Lessons from the Trails

To me, the Camino is a snapshot and metaphor for life.  It has a beginning, an end, and a journey in between.  The Camino journey provides opportunities to experience things with new eyes and it provides lessons to be applied to life.  I’m stunned by the unexpected ‘lessons’  it gifts if you are open.

I didn’t expect to have the same experience this time in Spain as I did on my last two pilgrimages.  I was facilitating a group of ladies, moving their backpacks forward, and preparing their lodging for the night of their arrival.  I was not walking daily like they were, so I didn’t expect to be affected in the same way.  Boy, was I wrong.  I had a lesson that shook me to my core.

On the last day walking before our short adventure came to a close, I arrived into Granon (one of my favorite places ever, by the way).  I had hauled the backpacks up the uneven stone steps into the large room where we would all spend the night next to each other on mats on the floor.  I had paid the donation for the room and dinner, and gotten a schedule of events the albergue offered.  There was only one thing left to do – find a bank.  Every so often I had to refill my Euros as most places only accepted cash, and today was that day.

I walked across the street from the albergue to a tiny café to ask for directions to the bank.  The place was packed with a line of pilgrims extending clear out the door.  As I entered, I saw one lone young woman handling things.  She was taking orders and ringing up sales, while another woman was in the room behind cooking and filling the food orders. What could have very easily been chaotic, was not.  The young woman, who I later found out was named Irina, was smiling and completely relaxed.  There was music playing that the pilgrims were either swaying back and forth to or singing along with.  I had to laugh as I entered because the song “Hit the Road, Jack” was blaring.  How appropriate, I thought.

I inched my way up to the left side of the counter, where Irina would come to drop off orders and call out, over the music, the person’s name.  My plan was to catch her on her next trip over and quickly ask where the bank was.  So, I waited.

As she came to drop off an order, she paused to pick up two dirty cups and saucers that were left there by pilgrims.  I seized the opportunity and quickly blurted out one of the few phrases in Spanish I knew – “Perdon.  Donde esta el banco?” (sorry, I don’t know how to put in the tilde, the little accent marks over the Spanish words, but you get the gist of it.).

She turned back around, as she had already moved to walk away, sat the cups and saucers down, and purposefully took my left hand and cupped it both of hers.  She completely disregarded the long line of hungry pilgrims waiting to be served, and instead paused to look intently into my eyes.  Irina then softly said to me, “Buenos dias”.  If I could have disappeared, melted into my shoes, whatever, I would have.  I felt so embarrassed.

In her kind loving way, she taught me a monumental lesson, ‘Don’t walk in here rudely blurting out your question.  It doesn’t matter that I’m busy or that you’re busy. Stop.  Look me in the eyes.  Greet me first.  Then ask.’

Because I was too flustered to muster up any weak form of Spanish, in English I replied, ‘I am so sorry.  Buenos dias’.  She just smiled, gave my hand a squeeze and replied, ‘Buenos dias’ and proceeded to tell me how to find the bank.

I humbly walked out and headed to the bank hoping I wouldn’t have to see Irina again.  I didn’t want her to think, ‘There comes that rude American woman’. 

As fate would have it, I DID have to see her again, several times.  This was a tiny village and the only place to get anything to eat, and by now I was hungry.  So, I checked my pride and walked back in. Of course, she recognized me as I entered.  She looked up from her register and gave me a big smile.  Over the crowd and from the back of the café, I playfully called out to her, ‘Buenos dias’.  She greeted me back and we both laughed.

I’ve lovingly thought back several times since then about Irina and the precious lesson she taught me.  I realized how many times I rush through life not even noticing the people I pass during my day.  The opportunities I miss, and sometimes even avoid, to say hello or give a passing stranger a smile. What am I doing that’s so important?  Where am I going that I don’t have five seconds to pause to acknowledge another human being?

I’ve returned home now and yesterday I was hiking our familiar Pinnacle Peak with my husband, Mike.  He was ahead and I was going at my own pace as we always do.  As I was coming back down, a young man approached me carrying his little boy (maybe a year old) on his backpack.  Even though he was still a little way away, I could see this sweet little boy peeking around his daddy’s back waving like crazy at me.  I smiled and waved back to him, and we high-fived as we passed.

Again, I was reminded what it means to be seen by another person.  To be acknowledged and smiled at.  I hope I remember that lesson for the rest of my life.

