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It is 8:45 Tuesday evening my time in Estella, Spain and I wasn't planning on writing the next epistle, but there is a computer here in the Albergue Oncenida and it is free.
My last epistle was composed at an internet cafe in Pamplona and that was not so inexpensive. So I'm taking my chance.
Today has been a rainy, stormy day and the temperature right now is 8° C (46° F), so it isn't so warm. But I will return to Pamplona which is where I left you.
After writing you, I went to a Pilgrim Shop that was right around the corner from where I stayed at the Albergue Municipal. It was a darling shop with everything anyone might need on El Camino. I met the man who owned the store, a very handsome Hungarian man in his late thirties. I went in to buy a small backpack because when I have a rest day, which I was having that day, I wanted something small to carry whatever I wanted with me since I had sent my backpack on to Cizur Menor, a suburb of Pamplona where I would walk and spend the night. We started chatting and I asked him how he came to the idea of having a Pilgrim shop. He said his wife did the pilgrimage 3 years ago and when she returned to Hungary, she said to him that she wanted him to give up his profession as a business man, she wanted them to sell their home, their car, everything they owned and take that money and move to Spain and find a space to create a Pilgrim Store where people on El Camino who needed something while on the way could stop and buy it there. She said she had needed something and there was no place that could fill her need because everything for the pilgrim has to be so light weight.
He did as she said and three years later, they were serving pilgrims with three stores in different places in Spain. I told him that first, I thought he was an amazing man for listening to his wife. I said, when I tell my husband he has to do something, he does the exact opposite.(smile). He said his life has changed entirely. He feels his life now has a purpose and serving others brings him incredible joy.
So I left the store with a darling backpack that weighs maybe 1 oz. and is perfect for running around the city and it cost me 3 euros. It even says El Camino de Santiago on it.
Then I started walking to Cizur Menor, a suburb of Pamplona about 6 kilometers away from the center where I was. Pamplona is a beautiful city. Lush, green, reminding me of Seattle, except it is much flatter. It has lots of parks and trees and I really enjoyed walking through it. At one point, I lost my Camino signs, and an older man saw me standing and hesitating and he came to me and said "Are you looking for the way to El Camino?" He showed me where to go and then took my hand in his and said "It´s wonderful that you are walking with God, but remember that God allows mischief, so be attentive." I smiled and thanked him because I knew he was very serious.
I arrived in Cizur Menor and found my Albergue--Maribel Roncal. It was absolutely beautiful with 5 different rooms and incredible gardens where all the pilgrims where sunning themselves and drying their clothes. (All the albergues have washing machines and some have dryers). The very first thing one does when one arrives after a long walk is to shower and wash your clothes because we all have only two sets of clothing.
I went to check in and I said to the woman, "This is paradise," to which she replied "The only thing missing is Adam and believe me the serpent is not welcome here." The protocol is that the first thing you do is show your pilgrim pass and have it stamped, because it is the only way you have entree to the albergues. She stamped my pass and then looked at me and said, "I know nothing about muscles so I can´t help with muscle issues, but I know about feet and blisters and if you need any help, I can help you." Well, I had developed a couple of blisters and was having some trouble with my feet. So I said to her that indeed I needed her help. She told me to take my shower and come back and bring my boots and she would take care of me. After I showered, I returned and there she was with a bag somewhat like the doctors who did house calls used to have in the olden days. She took my foot on her lap, looked at it and said "hmm" and told me I was tying my boots incorrectly. She disinfected my foot, took a syringe and drew the water from the blisters and then bandaged me up. She then proceeded to look at my boots and told me they were wet inside from the sweat. She pulled out the soles--I didn´t even know that was possible. She then determined that my soles were size 42, pulled out of her bag two long things that looked like sanitary pads and put them over my soles, folded them under and said, "these will keep your feet dry as you walk." She told me to get some newspaper from a place where she kept it, to scrunch it up and put it in my boots so they could dry, because if I didn´t do that they would rot before I reached Santiago. She also advised me to stop every 2 hours, take my boots off, take my socks off and air them, and massange my feet. She even showed me how I should massage them. When she was done I asked what do I owe you and she said, "absolutely nothing," I am here to serve you.
