El Camino: A Typical Day

The day begins with breakfast which is included as part of our package. Breakfasts vary from toast (no butter, though it’s sometimes on the table) with jam and often, sliced ham, cheese and pepperoni or other sausage. Yogurt and fruit is often available, as is orange juice – which is sometimes fresh squeezed. Of course there’s tea for those who don’t ‘do’ coffee con leche (coffee w/hot milk). At some of the nicer establishments there’s tons of food that might include scrambled eggs and bacon, though these are often a luxury, as is the coveted capuccino or espresso.

After breakfast, we pack the bags and drop them off when we check out as we’ve paid a service to transport them from locale to locale. Otherwise, it would have been impossible to plan for the Camino in addition to the other countries we’ve visited. We do have some small day packs, two with water pouches which are truly amazing.

Carmel is the first to hit the road, followed by the rest of us about an hour later. We walk and talk and stop to rest on occasion, reminding ourselves often to look around at the beautiful scenery. At times we’re reminded of the farmland of the Midwest, both visually and with our olfactories. If the sun is out, we’re likely to stop for short breaks more frequently due to the heat. We’ll sip water while walking, but have discovered a Coke product that mimics Gatorade called Aquarius, the lemon flavor preferred by most over the orange.

Depending on time and whether / not we pass a viable establishment for lunch, we may eat anywhere between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. The lunch menu can be a full 3-course salad / soup, main plate of fish / meat / chicken / pork followed by a postre of Santiago cake / ice cream / flan / cheese’n jelly. An alternative to this heavier meal is a sandwich that resembles a submarine sandwich of any type of meat or egg combination. Did I mentione a sizeable portion of fresh bread? On everybody’s menu for lunch or dinner is a healthy portion of french fries, the staple on the Camino from east to west. I’ve never seen so many servings of french fries on a regular basis.

Dinner is usually the biggest meal of the day. It’s common to have a Peregrino’s (Pilgrim’s) Dinner which parallels the larger lunch menu of:  Appetizer (pasta, potato salad, lettuce salad, soup, etc), entree of fish, veal, pork, chicken w/french fries and a postre (see above for lunch). Wine and/or water is included…all for a set price between 10-15 euros depending on the estabishment. Typically there’s a healthy quantity of food as walking pilgrims tend to burn a lot of calories. As for quality, that mostly reflects the abilities and interests of the host. We’ve sensed that some hosts have taken on a sort of ministry in their reception of pilgrims, taking pride in their service and making their guests feel special. In contrast to this, the path is filled with those seeking to eek out a living by providing the basics to the masses of people who pour through their towns and cities by the tens of thousands during the summer months. (I’m told in the neighborhood of 260,000 pilgrims per year.)

As far as things to do or see in the evening, well, that depends on the degree of sleepiness felt following a hefty walk and full meal (and possibly one’s consumption of wine). Knowing what to do from town to town also entails a dedicated amount of time to research each village and area to plan further, something we did not allow ourselves the luxury of doing. But frankly, I sense the majority of pilgrims are in the same boat as us, walking day after day and resting in the evening in order to get an early start the next morning.

Highlights from day to day tend to be conversations with fellow travelers randomly met along the way, or perhaps re-meeting familiar folks at one rest stop or another. Not everyone is open to talking as some ears are filled with earbuds; others are focused or too shy, I suppose. I’ve yet to meet a male pilgrim interested in sharing much of life while I’ve engaged various female sojourners in lengthier and interesting conversations from various parts of the world – S. Africa, Namibia, Transalvania, Shanghai, Australia, Canada, Spain, France, the USA, et al. Many different people with many different stories and reasons for walking El Camino de Santiago.

El Camino: Day 7 – Sunday, at Lestedos, Spain

Another full day of walking, beginning at 8:30am and arriving 2:30pm, for Eliah, Ezrie and me. Carmel began an hour earlier and we met her just after lunch. She walks slowly, doesn’t complain, and enjoys meeting people along the way. The distance was another 20 km or so, and some ups / downs though not as many as the previous two days. The sun was out in full force but we walked in partial shade and were blessed by a cool breeze throughout the day and into the afternoon. Clearly, the number of pilgrims has increased substantially the closer we get to Santiago.

