May 24, 2011, Santo Domingo to Tosantos

Left hotel at 07:00 to meet Monique and stopped with her at cafe then ATM. Walked to Granon, then on to Redecilla, Viloria and Villamayhor where said goodbye to Monique, only to see her again when catching email at Belorado. Would learn later that Rocky was in Belorado at the same time, but didn’t see her as I passed through town. Quick walk to Tosantos in blazing sun to see albergue there just as I left it in 2008. Laundry, shower, and journal writing. Very tired after cervesa and olives at local bar. Looking for good place to lay down, but sun is hot and yard is rough.

Had a nice few Spanish moment with hospitalero here, who was eating lunch when I arrived. Told him this was my second camino, that I was a Methodist priest and that I had returned in order to revisit the albergue.

Just finished cooking in the albergue while singing Taize songs with the hospitalero. Very fun, but everyone though we were totally weird. Dinner as  a group with many languages (all fast). Chapel afterward and hospitalero asked me to do a benediction.

May 23, 2011 Santo Domingo de la Calzada

Text from Luke saying he would meet me in Santo Domingo because he needs $s. Had warm croissant for breakfast and went to look for shoe repair for my boot soles to see if that might help my toe blister. Should buy sewing kit to thread my toe blister to help it dry out. Will have a very quiet day.

Met Renee at cafe near cathedral and had a talk, but her “high ‘I'” introvert meant she had little to share in return. A little frustrated that it was hard to draw her out. One thing I determined was that I would adjust to spend a little more time in solitude myself. Renee has clearly benefitted from more time alone.

My boots are an obstacle now, with wear on the outboard portion of each foot. This is pushing especially the toes of my right foot into the boot, causing the large blister. I had bought these boots in Burgos in 2008 and they already had 500 miles not hem. I will shop for new boots in Burgos again this year.

Over the last 24 hours have been thinking about drop-in program Sheila described at St. Boniface church in SF. People come to church from 06:30, have opportunity just to hang out. Mass at noon, then church closes for the day. They have 2 staffers during this time and 2 volunteers each day M-F. The idea of having the FH at our church used in this way is appealing. Could have nursing staff and case managers and visits from human service agencies for services. Perhaps mats on the floor for day rest for people?

Sitting in bar at Santo Domingo waiting for Luke I met Ann of South Africa. She showed pictures, told of her children and grandchildren and described her branch of Christnity start by Rudolph Steiner. Focus is on mysteries that have been suppressed by the church over the centuries, especially Holy Grail, etc. She also shared story of working with Winne Mandela in preparation of house for Nelson Mandela’s release from prison. She was wearing apron, serving Winnie at Soweto the day he came home after his release from prison. She noted how white woman was serving a black family. Also told story of her struggling farm and desire for God to help in midst of her lawsuit.

There is a lot to be learned from just sitting by the side of the road and hearing stories of pilgrims.

Wen to get some vaseline, came back and who should be there but Monique. Returned to the cafe/bar and had long conversation with her. Then got credentials and toured the church ,museum, and tower. Got phone call from Luke that he was in town at the albergue so arranged rendezvous at 20:00 with him, the girls, and Monique and others. Long dinner at restaurant on main drag and recited history of Israel with Gal and Lila. Monique was sleeping in their room at the albergue, so I deposited them all at the door of the albergue at 22:00 then off to Parador for a quiet night with Rocky.

May 22, 2011 Azofra to Santo Domingo

The landscape that became a painting that became a landscape.

Slept in late at Sebastian’s request and met Jahn at door of albergue at 09:00. Had a lovely, long talk with Jahn and Sebastian all the way to Ciruena. Met Kim and Janey just before Ciruena at a rest stop atop a large hill. Janey had bought new boots in Logrono and was now much happier with her camino.

Arrived Ciruena at 10:55 to sound of church bells so let Jahn and Sebastian and spent next 1/2 hour at simple mass in parish church. Exuberant singing from female congregants in front. Group of 10 seemingly Spanish men sat silently in rear of church. Many “Buen caminos” to me on the way out. Bar for tortilla and cafe con leche then on to Santo Domingo.

