While taking A Million Steps on the Camino de Santiago, people drifted in and out of my life on a daily basis.  I believe that things happen for a reason and always embraced the opportunity to meet new friends.  I am still astounded at how…

No Doubt!

While taking  A Million Steps on the Camino de Santiago, doubt made its debut and I wondered, “What am I doing here? Today was pure magic, but can I actually do this, day in and day out, for 490 miles?”  I was confident that my…

Home is the sailor home from the sea, and the hunter (pilgrim) home from the hill

Where Robin and I like to hang out when not on the caminoA tip of the hat to Robert Louis Stevenson’s epitaph, and apologies for the bit of editorial license taken. This post is about home, and homecoming, and RLS’s epitaph just seemed to fit. Robin and I have now been back for 13 days. We left our home in Vancouver, Washington on April 23rd, walked for 63 days, took 17 days for travel and rest, and returned home on July 11th. If my math is correct we were away for 80 days. This is the longest I have been away from home since I stopped going to sea. We have walked other caminos, where we were away for half of this time, and always re-entered our home lives without any issues. This trip was different. Walking as part of a pilgrim community for over 2 months seems to have allowed just enough time for me to get comfortable with a very satisfying, and unique, environment, which has made leaving it all the more difficult. Obviously, this is very specific to me. Even Robin seems to be integrating easier than I am. Don’t misread me. I am not ready for therapy. But, the pace of the life we dropped back into just seems faster, more frantic, and surprisingly less pleasant. I am sure, in time, the sharp distinctions I now harbor will blur so that what I first saw as odd will, sadly, seem quite ordinary. It is curious that we have only been away for just short of 3 months, and yet this distinction has appeared. This sort of taps the hornets nest, and begs the question of what makes us happy. Robin and I have a comfortable life. But, our camino experiences have thankfully skewed the math so that less (stuff) actually equals more (happiness). Yes, we are happy to be back in our home, but the lure of the simplicity of the camino is always present. Off again? Time will tell. For now, our camino gear has been cleaned, and stowed (yet always at hand), and we are simply enjoying the beautiful summer weather here in the Pacific Northwest. Memories are fresh with many remarkable moments of our recent time in France and Spain. These will continue to warm our hearts even as summer fades, and the arrival of the first chill of winter reminds us that change is always in the air.What we think of when on the caminoSt. James iconGlass transom over our front doorWhat we think of when we are home

Happiness Happens Now!

Prior to taking A Million Steps on the Camino de Santiago, my life was always rushed and my eyes were squarely focused  on the horizon.  My passion for biking was enhanced by being able to cover lots of ground.  I blew through college and found…