We were surprised to arrive sooner than expected due to various conversations and misdirections from fellow pilgrims. Being that we aren’t traveling with an official book, actually no book on the Camino whatsoever, there are many willing and wanting to help as they reference their handy guides. The problem, in part as it would seem, is that many of the books don’t agree as the route has changed from time to time, I’m told. So while we thought we were walking another 5km, in reality we were surprised and blessed to learn that our daily walk had ended abruptly. Our joy was offset by the fact that our girls had been walking ahead of us and hadn’t realized the mistake and so had to be retrieved. Thankfully, the host understood our dilemma and happily took Carmel in the car in search of them. Turns out they were 1 km down the road and had decided to stop and wait for us.

A wonderful place with art and very well designed. I later learned from a lengthy conversation in Spanish with our host, that the place had been the former parsonage for the priest up to a decade ago but then had been abandoned for many years falling into great disarray. In 2012 it was renovated to its current state and quite nicely, Carmel would attest. The front of the house faced the local village road while the back terrace faced a rather large yard where we later threw the frisbee for added stretching and exercise. (what were we thinking?)

El Camino: Day 6 – Saturday

Everyone is different on the Camino, and yet we are all united. We are united by virtue of sharing the same path and heading in the same direction towards the same goalo of Santiago del Compostela. And we are all as varied as the day we were born. Tall or short, young or old, in shape or out of shape, smart or challenged, and so forth. So too, the reasons for walking vary from person to person. In general, though, I suppose it could be said that we share a need to explore what we might on such a noted, seasoned path as El Camino. Furthermore, we are equally different by the paces that we keep, both in life and on the trail. Some pilgrims confess to being on a tighter schedule, traveling between 20 – 40km / day. I’m not sure what the typical average distance is when referencing the ‘it usually takes 31 days from start to finish.’ But then again, there are so many distinct directions from which to start the trek; I’ve heard of some starting in Oslo, Norway, while just today someone noted another who started in Istanbul, Turkey. And everyone with a reason or a need to hike El Camino.

Today I was the last to leave our hotel in the morning, departing about 20” behind the girls. Carmel has accepted a slower pace and is admired greatly for her persistence and stamina. She has not complained once. The girls seem to travel at a similar pace, though occasionally separate, perhaps due to the conversation at hand???

I was on a pace to ‘catch up’ when I happened upon a new couple just beginning their walk. Both older women, one from Shanghai, the other from Transalvania. One was interested in learning from me and my family’s experience, as well as getting to know one another better. A much slower pace for me, but for the time being worthwhile as we talked, walked and shared bits of our lives. Eventually, however, I went on ahead to catch up. I put my head down, looking up occasionally to acknowledge the beauty of nature around me, but mostly walking and passing those I met. I passed two groups of young Spanish men, probably high schoolers in search of fun and female compaionship. I passed a foursome who mentioned having been on the trail for 41 days, and they walked the walk letting me know they were making the best of soar muscles. I should have asked from where they had started. There seemed to be more pilgrims than previous days, and it was mentioned that many people had just begun their journey at Sarria, the town we had departed that morning. Apparently, this town is just beyond 100km, which is the minimum distance in order to qualify for the official El Camino Certification (or whatever it’s called).

So the mix of paces and the mix of new / seasoned pilgrims made for an interesting day of interactions. There were some who seemed to be on vacation, traveling ever so lightly and meandering without a care or thought. These were met with others who at times seemed less tollerable of the neophytes, as though some rule were being broken and that their rights were somehow offended. In other words, some folks were friendlier than others.

Oddly, it’s amazing how people come and go throughout the days. You meet someone, walk and share, and then say good-bye when one or the other stops for lunch, or a lengthy water break, and the two never know if they’ll see each other again. Though it’s more than likely their paths will cross. This was the case with a friend we had met two days ago, a Methodist pastor from London who was traveling with her daughter. Carmel had taken a liking to her and mentioned to Eliah some regret for nor having shared personal information when last together. Well, whom did we see as Carmel & I finished lunch and were heading back on track. That’s right, this woman and her daughter. This time phone numbers were exchanged. And I have no doubt that we’ll see each other at least once more, even though we’ll be traveling at our own paces.