Outside Ciruena found camino landscape from my painting efforts. Too several photos and realized I had the unusual experience of walking through a painting. On way out of valley realized that Sheila was ahead and slowly caught up to her. Had nice conversation about church and singing. Had realized that “Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore” had been sung as closing song at mass. Sheila explained this was an important song in her spiritual development. “While smiling have spoken my name…” was key line for her.

Arrived Santo Domingo de la Calzada to see a smiling Sebastian and find Rocky waiting for me at the Parador. Nice room overlooking a small courtyard. Excellent bathroom. Scheduled for dinner at 18:00. Mass in cathedral at 20:00. Sitting under cloudy skies in modern main street. Weather cool.

Realizing now that there are reveal approaches to spirituality on the camino:

  • Ordeal — struggle through aches/pains and blisters to cover difficult miles to completion
  • Sacrament — the way is full of natural beauty
  • Community — the highlight is other people. They are precious and conversation is most important
  • Religion — going to mass, viewing churches
  • Cultural/Language — the joy of immersing oneself in a different people
  • Exercise — “Hey, look how tough I am. I did 37 km today”
  • Adventure — What is over the next hill? What amazing things will I see?

Sat at table on camino and enjoyed passing parade of pilgrims. Some new faces: Guido of Italy; Carmen of Slovenia, Odd of France. Dinner at restaurant off small square with Rocky, Sheila, Janey, Kim, Joanne, Sebastian. After dinner decided to rest my blister with one more night at the Parador so said goodbye to Sebastian and Jahn at door of cathedral.

May 21, 2011 Navarette to Azofra

Agreed with Sebastian to meet at 07:30 to walk to Azofra. We talked and walked all day and had a super time. Sebastian described a difficult situation and how he would let this go at Cruce de Ferro.

We met two Spanish men whistling Opera (Carmen) and sang and danced with them. At Ventosa we had coffee with Joanne and Joy of Vancouver. Sadie of Canada was just leaving and she told me I was known as “Rocky’s brother” among pilgrims. This struck me as very odd — it was never that way growing up.

Off to Najera where we met the tall German kid having coffee with Cloud and her Essex boyfriend. Cloud bought me a beer. Very nice! Sebastian and I bought a liquor called “Cilantro” after seeing 4-5 men in the table next to us drinking this yellow, oil liquid from a large, plastic bottle. They shared some with us and we asked if we could buy a bottle. Soon one of them had sent off and had 2 bottles at 17E each to sell us. Very heavy glass in our backpacks.

We happily skipped along to Azofra, meeting Nikki and her German friend along the way. Sat in the courtyard of the very nice albergue (2 person rooms) and sipped on my bottle of the cilantro with Rocky, Joanne, Kat, and many others. Had was done by the hospitalera and then headed to dinner, which was loud and fun and in the street with Sebastian, Rocky, Joanne, Kat, Debbie of Ottawa, and me. Roomed with Sebastian and had a good night’s sleep.

June 3, 2008 Santo Domingo to Tosantos

Back on the camino now I was ready to reintegrate myself into pilgrim life and was determined to make friends along the way toward Santiago. After an overnight at the Santo Domingo Parador I headed out to walk the path to Burgos that I’d seen from a taxi window over the previous days.

After Santo Domingo the camino rises up from the vast fields of grain toward the Montes de Oca. I walked along the path and took photos of the steeple at Grañon that rises just above a ridge, seeming to sprout from the earth like the grain itself. After Grañon I came to Belorado and considered stopping there at the albergue with a swimming pool. Instead I trudged farther, to Tosantos, and there had one of my most delightful albergue experiences.

