Banff, Sunsets, Dahlias and More, Photos of the Week, September 26th

My highlight for the week was not a walk or a hike, but attending the Jason Aldean, Cole Swindell, and Tyler Farr concert in Vancouver, and sitting close to the stage. I took some cool video but better not post any here so there are no copyright issues. Instead, please enjoy my photos posted to social media in […]

City Light

Here is a short excerpt about meals from A Million Steps: “I was beginning to understand more about meals on the Camino. Breakfast (desayuno) typically consisted of slices of a crusty white bread with butter and jam. The deluxe version was to have the bread run…

Lakes, Flowers, Sunsets, and More, Photos of the Week, September 5th to 11th

Spring and Summer photos dominate this “Photos of the Week” post. My favourite is probably the first because I waited a long time to get the shot of this beautiful hummingbird.   Taken in the Hummingbird garden at Summerland Ornamental Gardens, above Okanagan Lake. Make sure that you visit if you’re ever in south-central British Columbia, […]

On the Camino del Norte, Guernica to Pepiena, Spain

It was getting late in the afternoon in the Basque town of Guernica and I had to make a decision. The main albergue was full and I had to choose if I wanted to stay at another that was “packed” with just a bed or two available, or climb the hill to another over 10 […]

Tulips, Garibaldi, a Marmot and More, Photos of the Week, September 12th to 18th

This past week I visited a dahlia farm and garden for the first time in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia. I was so amazed and inspired that I’m working on a blog post featuring those beautiful flowers. Hopefully, I will have it finished before Christmas In the meantime, my photos of the week posted to […]

Autumn, Mountains, Turtles and More, Photos of the Week, September 19th to 25th

I can’t believe it’s the end of September. I also can’t believe I’m so late with this post. Enough said! These are my photos of the week!   This scene of Autumn courtesy of Whistler, Canada during a previous year’s visit on a beautiful October’s day!   Under cumulus skies… Another beautiful day earlier this […]

Silent night

The past few months have been fun yet full of camino echoes. So Robin and I have been looking at travel plans and commitments and have decided that if we are going to walk another camino we had better do it this year so that we do not run afoul of the Schengen visa requirements next year when we return to Santiago to volunteer with the Camino Chaplaincy at the Cathedral in Santiago. So long story short we are booked to fly to Seville on November 2nd and then, God willing, we will arrive in Santiago on or about December 21st. We will then spend the Christmas holidays in Santiago and fly home on December 28th.Robin and I are truly thankful for this opportunity to return to the camino. We are also very happy to be reprising the liturgical music “dream team” of John Rafferty (organist), Stephen Shields (tenor) and Robin Pigott (soprano). These three made some very memorable music this past summer and we hope to top that over the Christmas holidays. It will be a wonderful conclusion to our Via de la Plata and to Stephen and John’s Camino Ignaciano. The pilgrim community is a curious place to inhabit. Just when one seems to feel comfortable in one’s skin something calls us to move just a bit beyond our usual boundaries. This is where conventional wisdom tells us that growth is to be found. We shall see.Robin and I have always trusted the Spirit to guide us. This pilgrimage, in that regard, will be no different. But, as always, each journey comes as it will and we simply have to embrace whatever circumstances that might eventually draw near. So this is our approach, be open to the Spirit within us, be grateful for the strength and resources to walk, and to be mindful of those who need our prayers.  Now all Robin has to figure out is how to sing Silent Night in Spanish. But we have some time….well sort of….stay tuned!