Heretic Laundry

Breathless, Alberto came to the door this afternoon. “Priests,” he said. “Seminarians, young, in black soutanes. From Canada. I tried talking with them, but I thought I better come over and get you.” I scooted right over to Bruno’s place, and sure enough, there they were. Three Americans and a Canadian, all dressed in black, blank-eyed with exhaustion. English-speakers, no Spanish, none over 20 years old. Their priest and another seminarian were back the path somewhere. They had no working telephone. And could they say a Mass, later on, after the priest showed up? A Mass in Latin? Would that be okay?I scooped up young Nick and we drove off to Terradillos to find his missing brothers. We stopped at the church, where Modesto was on duty. Modesto bustled up to the car window, anxious to learn about these holy boys. A Mass, a Latin Mass? Dear God, he said — just the thought of it turned his grey hairs back to black! He still has all his Missals and Breviaries, he said, he did two years in seminary himself, and was altar boy for years and years! Mass would be at 5:30 p.m. then, young Nick said. Modesto chortled with joy. And so at 5 we rang the bell. Modesto and Raquel were waiting in fresh clothing, they’d brought water and wine and ironed napery. (I brought some as well. So did Milagros!) Milagros pulled a silver communion kit from a niche in the wall and gave the water-pitcher a good rub. An event! We lit the candles and waited out on the steps. Father Daley is well over six feet tall, and the assembled neighbours held their breath as he and three young men strode up the street in their flapping black soutanes. They were tall, young and handsome. They stepped right up and inside, where the priest unloaded a bagful of vestments and altar-ware, all in matching embroidery. They moved the books and candles into new positions, and at 5:30 sharp they sang out the first psalm. Their Latin was said with flat Midwestern vowels, but the villagers — the few people not out harvesting wheat — knew the right responses, or at least the timing. Father Daley said Mass with his back to us. Bells tinkled, boys bowed, knelt slowly and painfully. Over the roar of passing tractors they sang in beautiful Latin, they chanted the Hail Mary and the Our Father and the Glory Be. It was strange, arcane, ancient. It was splendid. At the end one of the ladies called it “the Mass of our grandmothers.”The men in black went back to Bruno’s. Two of them were feeling quite sick, so I brought them some medicine. I took away some dirty laundry to run through our machine. I wondered if I was being silly, giving them this special treatment. I am not one to fawn over clergy, am I? I asked one of the seminarians which religious order they are from. They are SSPX, he said. Society of Pius the Tenth. It rang a bell with me. Not a bad bell, but something familiar, something harking back to my long-ago incarnation as a religion journalist. Something to do with Vatican II backlash and Swiss bishops and maybe an excommunication or two.I looked them up.   Sure enough. Very, very conservative. Broken away from Rome. Efforts made by Pope Benedict to reconcile, but talks broke down when the SSPX man copped an attitude — or when the Vatican refused to return to The Truth — depending on whose website I read. And so I clipped socks onto the clothesline, pondering what I had done. I’d invited outcasts into our Roman Catholic church, and they’d used our altar to celebrate a non-standard Mass. Some received Communion, even. Had we done wrong? The clean soutanes flapping on the laundry line were not good old Catholic vestments, they were reactionary uniforms. Holy shit, I thought — I’d just down two loads of heretic laundry.And then I gave myself a good smack upside the head. I have done tons of laundry for pilgrims, and that is what these guys are: Pilgrims. We serve pilgrims of every size and shape and faith, not just Vatican-approved Catholic pilgrims. I just finished reading a turgid history of the bloody succession crises that followed when King Henry VIII of England — a hapless pioneer Protestant — left his kingdom to Protestant firebrands, Catholic reactionaries, and faithless political manipulators, each in their turn. Everyone said he did his deeds for God and Truth and Our Lord. Religious sectarianism is ugly and small-minded. It ain’t Christian.And today we opened our church in good faith, and faith happened there. The people came to worship when the bell rang, and God was glorified. It is not up to me to decide whose brand of Catholic is best, or which priest or pilgrim deserves a helping hand and who does not. Me? I am the biggest heretic, the least Catholic of anybody in Moratinos. It is up to me to just open the door, light the candles, ring the bell.

Mid-July, Tiny Pueblo

Sometimes, everything just falls my way.The climb was everything I had hoped, and maybe more. No injuries, just sunshine, cool breezes, and perfect red cherries hanging right out over the pathway. We lived large in the back woods, me and Laurie. It was not a long hike, but it was a tough one, with spectacular views around each bend. It’s the kind of hike that stays with you for years.Back down here on the plains sunflowers bloom in bright rows. Combine harvesters clatter over wheat and rye and oats, cutting and threshing. They leave behind lines of chopped straw for the balers later on. They throw a fine dust of straw high into the air. The breeze catches it. Straw floats in the sky sometimes like a golden cloud. Some afternoons a rain of dust and straw descends on us, on the patio and dogs and hens. It is like a Gabriel Garcia Marquez story. Magical Realism we have to sweep up after.   I bought a cabbage, a green one big as a child’s head. It’s probably the best cabbage ever. I have made two magnificent batches of coleslaw with it, and there’s still half a cabbage left. Out back, the garden this year chooses to yield many, many bright yellow squash. Tomatoes? Peppers? Courgettes? Beans? No. Not yet. For now it’s squash, and onions, and tender, mild garlic. I let the hens loose this morning, they leapt into the high grass, snatching little insects in midair, humming and singing their hen music. I ordered two laying hens this morning at the feed store, little black ones, the kind from Zaragoza. What more could you want from life, when you have two new hens coming in the next few days? But the goods keep coming. Fred phoned to say he’d wangled his way into the little house museum in Cervatos de la Cueza — a dusty backwater town on the way to Carrion de los Condes. There’s a house there once inhabited by the San Martin family, whose sons rose high in the Spanish military and “liberated”  Argentina in the mid-19th century. Eventually the whole family died or immigrated, and the house was left standing on the edge of town, surrounded by a big wall. Someone a few years back realized they had a time capsule on their hands, and voila! An adobe house furnished in the style of a century ago, tiny rooms full of dust and epaulettes, crucifixes and rope beds. Best of all are the lightbulbs — tiny bright lights like the backside of a firefly. A wiry brown fellow named Delfin keeps the keys. I will try to rustle up a Moratinos field trip over there. Modesto will love that place. Speaking of wiry brown fellows, our very own Paco did a star turn on Edible Camino, a fine blog, not long ago. He was not named, but he was certainly honored. I will try to get this fabulous intuitive new $$#@ computer to share that with you. And now that it’s July, the church is open each day for the pilgrims. There is no diocesan funding for it this year, so some of us decided to just do it anyway. Modesto is the man in charge. Modesto loves showing pilgrims through the place, taking down their names, telling his tales to fresh ears. Moratinos continues to change. The finca next door, the finca where Paco grew up and where his sister comes for weekends, is up for sale. It needs a lot of work, but it’s got a lot of charm, too — sorta like our place was when we bought it. Pandora’s box. Maybe someday we will have new neighbors there. I hope they are the good kind. If I win the big lottery this week, maybe I will buy it myself.