El Camino: Day 5 – Friday

One of the longest days yet, 20+ km in all. Thankfully, the clouds were out in full force, making the climbs and drops through the hillside more palatable. At one point it looked as though it may rain but at best only a few tears were shed. Ezrie & I were the last to leave but we soon caught and passed both Carmel and her friend, and later Eliah and her friend. To Ezrie’s credit, following a day of feeling crappy, sleeping as much as possible, and eating hardly anything, she & I kept a healthy pace the entire day. We weren’t in a rush but neither of us felt a need to slow down nor stop to eat…so we didn’t.

While there were several hills to navigate, I had the sense that they didn’t compare to those from the prior day given the stories shared at dinner last night. It is amazing to note the varying trees and flora along the way, which seem to echo the varying types of paths upon which we trod. At times we walked through quaint wooded paths while at other times we peaked to wonderful panoramic views of where we’d been and where we’d be going next. At other times we found ourselves penned in by stone walls that separated the fields of local farmers and their dairy cows. In fact, most of today, even in the villages, seemed like one long walk through dairy land. I don’t know what my fellow pilgrms did who found such aromas disagreeable.

El Camino: Day 4 – Thursday

Ezrie & I were sick and ended up taking a taxi to our next resting spot, missing out on perhaps the most rigorous days of the trip. Somewhere around 20km and lots of ups and downs. While Ez & I caught up on sleep Carmel was making friends with a friendly woman from Australia who seemed to know half the people on the trail. Somewhere during the day Eliah was introduced to another woman from Australia with whom they walked and shared the better part of the day. And as often happens, plans were made to continue to walk together the following day.

Recovery is always necessary at the end of the day. Especially on a day like today. The place we stayed was a small village on a knoll that seemed to exist solely for the pilgrims on El Camino. It was interesting, if not somewhat concerning, to see so many people walking slowly and/or hobbling around. I’m sure aspirin was taken liberally, as was the beer and wine flowing freely. It’s time like this, shared community pain and struggle, where people seem to open up a bit more than even walking on the trail. Everyone knows there was only one reason why you’d meet in a place like this and that was to have walked the last section of El Camino. I imagine many friends were made on this particular evening.

When the sun set, the temperature dropped to a coolness that was welcomed by all. While still in shorts, I made sure to where my fleece top as an extra layer. I’m sure tomorrow morning will be even cooler.

El Camino de Santiago

Walking & Writing on El Camino

My apologies for not having begun this section of writing sooner  for the family trek on El Camino de Santiago. I’ve begun to realize again and again that the challenges of staying in touch (as well as tending to matters back home) while on sabbatical parallel the juggling routines of normal life. Pilgrimage or not, sabbatical or not, there are commitments of sorts that follow you wherever you are. So on the Camino, after a half or full day’s walk, one needs rest, food, to settle down…then plan for the next day. From one town to the next, the cell coverage may or may not work, and the same for the internet. Mind you, these are not bad challenges at all, but I feel they must be noted so people back home aren’t left wondering why more pictures and writings haven’t been posted with greater consistency. Add to this the unforeseen realities of not feeling well, which is the case for one of my kids today. While Carmel & Eliah forged ahead on foot, Ezrie is resting and we’ll find an alternate transport to our next resting place.

El Camino: Day 3- Wednesday

We had the most amazing lunch in a small village at a place that looked very much like an English pub. As is common, most eating establishments have rooms upstairs or nearby to host pilgrims who might happen to stop at their particular locale. The owner spoke some English, but most Spanish. I find it uplifting to be able to speak Spanish again, though I’m certain my grammar stinks and I’ve forgotten many words. But I find myself translating often for my family and for the most part the locals seem to understand what I’m trying to say.

The food we ate was locally grown and typical of the zone in which we found ourselves. While we tried to eat at such authentic places, it’s clear there are a lot of ‘chain’ or packaged places where people have simply set up shop to make a go of it. But this lunch stop was simply divine. Irish music played in the background while a silent movie was shown of pilgrims on the Camino. It was peaceful and refreshing. It was clear the patron honored pilgrims by his service and cooking. A reminder to me that anyone can (& should??) receive strangers or sojourner if they so chose, but that this is both a calling and a gift to do it well.

El Camino: Day 2- Tuesday

We discovered, as every pilgrim does at some point along the way, that our family of four walks at different paces. Most often the two girls lead the way, followed by dad and further back, mom. At times dad does the ping pong ball thing going back and forth between the girls and mom. The girls have each other and seem to talk non-stop, pausing to take a foto or selfie from time to time. Oddly enough, nobody was bothered by the varying paces nor of walking alone from time to time. Mom, the most social of the family, connected with more pilgrims than the rest of us. She met a group of Catholic university missionaries the first day, some gentlemen from Ireland the next day, and happily introduced us all whenever our paths would meet. So goes life on El Camino. There is a sense of global community unique to this very experience.