A Last-Minute Crisis

The lady said her name was Chelo. Her eyes were full of  tears. “Oh no,” I thought – a Spanish drama-queen peregrina with a built-in audience, a couple of companions from home… probably relatives.  I was partly right. The two other ladies were her sister and cousin. They’d arrived first at San Anton, and they warned me that Chelo was on her way and “in a state.” Chelo’s boots had proved too tight for her feet. She’d borrowed her sister’s sandals to make it to San Anton, but enough was enough. “If I do not find proper shoes today, my camino is over,” Chelo wept on arrival. “A lady told me there’s a sandal-maker in Castrojeriz. She is my final hope. Please, for the love of Christ, take me there,” she said. “What a drama queen!” I repeated to myself. But it was the final night of the season at Albergue Monasterio de San Anton, and we only had five pilgrims to care for. What the heck. I had a car parked outside the gate, and Castrojeriz is only 3 kilometers down the road. Chelo said she’d pay for gas, she’d pray for me for the rest of her life. Whatever, I said. We bundled into the car. There was no shop on the plaza where the shoemaker was supposed to be. Chelo charged into the little grocery store nearby. The shoemaker is sick, Gloria the shopkeeper said. Closed up last Tuesday and took to her bed. “You got any shoes here?” Chelo asked. “Flip-flops,” Gloria told her. “I got all sizes. Some pilgrims walk in them, at least as far as the next shoe store.” Chelo’s eyebrows met her hairline. Just below, her eyes started to brim again. “Let me make a call,” Gloria said. “We got a network here.” “Have faith,” I told Chelo, laying a hand on her shoulder. “We aren’t done tapping our resources yet.” Gloria hung up the phone. “Across from the pilgrim hostel, right out there. Ring the bell marked “Paco.” Maybe he can help you,” she said. And so we went, and so the door swung open on an antique pharmacy, dark-painted Art Deco woodwork and etched glass, long abandoned and dust-covered. Inside was Paco, a guy I’ve met before, a little bearded man who’s lived on the camino for years. He runs the municipal Albergue San Esteban here in Castrojeriz. “Gloria sent us,” Chelo told him in a trembling voice. “I am a desperate woman. I don’t want to give up my camino.” “What size shoe do you wear?” Paco said, wiping some interrupted dinner from his chin. He led us past shelves of  albergue supplies of jam, napkins, toilet paper and drain cleaner to the old front window. There were stacked the leavings of hundreds of pilgrims: t-shirts and socks, bicycles and underpants, umbrellas, knee-braces, Bibles, water bottles, and boots. Dozens of boots, and shoes, and sandals, in various stages of cleanliness and decay. Chelo tried on some high-end Salomon sandals, but her toes, inside ratty yellow socks, hung over the front edge. “No good,” Paco declared. “Look at these Tevas,” he said, pulling some chunky sandals down off a high shelf. “They’re kinda dirty, but they’ve got some miles left in them.” The Velcro opened with a crunch.    Chelo bent over and wiggled her feet into the shoes. She stood up and caught her breath and steadied herself against a cellulite-cream display. “Jesus and Mary,” she said softly. “These shoes. These are the shoes I have been waiting for. They are perfect. I walked 300 kilometers to here, just to find these.” “Great,” Paco said. “Your feet are small. These have been here a while. Glad they’ve found a home at last. Most pilgrims got big old slabs for feet, you know?” He wouldn’t take Chelo’s money. He ushered us back to the street, and we went to Gloria’s and bought expensive butter and a couple of tomatoes, just by way of thanks. “I thought Castilians were supposed to be cold and selfish. But I see now that is a filthy lie,” Chelo declared. “Only some of us are like that. You just fell upon a chain of generosity,” Gloria told her. “It’s your turn now. You gotta be good to someone now, to keep it going.” And so Chelo pressed ten Euros into my hand. “For the gas to get here. For finding these people,” she whispered, crying yet again, this time for joy.  Back at San Anton,  in the yellow after-dinner candle-light, Chelo and her relatives sang us La Rianxiera, a Gallego song about the Virgin de Guadelupe. They sang out loud as they washed up the dishes, and they hummed themselves to bed. Chains of generosity, Ali Baba caves of pilgrim goods, drama queens singing of blessed virgins… it’s been a beautiful season at the pilgrim albergue.  Despite the petty squabbles that come with managing people, I am blessed indeed to be part of this initiative. We closed San Anton on 1 October.  If you’re interested in volunteering there next year, do get in touch.