The familiar phrase is, “The Camino provides”.  And, yes, it does.  But if we’re open, those lessons can also come at home or hiking a mountain by your house.

A magical day of connections

I am writing this while sitting out under the shelter of our patio soaking up the last precious moments of our stay at la Casa Magica.  As the name suggests, it is a magical place. 

The ladies have headed off on the path for today and I am beginning to hear the soft sounds of raindrops on the plastic roof.  It is a shorter day for the women today – just under 8 miles – and I was hoping they would arrive at our albergue before the rain hits.  I laugh as I typed ‘a shorter day’, like 8 miles is nothing!  The last couple of days they’ve walked around 13 miles, so I guess it’s all relative.

Because our internet connections are not strong, I haven’t been able to post blogs regularly or attach any photos with the blog.  Please go to my facebook page www.facebook.com/debbielambturner to see pictures.  For some reason, I can post them onto Facebook, but cannot attach to the blog. 

Yesterday we spent the night at la Casa Magica, where I stayed back in 2013 on my walk with Jake.  The minute I walked through the entrance, I was filled with the familiar feelings of warmth and serenity I experienced the first time.  The first thing that hit me as I entered was the pleasant faint aroma of an incense burning.  I’m sure it’s purpose is to disguise the smell of smelly boots and sweaty pilgrims, but it is heavenly.

The welcoming hospitaleros, amazing food, and overall feel of the place are hard to explain.  Then add amenities of single beds (not bunks, which are the norm), an old stone balcony filled with six brightly colored hammocks, drinks and beverages that you can help yourself to, a patio area for journaling or resting, outdoor upstairs tables and chairs for socializing, large clean restrooms with blow dryers and two washers and a dryer and you feel like you’ve died and gone to Camino heaven.  All the ladies agreed this was the best albergue treat so far.

My time here is coming to an end, though.  I must move the backpacks forward to the next town.  It is my next favorite place because it offers a special after dinner all faiths (or no faith) prayer and meditation time.  At least it did the last time I was here and I hope it still does.  I think the ladies will really enjoy that.

Yesterday we finished the first half of this leg of the journey, and I feel a bit of a shift starting to occur.  I hope to see them moving into a more reflective introspective time.  Our word today was ‘Connection’ and I encouraged them as they walked to truly connect with themselves, and to connect with others they meet (as well as the other women in our group) on a deeper level.  This involves listening as others share their hearts and their stories and to be a support and validation for them.  I also invited them to notice their connection with nature as they walked.  But, most importantly, to be open to a more intimate connection with their Creator.  I shared that my Heavenly Father is always connected to me, but I have the choice to embrace it or to move away from it.

I send them all love and prayers that today is a special day for them, and a day where they have new insights and deeper soul connections.  I would appreciate your love, light and prayers for these women, also.  They are in various places along their unique journeys in life all needing something different.  I trust they will receive whatever it is they are looking for.

What a difference a day makes...

The night before last I had a problem sleeping and only got about four hours, which is unusual for me.    I felt like I was starting the day with a half tank of energy, I didn’t know that would be the least of my troubles.

The ladies set out for their 13 ½ mile trek and I went on to secure our lodging.  The place I had my heart set on didn’t take reservations and only had 18 beds, so I knew I had to get their quickly.  It’s a lovely albergue run by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, and I’ve heard they have a special prayer meeting in the evening at the connected old church and awaken their guests in the morning with their singing.  It was a special experience I didn’t want the ladies to miss.

Upon arrival, I was warmly greeted by a sweet gray haired lady, one of the sisters of the albergue.  I explained that I had nine other women on their way.  She said it was no problem, they would have room for us because I was the first one there.  The only problem is that they were cleaning from last night’s visitors and the doors wouldn’t open for new guests until 2:30. I said, ‘No problem.  I’ll wait’.

And wait it did!  Five hours with no food or drink in the grassy courtyard of the church.  I quickly added another shirt, gloves, and a jacket with a hood that I pulled up over my ears as the air was brisk and the wind quite chilly.  How could I complain?  At least I was sitting. The ladies were out braving this weather as they walked and carried their backpack.

