we sit, chat, and snack, a German man comes out of the Church and walks up to us with a credential (the document that each pilgrim carries to prove he/she/they/ have been traveling the camino by foot/bike/or horse by receiving stamps from places along the way – a real-life scavenger hunt, I suppose). The German man doesn’t speak English but he can tell we do and points to the name and address on the credential as a Nichi from Victoria, Texas. Len remembers that it’s the woman he had met a couple days before as, while he didn’t remember her name, he did remember her being from Victoria (and in fact we had just seen her ahead of us ten minutes before running into Jeff and Terry). I had even got a flash of her face as she walked on ahead of us though I wouldn’t exactly been able to pick her out of a line up.I take the credential from the German man and figure with Len’s help, we would run into her eventually, as that’s how the Camino works.
Len and I carry on and I learn that he was a fire fighter for 30 years in Philadelphia where he was “born and raised”. I learn that he was burned in a fire and that because of the cut backs in staffing, he hadn’t been found right away. I guess there had once been a system in place that each firefighter had a buddy that was responsible for making sure they would each make it out of a building (as he had been a part of search and rescue). I guess Len was burned in more ways than one as the incident left him a little disenchanted about his chosen profession. Its no surprise to me that he was having similar feelings with the Camino Frances, feeling like it was very “commercial” and, in his opinion, all any of the locals were concerned with was making money off the pilgrims.
While I understood where Len was coming from, I didn’t see it this way. I felt the Camino Frances was the perfect example of the give and take systems that represents just another aspect of life. Sure, there were people and businesses trying to sell you things along the way but I was sure appreciative that they were there! Where else can you hike for over a month and not have to carry excess food and water!?! Yes, they made money off of us but it sure was nice when I turned a corner after a long, lonely stretch of hiking and there was a cafe/bar with cafe con leche or a cerveza with my name on it!
Len and I have a great night in Najera with the youngest traveller I had met up until this point, Juli from the Netherlands, who joins us for the last 7k into Najera. At 18, Juli had come on the Camino alone to avoid biting her nails waiting on her test results from her final test that would let her know if she had graduated from high school. By dinner, she found it funny that Len and I had been behaving like an “old married couple,” bickering about when to stop, how far to the next village, and where we should stay. It was that night amongst the three of us over a bottle (or two ) of wine that I really get the full story from Len and why is heart seemed so closed off from the Camino “experience,” as the old adage of having “been burned before” never seemed so fitting.
The following morning Len and I set off to Santo Domingo and sure enough, after I insist we stop for a beer at a nice place between the two main albergues in the heart of the city, we run into Nichi from Victoria, Texas who, if it weren’t for Len, would have walked right passed us. All the while I had her credential in my pocket just in case, but I would never had recognized her without Len’s help. She’s ecstatic, especially after she asks me my name and I tell her that its Kim and she responds, “No way, that’s my sister’s name!,” claiming that “stuff like this has happened to me the entire way,” and I immediately understand that she feels the magic that I do although it still seems to allude Len.
I do manage to loosen Len up a bit later when I sneak two beers for us into the bell tower in Santo Domingo so we can listen to the chimes go off at the top. He couldn’t help but laugh when, knowing we only had ten minutes that I run all the way down the stairs, back to the hostel, up two flights to the snack machine (I love Spain), bought to cans of beer, and ran all the way back with two minutes to spare. “I didn’t think you were really going to come back,” he says.
The chimes were a little underwhelming as they did not swing at all, having been modernized (without our realizing) and simply chimed via loud speaker… I guess that rope hanging all the way to bottom of the tower was just for show (who would have thought). But this only adds to the hilarity of it all and we hang out for a bit and end up having a nice chat with an Irishman and his 16 year old son who join us at the top and I imagine how great it would be to walk the Camino some day with my son.
That night Len cooks us dinner and we join a Norwegian couple who I had a communal dinner in Logronos . The night is typical “Camino” filled with laughter and good banter. The joke is we all know sleep will be fast and fleeting as the albergue and and the town of Santo Domingo is famous for their “chicken story” which tells of a young woman from the town who falls for a young German pilgrim traveling with his parents. The pilgrim doesn’t return the girl’s love and so to get back at him, she plants one of her valuables amongst his possessions and claims he has stolen it from her. Stealing, being punishable by death at the time, the pilgrim is hung in the square and his body is left hanging there as an example to others. The parents of the pilgrim leave to continue their pilgrimage to Santiago. As it was the custom to return to your home by foot, when the parents return to the town of Santo Domingo they visit their son’s body that is still hanging in the town square.