Mom Time

On the Camino de Santiago, I met Harold from Houston and Debra from San Francisco. This friendly father and daughter combination expressed their gratitude to be spending the day on the walk. They reeked of contentment. Deep lines creased Harold’s forehead. I finally mustered the…

This Mud’s for You

I troweled a big wad of trullo, chocolate brown and bristling with straw, onto the flat steel float. I laid the edge of the float alongside the lower edge of the adobe wall, squashed the mud flat against the vertical, and dragged the steel upward. The primitive plaster spread itself flat and true over the surface.Six architects, a sociologist, a chemist, and a master adobero all stood silent, watching. My trowel made wide arcs over the wall, smooth as cocoa. I tucked the edges neatly in, and handed the tools over to the next student. “It’s like decorating a cake,” I said.”Buen hecho!” the old adobe-man said.”No fair!” said the architect with the fabulous hair. “You’ve done this before!”They both were right to say so. I am really pretty good with mud plaster — I’ve plastered many meters of adobe walls in the last few years, and I have my technique pretty well nailed-down. No one expects that from a foreigner. I stood up straight and smiled with delight. The teacher likes me! I did good!I love plastering, and patching, and filling wide gaps with mortar made from quicklime and dirt and sand. I love sifting the dirt and mixing in the sand or mortar, gravel or chopped-up straw, turning it over with a shovel, adding water til it starts to bind, starts to bend and rise and almost inhale — it is much like kneading bread, this earth. You even have to leave it then, overnight or over several months, depending on what kind of surface you’re going to cover — indoors or outdoors? Weight-bearing or decorative? Horizontal, vertical, smooth or rough, in a heated room or an animal shed? Each option has its own proportion of ingredients, its own rising time, its own set of tools.I love them. I want to learn everything about them. I want to be a master adobera, myself, and build beautiful little huts and donkey barns, chapels and bodegas, all of native dirt, straw, water, and sand. I want to put my hand against the wall and know my handprints are all inside there, know that color painted on is the color I chose, that smooth, glossy coat of wax is what I laid on last.Adoberas. That’s me on the left.I’m taking a three-day master-class in Surface Rendering at SmartLocal Tierra, a natural building/architecture collective in rural Valladolid. Last September I spent three days there learning to repair and maintain old walls of adobe and rammed earth. Today I started Part 2. We spent the morning in a dingy classroom in the city hall at Cuenca de Campos, going over the chemistry and physics of cohesion, compression, plasticity, filosilicates and ionic bonds. We learned the science of the local dirt, and why it’s so apt for building things. We learned about laying on three layers of vertical, and why some builders prefer barley straw over wheat, and why often the walls of old buildings are peppered with broken tiles, river rocks, animal bones and grapevines.And then we hiked up to a building that 800 years ago was the Church of St. Peter. It was a house after that, and then a cattle shed, and finally a roofless ruin. Smart Tierra bought a couple of years ago for a demonstration site, put up a new roof and spectacular beams, and is now, over many teaching sessions, is building back the walls using old-school methods and highly-trained but mostly unskilled labor. This is an odd sort of hobby. I may be the only 50-something woman I know who is passionate about smearing mud onto walls, or tying sticks together to make a roof over a stack of straw bales. These skills have little practical application. Nobody builds any more with adobe — manufactured bricks are much cheaper and durable and easy to work with, and way less labor-intensive and frustrating. Why make trullo and trowel it on when you can buy great sheets of plasterboard that’s perfectly flat and smooth? I admit that “the Three Little Pigs” was my favorite childhood fairy tale. Maybe I should’ve become an architect. Paddy says 22 years as a newspaper journo seems like perfect training for a mud-slinger. But all mud aside, I know why I enjoyed this day so deeply. The last two weeks have been harrowing here on the Camino Frances. Spanish police finally located the body of an American pilgrim who went missing in April, and they arrested a man near Astorga who’s admitted to killing her. I did not participate overly in the anguish that went on all summer while we waited for news. But now that we know, I am surprisingly sad. My illusion of a safe, sweet Camino haven where women can fearlessly walk has been busted to bits. I am helping on a memorial committee, with all the accompanying to-and-fro, egos and frictions. San Anton is still going on, up to the end of the month. There’s a big wave of pilgrims moving through, and the albergues are packed-out. The Moratinos Cultural Association is in abeyance after a rather heated planning meeting. Paddy’s having health issues. People keep wanting to come here. I am increasingly unable to say “yes” with a big smile on my face. I have been doing and doing for months, mostly for other people. The mud I do for me. Three days of smearing trullo on walls is not useful, or interesting, or helpful to others. It is not going to make any money. I do it because I like it. I do it just for me. Just because.