One of the many benefits of taking A Million Steps on the Camino de Santiago was reconnecting with nature. The slowness of walking allowed me ample time to appreciate this gift.  Try to imagine the beginning of a day with cool breath visible upon each…

Cosmic Stingers

I truly believe that taking A Million Steps on the Camino de Santiago is a metaphor for an entire life cycle.  Upon arrival, everything from the bunk beds to the food is different.  I found myself relying on the kindness and goodness of strangers to…

Day 64: Amenal to Santiago de Compostela (17 kms)

We made it, but the cathedral needs some mending Robin and I could not get to sleep last night. We both tossed and turned. I finally dozed off (according to Robin) at 2:30. Robin thought she might have gotten an hour’s sleep. The alarm went off at 6:00. As one might imagine, there was not much delay in getting out of bed this morning. It had been raining pretty steadily overnight, but at 7:00 when we stepped out the door the rain had stopped. The day was still dim due to the cloud cover, so we stepped cautiously uphill onto the Camino trail, which was just alongside our hotel. Dim turned to dark, but we still managed a good pace, especially once the tree cover opened up, and some daylight could get through. It was arrival day after all. We climbed quickly up to the airport, walked around its perimeter, and stopped for a coffee, just beyond Lavacolla. There were lots of pilgrims drawing a bead on Santiago, this morning, and almost none of them were idling along. We enjoyed the cool dry morning, and found it just perfect for the pace we were walking (around 5 kms/hr). We eventually came upon even more pilgrims, and visions of chaos at the Pilgrim Office started creeping in. We stepped on the gas just a bit more. We topped Gozo, where first timers were taking lots of photos, and just pressed on. Down the backside we went picking up a few more slower walkers in the descent. As we walked into the outskirts of the city the crowd continued to thicken. That’s when I saw the guy with a flag. He was leading an army of pilgrims towards the Porta do Camino, the Camino Way into the old city of Santiago. How to head them off? A closer problem was a second, but equally large, force of Spanish pilgrims all wearing green hats, and carrying walking staffs that looked like shepherd’s crooks, if these two armies converged ahead of us it would be nightfall before we reached the head of the line at the Pilgrim Office (to receive our Compostela for our pilgrimage). Full disclosure, no nefarious tactics were used to improve our position. The green hats we simply out paced. As for the flag guy and his army, they stopped just inside the gate to take off their boots. They must have made some pledge to enter the city barefoot. That was all that we needed to slip past. We came down the Camino past the north door of the Cathedral, and rounded up right in front on the Plaza Obradoiro. I knelt down and offered a quick prayer of thanksgiving, and then we jetted off to the Pilgrim Office on Rua do Vilar. When we arrived the line was just backing up into the street (not bad at all). The green hats and the flag guy were nowhere to be seen (prayers answered). A little over an hour later we had our documents in hand, and were on our way to the Parador to check in. Once this was done we still had about 12 minutes to get to the cathedral for the noon pilgrim mass. As we walked in the north door, We were stunned by the numbers of people in the cathedral. It was simply put, packed. I would estimate that there were at least 4000 people at the mass. Just a wild guess. The botafumeiro was rigged for flight but never took off. The swinging of this huge censor high above the cathedral transepts is a big crowd pleaser at the end of mass. But, sadly, not today. After the mass, we moved out of the cathedral listening to many convesations in several languages. This cathedral is a destination for all those, the world over, who choose to walk the Camino. I must admit I never tire of the excitement it generates. The rest of our day, as you might expect, was spent eating, and drinking. While we were so engaged, I spotted a French guy we met on the Le Puy route. As it turned out he had arrived, via the Camino Frances, yesterday. What fun it was to see him, and share our stories. Camino life is like that. People just seem to turn up when you least expect them. Perhaps it is that unpredictability that helps keep camino life alive, and fresh, just when you might think it isn’t. One thing for sure, it is full of surprises. More later once we have had dome time to think this one through. In closing, I offer our heartfelt thanks to all those who followed our blog, and offered comments or encouragements. It is always a very special treat to hear from someone when you are far from home, and the day, perhaps, has been less than what you had hoped it would be. Thanks for staying with us, and keeping us going. You do make a difference. That’s it from Santiago, thank you, and good night.Cathedral haveThe north transept as we were leavingA quiet garden for my special girlTime for cold oneCathedral repairs now underway Posted with Blogsy