The pilgrims are quite surprised when the body of their son comes to life on the rope. The Son tells his parents that he is indeed alive and that need to go tell the mayor to cut him down. The parents visit the mayor during his dinner and relay the tale. The mayor responds that their son is as likely alive as the chicken he’s about to eat. Sure enough, the chicken comes back to life and the mayor, now a true believer, has the son cut down and given a full pardon regarding the theft. The moral of the story being that every pilgrim is granted a wish by walking the Camino and the parents had asked St. James for the return of their son who they knew to be innocent of the crime.
Anyway, long story short, our albergue, along with the Cathedral (which has two roaming amongst the pews), keeps chickens as a reminder of the miracles of faith and the magic of the Camino (maybe they don’t use the word magic but this is my blog). Sure enough, the chickens start crowing at 4am but Len and I still manage to be the last stragglers out of the albergue which kicks you out promptly at 7:30a.m. (Now I really know why they keep those chickens). A great place though, especially considering the price of 7 euros. Full, kitchen, nice couches and a huge dining area where you can mingle with other pilgrims (like we did with the Norwegians).
On my final full day of walking with Len on our way to Belorada, I find a black scarf and again, just in case, I tuck it away in hopes to find the owner. However, my pack and my mood begins to get weighed down with other people’s baggage as no matter what I did or say (tho there were a few laughs shared between us that’s for sure) I could no longer bear Len’s attitude regarding the Camino and the persnickety comments he had in regard to almost everything including the chickens! I begin to feel rushed going at Len’s pace, skipping photo ops, cute cafes I normally would stop at, and he seems to offend/scare off other pilgrims that I would have like to have gotten to know with his loud/abrasive humor.
That night, I turn down his offer to join him in town and I had a lovely chat with a Canadian couple from Vancouver who have also had their run-ins with Len and they compliment me on my patience. I end up having a nice dinner with Swedish Maria and get to listen to her fascinating life as a nurse that included a tour of duty attached to the Swedish army looking for land mines an weapon caches in Kosovo. We exchanged emails and I now have a friend to visit in Sweden when I’m ready. And later back in our room, I meet Spanish Clara from Bilbao (I want to go!) who lives in London as a nurse – (she and I will end up running into each other again after Astorga.
And that’s when I realized that trying to “take care of Len” and his down and out mood was not serving me, especially since listening to Maria’s story and how she had to lay down the law with “her men” about working too hard in the crazy Kosovo heat, about how she told them she would not come out and save them if they insisted on working throught their rest breaks, risking blowing themselves up in the midst of it all. The keyword here is boundaries and the lesson for me was “make some!”
So, that next morning Len and I head back out on the trail again but this time I’m feeling the weight of his mood with every step and for the first and only time during the entirety of the Camino I’m feeling the pangs of my old “depression”. We stop at the next cafe and I happen to run into the nice group of Italian women who I think might have dropped the scarf the day before – sure enough it does belong to one of the ladies who is super grateful. But instead of feeling the love of helping, I feel the lesson of giving back people their “shit” to carry themselves and I promptly decide it is time to “break up” with Len, telling him I need some time to myself, and walk on immediately feeling a sense of lightness for letting go of everyone’s baggage.
I realize that I am not the one in charge here, that I am, like all the other pilgrims walking the Camino Frances, simply a vehicle for “something bigger” when it decides that I’m in the right place at the right time but that it is not something I can control. So, sure enough, when I tried to have my way with the “magic of the Camino,” thinking I could be some sort of savior to the travelers around me, the Camino found another way to teach me a valuable lesson.
I know this was a long, drawn out way to get to the point of all this but it does illustrate one of the many ways the Camino works, pushing and pulling you along, making sure you run into the people you need to learn from, and inevitably figuring out why everything had to happen the way it did! I suppose I have to give myself credit for taking action with Len, as I was also told by one of my many mentors before the trip that lessons without follow-through are just nice sounding words.
And while I still feel for Len and hope to catch up with him in Fort Collins some day as he is super intelligent, funny, with a big (yet broken) heart, I had to come to understand that the relationship at that point wasn’t serving me and that it wasn’t my job to “save” him. One thing that seems so “Camino” to me now, is learning how to break old patterns. And though I still have a few more to break and a lot more growing to do, as it takes a lifetime, “I did all I could with the information I had at the time,” (more wise words from a new dear Camino friend).
Okay, that’s it for now! Thanks for reading!
While in Porto, Portugal, enjoying some rest and relaxation, I managed to make it to the Frida Kahlo photography exhibit – a truly amazing woman who epitomized the idea of rising above the challenges life hands you!