 

Finally, the doors opened.  By now my sister friend had left and a gentleman opened for business. I walked in excitedly, first to get in out of the cold air, and second to have this lovely surprise for the ladies who would be arriving within the hour.   I was the one in for a surprise!  In no uncertain terms, I was told I could not check in because all 10 women had to be present.  It made no difference that I had copies of their passports, they had to be physically in the room.  I almost broke into tears.  I tried to explain that the nun who was here before assured me it was okay and that I had been sitting here outside for over five hours!  Nothing I said mattered.  He just kept saying, “I’m sorry, but you can’t stay.  You have to move so the other people behind you can check in”.

There was no point pleading, so I shifted into recovery mode and started calling albergues in the neighboring villages.  One not only said they had room, but also helped arrange for a taxi to come and make three trips back and forth until all our group and gear had been relocated.

Instead of a pilgrim’s prayer meeting, we had a pilgrim’s menu at a nearby café that consisted of undercooked fish and a quinoa burger that was so gross it looked like it had been expelled from a dog – we just couldn’t agree which end it came back out of.  And, instead of being awoken by the sweet sound of singing, it was the thunderous harmony of the many different snorers in our room.

But, we survived and today was a new day…

Today the ladies had a shorter day, only about 5 ½ miles, as we were forced to move a little closed because of the albergue incident the day before. They were walking through Pamplona, with extra time to explore the city and try out some of the tapas they are so famous for.

I wasn’t worried about lodging because I had a reservation for this night, and it was a good one. I had arranged for a special treat where they could stay in a Marriott resort and have their own room.  And, this could not have come at a better time!  I really needed something to redeem me from yesterday’s dormitory debacle.

As usual, they took off walking and I took off for the hotel (in a taxi, of course).  The hotel was great, and the staff could not have been more accommodating.  They even created a special dinner menu for our group.

As I’m writing this now, the ladies have arrived and are in their room having some quiet time – alone.  I would guess some are washing out their clothes in the bathtubs (hey, we’re still pilgrims!), eating their plate of fresh fruit that was waiting for them when they arrived, luxuriating in a warm bath, or maybe taking a much-deserved nap.

Two very different days – at least on my end – have again reminded me of the twists and turns fo the Camino, but mostly the impressive group of women I’m traveling with.  Even when things weren’t going our way, not one complained (at least not to me) or grumbled.  It was the opposite.  They went out of their way to be loving and supportive, assuring me that it was all okay.  I thought I was supposed to be the one helping them in this experience, yet I continue to be inspired, impressed and blessed by them all.

I am happy and grateful that today they can feel pampered and ready for whatever unique adventure tomorrow brings.

Day #2 - A day of healing

Today was an easy walking day – only 3 ½ miles – to allow for a chance for the achy muscles and tired bodies to rest.

We landed in a lovely little family owned casa rural, or what we would call a bed and breakfast, and we filled up the place. 

Our word for today was ‘Healing’ which lent itself to a bit of an introspective type of day. 

But, before that was to be, we had to take care of important business – securing our next meal. We went to the one of the only two places in town to eat (not counting the tiny grocery store).  We saved the “fancier” place for dinner.  It is operated by the same family who own the place we’re staying at. (In a town of 80, that’s kind of the way it goes).  Bar Juan was full of pilgrims, so we took our sandwiches to go, and ate them back at our very own dining room table where we could all sit together.  We were a bit surprised when we took the foil off our sandwiches (or bocodillas, as they are called here).   They were all made on big baguette type hard rolls and some had just a pile of bacon with nothing else, while others were filled with a different kind of meat.  It reminded me of Christmas morning opening up a gift, expecting it to be something good, but not sure what.  The only difference was that even after it was opened, many still weren’t sure what it was.  But, I heard no complaints as we dug into these unusual, but filling, treats.

A couple ladies treated the group with wine they purchased at the store, which conveniently was located just under our place of lodging for the night.  The wine was $5 a bottle and tasted as good or better than any I’d ever had.  We all considered moving to Spain for that one reason alone!

After lunch and lively conversation, our rooms were clean and ready for us to move into. There were five sweetly decorated cozy rooms each with their own bathroom, and yes, even hot water!  You don’t realize how much you appreciate a warm shower until you’ve had a freezing cold one, like we did last night.

 Each room is different, beautifully but simply decorated.  The beds are covered with fluffy comforters which apparently called our names, because a few of us took advantage to hop in and take a little nap.

The quietness of the afternoon was a nice break, and women wrote in their journals, listened to music, or spent time in quiet contemplation.