Added to this was the wonderful hospitality shown by many of the staff we met at our hotels or lunch stops. On more than one occasion we were received with a warmth that let us know we were special by virtue of being a pilgrim. We came to notice a difference between those who had walked El Camino for themselves, from those who happened to live along the route and who found work where they might.

El Camino: Day 1 – Monday

We slept in. Sleep is just so darn necessary, especially for teenage girls. I can’t remember how many books I’ve read on spiritual disciplines that address the need for sleep in the earliest chapters. As we seek to be more attentive to God and God’s purpose for our lives, if we’re too tired in the moment it’s easy to miss out on one sign or opportunity or another. I can’t remember where I first heard it but long ago someone said when Adam and Eve went to sleep at night was when they first tested their faith that God would care for them while they lay helpless through the night. In truth, we practice faith whenever we sleep trusting that God is in deed in charge of the world while we are not. Again, bear in mind that one day earlier we left Istanbul, Turkey, following two days of high stress in the midst of a failed military coup.

It seemed someone ironic, then to begin our first day of walking by taking a taxi through town to the trail head. It was hard not to feel somewhat separated from our fellow sojourners most of whom, I’m most certain, had been walking for several days already. Be that as it may, however, we soon met and engaged our comrades only to learn that each one had a unique story and situation. And for us, it became easier to accept that our reason for walking El Camino was just as valid as anyone’s, given the lengthy sabbatical and most recently, the caper in Istanbul. The trail seemed to be the perfect place for us to debrief by sharing with others and to reflect on the life we had in contrast to the people of Turkey as they sorted out their political differences.

Walking felt good. In all (Israel, and Greece) we had rented 3 cars to help us get from one point to another. Cars are good for fulfilling personal plans and we were blessed by the freedom they provided us. Not everyone is so lucky to either own or rent a car, and are left to the timetable and mercy of public transportation or on foot.

So it was good to be outdoors, safe, to observe the beauty of northern Spain, and to be a pilgrim among pilgrims on El Camino de Santiago, each one traveling for his /her reason. I thinked we walked two or more hours before we stopped for lunch. Oddly, we aren’t carrying a book describing the trek from village to village, and perhaps listing available places to rest or eat. So we did a lot of asking.

The day was exceptionally warm, even for the locals. So we pushed as hard as we felt possible knowing that our luggage was ahead of us and walk we would, regardless of the sun. So it was just outside of town and we were told the next stop was over an hour away, and we were headed uphill when we spotted a possible place for lunch. We’ve come to refer to this first stop as the Hippy House, as the people…well, they just fit the mold. Tie-dyed loose fitting clothes, etc, yet ever so welcoming. We had the most delicious fresh salad and gaspacho as we shared our tale of Istanbul to eager listeners who seemed to understand our needs. We were invited to rest (ie, nap) after lunch, and followed by a yoga session. It was all so very fitting, but strange as it was definitely not on our list of expectations for the day. After about three hours we headed back on the road where the sun’s rays had been hard at work sharing its heat with the pavement underfoot. We drank and walked, and walked and drank. I think our endurance was more easily sustained by the fact that this was our first day.

Come the revolution !

These were words my mother often said when I was a child, I suppose mostly in reference to the patterns (or lack thereof) I was forming that didn’t quite fit her expectations, either of me or of the larger family. In other words, I was to buckle up an mind my peas and queues to do what I purportedly and innately already knew. Well, my mother would be the only at this stage in my life to attest to what she expected of me and how I actually am today.

Truth be told, I’ve had front row seats for two revolutions and each time I can’t help remembering the words of my mother. Of course, revolutions in real life can hardly be compared to childhood experiences, or as they say in Spanish, “Nada que ver.” Three days ago, I was with my family Istanbul at their international airport for what was supposed to be a short night as we exchanged one flight for another. We landed at 11 pm and were to board our next flight at around 3 in the morning. An hour after settling down and almost falling asleep, I awoke suddenly to a rush of people fleeing. The image that came to mind was of a flock of doves at a square when a child goes running into the mix. I opened my eyes to see only foreigners, no Turkish people anywhere in sight, when I could have sworn I’d seen many an hour earlier. My kids were awake and saying they had heard gunshots from within the building. The people all had looks of fear or bewilderment. Nobody seemed to know what was happening. We looked out the window of the airport at the Tarmac below or to see a few soldiers walking hear or there. Not many and seemingly not to anxious. Of course everyone was thinking ‘terroriest’ given the attack at this same airport only 2 weeks earlier. But since nobody knew Turkish, nor was there any report over the PA to say what’s was happening, we were left to our imaginations and the speculations of anyone willing to share them.