As I walked into this three-story, parochial albergue in the quaint and tiny village of Tosantos I was introduced to Tomás, the hospitalero. He began to lecture me about the history of the region and about the camino. My college Spanish skills allowed me to catch about 1/4 of the words, but the general impression was that he was very excited about the camino and proud of his albergue. He instructed me to leave my boots on the main floor and choose a sleeping pad in the main sleeping room on the second floor, then told me all pilgrims were asked to help cook the evening meal and were invited before dinner to tour the cave above the town that held its statue of the Virgin Mary.

I finished my laundry out on the albergue’s grassy lawn, hung it up to dry, then joined other pilgrims in peeling potatoes and cutting up carrots for our dinner. At about 18:00 we headed across the highway to the parish church where a kind woman walked us up the hill to the cave chapel. The interior was quite chilly, and we pilgrims shivered as she gave us a lengthy explanation of how the Virgin is carried into town in the spring and returned to the cave in the winter (or vice versa). We were all happy to excuse ourselves and return to the sunshine outside and the warm stew awaiting us at the albergue dining room.

When we arrived we sat down to a delicious and plentiful meal of stew and salad, followed by cups of yogurt, all accompanied by loud conversation and the sounds of Taizé music played on the boom box on a shelf near the table. I learned from this experience that it is a great joy to share in cooking and eating a meal together with other pilgrims, and I appreciated the care and pride with which Tomás carried out his role as hospitalero.

May 30 – June 2, 2008 Santo Domingo to Copenhagen and back

May 30: I left Santo Domingo at dawn in a white taxi and watched out the window as future camino miles whizzed past. I saw several pilgrims braving the wind and light rain of this day, and once again I was amazed at the colors of the springtime grain fields.

I arrived at Burgos in plenty of time for my train and waited at a cafe as one of the oddest sights of the camino unfolded before my eyes. A group of young Spaniards escorted one of their friends into the train station. He was blindfolded and wearing a bright wig and ballet tutu. He had some kind of sock around his male appendage and it became clear he was getting married this weekend and his friends were giving him a pre-nuptial hazing. He took it “like a man” and the whole episode evinced chuckles from the assembled train goers.

I boarded the train to Burgos, looking ahead to a five-hour journey and enjoyed every moment of this trip to Bilbao. Through fields and forests and across rivers — this was an introduction to the beauty of Northern Spain and I was glad for the opportunity to see this beautiful region. I arrived at the train station in Bilbao and spotted the gorgeous stained glass window above the train gates. Then I caught a taxi for Bilbao’s airport and my flight to Copenhagen.

My wife, Gail, an anesthesiologist and professor of bio-medical ethics, was to speak to the European Society of Anesthesiologists that weekend. It was a big event and her first European speech. When I arrived in Denmark I soon realized there were two Sheraton Hotels and I wasn’t certain at which one Gail was staying. I guessed which one and when I arrived at the lobby I asked the desk to call her room. Gail answered the phone and asked the odd question, “Where are you?” I told her, “I’m down in the lobby,” and she was ecstatic. Her friend, Pam, had joined her for her Copenhagen visit and for a couple of weeks of sightseeing between there and Rome, so the three of us spent the next days enjoying this amazing city and listening as Gail shared his outstanding speech with the European Society.

Since Gail is a doctor I asked if she’d be willing to take a look at the blisters on my feet. “No!” she said, “They’d be too gross!” Even without the support of My Own Private Physician the days away from the camino brought healing to my feet and by the time of my return to Spain I felt much better. My only regret was that I’d left my favorite baseball cap back at the hotel in Santo Domingo and I expected I’d never see it again.

June 2: After a great weekend in Copenhagen I said goodbye to Gail and Pam and headed back via plane to Bilbao. My friend Stefan had suggested that I needed a cell phone so he could send me SMS texts, so I obliged and purchased a cheap cell phone and some minutes as I waited at the Bilbao train station. I boarded the train back to Burgos and caught a taxi to Santo Domingo. As I checked in at the Parador I asked about my hat and, sure enough, they’d kept it safe for me. From then on I’d have a fondness for this hotel and the great Parador chain.