Today I am reminded by the Camino to appreciate.  I am grateful for simple things I typically take for granted, like a warm shower and a hot cup of coffee.  I also so appreciative for the important and precious moments in life I am witnessing here, like our attentive host’s genuine and loving concern for us, the warm interaction between her and her teenage son, and the kind and supportive conversations between the women in our group at they start to relate on a different level.

Life on the Camino is good.  Actually, life is good. Period.

On the Camino, but not walking

Tending to the Camino preparations for the ladies these past several months has kept my mind busy and not dealing with the idea of going to Spain, being on the Camino, but not actually walking the Camino.  This morning it became real.

Today was the first day of the walk.  Yesterday was a travel day and the focus was on making sure everything flowed smoothly, which I’m happy to say it did. The bigger challenge was keeping everyone awake until they could climb into bed for a good night’s rest before the big day that lied ahead.  Many had been awake for 30+ hours, as most weren’t able to sleep well on the plane. When you combine the apprehension of the long day ahead, being in a new experience with nine other women they barely knew (if at all), and utter exhaustion, one may have expected a pretty miserable day.  Instead, the women were pleasant, agreeable, and fun!  It was yet another confirmation of the incredible mixture of beautiful souls that I am blessed to share this experience with. 

Joyful anticipation, peppered with bit of nerves, filled our group this morning.  We went for coffee and croissants to start the day, then a quick stop by Josie’s café to pick up the picnic lunches that had been lovingly prepared for them. 

20170429_081618.jpg

 

One quick picture of all the women on the bridge where the journey begins, and then they were on their way.  I wished them all well, gave quick hugs, and offered last minute bits of reassurance.  Then they turned and headed out on their unique precious path. 

 

I felt a bit like a mother bird watching her little ones leave the nest for the first time.  I was filled with emotion.  Lots of emotion.  I felt so proud to know these courageous women, many of them dealing with personal life changing events, some with medical issues or injuries, and all with uncertainty.  But, they weren’t about to let any of those things stop them.  They held an intention to lift their lives to a new level, and nothing was going to stop them. 

I shared with them the night before not to be surprised when unexpected emotions arise as they walk.  I told them to be prepared for that, but I didn’t think that advice would apply to myself.  A whole myriad of emotions overtook me as I headed back to the hotel to catch my ride ahead, and in the brisk morning air tears of gratitude and love flowed.

 

Shortly afterward, I was greeted by a warm smile and friend face.  My shuttle driver, Julien, was the same young handsome Parisian who transported our group from the airport yesterday.  On my ride to Roncesvalles today, I sat next to a lovely lady in her 70’s from Guatemala walking the Camino with her husband.

When I arrived at the albergue, which is situated on the property of a beautiful old church, I headed directly to get spots secured for our group.  But that wasn’t to be.  I found that beds couldn’t be held without the person physically being present, even though I had copies of all their passports.  The hospitalero informed me that they have 183 beds and he received word from the pilgrim’s office in the town we had just come from that 400+ pilgrims had checked in yesterday.  You don’t have to be a mathematician to figure out that was not good news.  After checking my guide book and attempting calls to several nearby albergues in my broken Spanish, I was not having any luck.  I could not tell nine women who had just walked 15 miles up over the Pyrenees Mountains that we didn’t have a place to spend the night. I knew I needed help, so I solicited assistance from a lady at the tourism office, a man running a bar, and finally a table of hopitaleros having coffee, and a reservation was finally confirmed at an albergue a mile and a half away.

The Camino is always full of surprises and things not going the way you planned, but I didn’t expect this situation to come up so early on in the journey.  Circumstances that look like a set-back or problem typically seem to work out perfectly in the end.  I expect this new place will offer something special we wouldn’t have been able to experience had we stayed at our original planned place.  A familiar mantra on this path is, “The Camino always provides”.  I absolutely agree, although you have to be flexible, allow the change to occur, and handle situations as they come up.

This was a good reminder of my unique and important function with this group.  Even though I’m not make the actual ‘walk’ myself, I am immersed in the spirit of the Camino and the profound impact it has on those bold enough to brave it’s ever-changing path.  I am so grateful for the privilege to support and serve these pilgrim sisters of mine.

It will be interesting to see how this new Camino experience unfolds for myself and for each one of the women!