Day 63: Arzúa to Amenal (23 kms)

Two among many We had a very nice stay at Casa Brandariz. Our hosts couldn’t have been more accommodating. It was clear they enjoyed being in the hospitality business. I thought it was a nice touch that they shuttled pilgrims both from and back to the Camino without any additional charge (10 kms each way). We finished a very substantial breakfast, packed up, and found our ride back to Arzúa waiting in the driveway. We were off into a morning of heavy mist, just shy of rain. Arriving in Arzúa, we slung our packs, popped open our umbrellas, and pushed off on the Camino. It was just after 9:00, and the pilgrim herd was heading out of town. We slipped in, and adjusted our pace to create a little space for ourselves among the many others stepping along towards Santiago. It always seems that the pace picks up once you are a couple of days out. It is as though the long anticipated arrival cannot be put off for another moment. Robin and I fall victim to this as well, particularly on arrival day, when we are almost at a trot (don’t want to miss the pilgrim mass at noon). The mist of early morning finally converted to a continuous light rain by midday. It was warm enough that a rain jacket would have been too much, but the combination of rain pants, and an umbrella was near perfect. I can’t recommend the use of an umbrella in warm weather enough. It really is a great solution. Enough said. We stopped at one of the two bars at the top of the hill in Santa Irene. It was time for a bite to eat, and to get out of the rain for a bit. We had been walking for a solid three hours, at a good pace, and it felt good to get off our feet for a few minutes. The bar was a teeming mass of wet pilgrims that created a hothouse like atmosphere as food and drink orders were passed in a variety of versions of Spanish to harried waiters. Somehow it all worked and orders were filled. One thing that is quite noticeable is that our legs are pretty strong. The hills we have been walking up the last couple of days don’t seem to phase us at all. We have been up and down so many hills, for so many days, that I guess we are finally “in shape.” I wonder if we will ever feel this way again. Leaving the bar we crossed the road just behind a large group of school kids. The trail narrowed and we became a captive audience for a variety of “camp songs” as the throng moved along. This was not going to work if we had to follow this group for anther 3 kms. We looked for opportunities to find a passing lane, and eventually scooted free. We were not going to stop in Arca so we avoided the walk through town. All the school kids, and most others, headed for town as that was where they would spend the night. We pushed on for another 3 kms to a small hotel in Amenal, the next town down the road. This location would chop off a few kms from tomorrow’s walk, which is forecasted to be rainy as well. Robin and I have just returned from the hotel restaurant where many mud splattered cyclists, and walking pilgrims have been seeking shelter, and something to eat and drink. Tomorrow will be a wonderful day for us regardless of the weather. One thing Robin and I have agreed to do is that upon arrival in Santiago, we will change from our (now tattered) hiking boots to sandals, and drop the boots in the first rubbish bin we pass. They have done what they were purchased to do (thank a God), but soon it will be time to look for some other footwear. What a treat. More tomorrow from Santiago. We are so close. Bars filled to overflowing Posted with Blogsy