Occasionally a distant gunshot could be heard, mostly soldiers shooting in air to apparently fend off a crowd of civilians. But soon the tides had turned, and the civilian crowd had grown and was pursuing the soldiers, who though armed, fled in the other direction. The crowd consisted mostly of men, some were employees judging from the badges around their necks, and many waving the Turkish flag. I’m not sure when someone suggested this was a coup in progress, or if it wasn’t until the next morning that we fully realized what was happening. Around 1 a.m. we settled back down to catch a wink, again, unawares of what all was going on, only to be awakened by a loud boom as two or three jets swooshed by the airport at near ground level. The windows rattled profusely, as if ready to shatter. The jet flew by two or three more times in the next two hours. It was very unsettling, to be sure. Again, nobody seemed to know what was happening more what the proper response should be – flee for safety, consider leaving the airport, or stay put – which is what the majority of us did. At one point the ground shook from a rather extensive explosion.

Nobody slept much that night and the next morning the airport was filled with non-Turkish travelers, all of us rattled, tired, hungry and confused. The news was on…in Turkish…though nobody seemed able to translate. Eventually we learned that a coup had been attempted but had failed. Some of the military had instigated the effort while the police and others had not gone along. It was later learned that the president had used Twitter or Facebook to appeal to the populace to gather en masse at the airport and downtown in opposition to the coup and to show their support of the democratically elected president. We learned that in 10 minutes over three million people had filled the streets and some had gathered in the airport – likely those who had suddenly fled when I first awoke. Furthermore, we were told, the mosques ushered calls of prayer during the night to alert the people to gather. Oddly, neither of these facts seemed to make the news reports when the event was reported around the world. In short, the general public had risked their lives in show of support of their elected president, good bad or otherwise.

For my family and me, the confusion extended throughout the next day. We had hoped only to change planes and be on our way to Madrid, where we had hoped to spend two days of sightseeint. But the airport in Istanbul was in chaos. We saw the janitors and a few shop employees show up, but absolutely no security nor airlines officials from Turkisih Air. OF course we all wondered and worried what to do next…would our tickets be honored, would we leave soon, how long would we be left in limbo??? My daughters observed several people ‘helping themselves’ to goods in the sandwich shops. Fortunately, this was a rarity but the temptations and opportunities were real. After lunch we met our first of only a few employees from Turkish Airlines. The news was not good as it was sketchy and inconsistent. Nobody really seemed to know too much nor where nor how to proceed in order to get on with life and travels.

If there was ray of sunshine in the midst of this ordeal, we met some wonderful people from various countries. One was a German young man who shared some accurate details of the coup. Another was an Egyptian family  who lived in Saudi Arabia where both worked as doctors. For much of the afternoon, we stood in line with the son and father in an isolated part of the airport – standing in line for three+ hours – as we waited to update our tickets for the next flight to Madrid. We had no phone service and our only means of communication with our daughters was through this family’s cell phone. We learned later that the Mrs had fed our girls as dinner time had come and gone. This family was helpful in the next stages as we decided to spend the night in a hotel at the ailrines’ expense, but which meant getting a visa to enter the country as US citizens. It cost $30 per person and a couple more hours of standing in one line or another trying to jump the hoops we were told to pursuit. We arrived at the hotel around 11 pm but had to awake at 3:30 a.m. in order to arrive at the airport with enough time to get through customs and security. I thought the roads would be empty but learned that many of the Turkish people had stayed up all night celebrating the victory of their elected president.

We had no trouble getting through security as our luggage had been checked through to Madrid when leaving Athens, Greece. The flight to Madrid was unevenly, though one of great relief. We were disappointed, however, to learn that one of our two checked bags did not arrive. Ugh! Yet all things considered, we were glad to have our health and lives in tact.

Thanks be to God.