I know by the end of this trip, I´m going to sound like a broken record, but that is another miracle. What I am starting to understand is that when we are in the moment, when we create the space to slow down, we are able to notice the miracles. They are happening all the time, but we are so busy that we miss them. This was made very clear to me the Monday morning when I left Cizur Manor headed for Puente La Reina and saw a young Korean woman walking very slowly and limping. As I got closer I could hear her moaning every step she took. I walked up to her and said, "Are you in pain?" She just nodded and grimmaced because she couldn´t even talk. I said to her, "perhaps you should consider stopping in the next town and spending the night there rather than going to Puente La Reina." She shook her head indicating no, she definitely was not going to stop. I thought what can I do to help her and then remembered my mentor Leigh Dean telling me that this journey was not about my taking on other people´s burdens, but to simply receive and have a joyous experience because this journey was my gift and others gifts to me. Just as I was thinking that a wonderful Canadian man whom I had met before caught up with us. He went up to her and said, "I will carry your backpack for you if you let me." Mind you this man had a bad knee that he was wrestling with, in his mid-fifties, with his own backpack and he offers to carry hers as well. I thought I would cry, just experiencing his generosity and his kindness.
Again, she shook her head and said no. So my Canadian friend and I continued on our way and I turned to this man and said, "Thank you for this very valuable lesson. I am just learning what it means to open oneself and be vulnerable and be willing to ask for help and receive." And he said to me, "it would have been a gift for me to have carried her backpack." Even more, we both understood that perhaps this is why she is on this journey. Whether she completes it or not, her lessons will not be insignificant.
I arrived in Puente La Reina around 5:00, showered and went down to the bar to get something to eat, which by the way has also been an experience of the power of words. Here, we go to a bar to get breakfast, to eat tapas, etc. A bar is synonymous with a cafe. I thought of my fundamentalist association with the word bar and how differently that word plays out in Spain. Anyway, I met up with the man from Switzerland who had helped me when I was in pain with my right hip that the German doctor diagnosed. I also ran into a woman from Norway who invited me to go to mass with her that evening at 8;00. I said yes, and went into one of the most exquisite Baroque churches I have ever been in. It took my breath away. The service was beautiful and I was so glad I was there.
This morning, Tuesday, it was rainy and cold and a lovely young woman from Ireland said "I really wish I didn´t have to walk today." She was couragous enough to express what we were all feeling. But we all got dressed and left the albergue because you are only allowed to spend one night in an albergue in any town. If you decide to stay longer, you have to find a hotel. The only exception at the albergue is if you are sick and have a doctor´s note.
Walking was hard. I put on my rain pants and top over my clothes so I was able to stay dry. But walking wasn´t fun. The paths are very stony and when it rains one has to slow down because the rocks are slippery and going downhill can be dangerous. But I got through my day and am here at the Albergue Oncenida and guess what--I have my own private room. A room with bunkbeds and other pilgrims is 10 euros a night, this single room is 13.50. However, not all the albergues provide that service. Every day I walk I feel my body getting stronger. I am making friends with the slugs on the path. But the paths are breathtaking. Even with the rain, the rape fields are like sunlight. The poppeys in deep red, the purples, the yellows shower me with their beauty. I walk alone during the day. I meet people and say hello, or speak to people in the evenings when I am in the albergue, but from the time I leave in the morning, I am by myself and I cannot tell you how joyful I am walking with me. I don´t listen to music, just let the birds serenade me. I had no idea I could be so happy walking the country side. It is magical.
One final thing. I write these epistles to share the journey with you, however I am not responding to individual emails. First, I don't have access to a computer very often. This really is an exception at an albergue and therefore the reason I had planned to write on my rest day and find an internet cafe. And second, I need fingers like a three year old to write on my iPhone. It really stresses me out and this trip is not about being stressed. But please contine to respond. I get your emails and what I do is read them before I go to bed. They are my bedtime stories.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for your emails. They give me energy and I sleep wonderfully.
From my heart to yours,