Time Flies

September 14 2018. When I started this journey and this blog I imagined long relaxed evenings updating, chatting to friends, sharing stories, drawing in my journal.

The reality is that by the time I have walked between 20-30km the body is sore and tired, the mind is going ‘oh goddess, do I have to get out of bed tomorrow?’ And my art journal remains in the bottom of the bag while I shovel in fuel for tomorrow and curl up in tonight’s bed.

So with the lack of updates, we are now in a small place on the high plains called Castrojeriz. We are in the old part and the actual town is 15 minutes away.

We have realised that the Camino follows the old roads and trails, winding through the countryside, up and down stony hills and through old cobbled streets of the towns. It is like walking through history. I have grown to hate the roads and sealed paths and sigh with relief when I see a rocky track ahead of me and my sore feet echo the sigh as they embrace the uneven dirt and stones, rolling across some kind of weird reflexology as I walk.

Spain is a very Catholic country and the cathedrals and churches are magnificent. Quietly pleased that the ceilings haven’t caved in on me yet, my Presbyterian upbringing is in awe of the gold and glitter, statues and saints that abound here. I find I still prefer the small plain chapel’s, the quiet hominess of them.

I have not been in churches for many years having left the construct man has put around religion and moved more to a quiet belief in the holy and following the path of the Goddess or Holy Mother. The beauty of the churches here, from Chartres and Lourdes to tiny Spanish towns, is the presence, front and centre of the Holy Mother in the form of Mariam or Mary.

Ok talking about my inner beliefs was never meant to be a part of this writing but there it is, falling out when I least expect it.

Lourdes

September 7 2018. Having to go to France, with my arm twisted up my back, (never forgetting the Rainbow Warrior debacle), the only other place I had a desire to see was Lourdes. Having flown from Paris to Biarritz, staying a night at a lovely airbnb, where our hostess Patricia met us at the airport, and picked us up in the morning and took us to the train, we made a train change on the way and landed in Lourdes around 11.30am.

The grotto where Mary appeared to Sister Bernadette is a place of healing and pilgrimage for thousands every year. The town of Lourdes is built entirely around the pilgrims. It felt very touristy to us. We had booked a nice old hotel just 3-4 minutes from the grotto.

We bought a few small bottles to fill with holy water and visited the grotto for the English service in the afternoon. It was stinking hot! Sitting in the sun, listening to the chanting of ‘Hail Mary’, and watching the seemingly endless line of people streaming around the grotto, touching the rock, seeking healing was amazing.

We filled our drink bottles with holy water, lit candles, prayed and then soaked our feet in the river, which we figured the holy spring emptied into.

It was nice, but not the experience I had thought it would be with the endless lines of people. We climbed up the stairs and investigated the chapel which was amazing and on up to the upper chapel. It was beautiful and worth the climb, we spent some time in it.

Leaving there we found our way outside and a sign pointing uphill to the 12 Stations of the Cross. Pilgrim Brenda decided we needed to do the walk (did I say it’s stinking hot?) so up the hill we went. We climbed the hill past the lovely depictions of the life of Christ and wandered down the other side. Near the bottom there was a path off to the side which Brenda and I wandered into. It was a natural cave, a natural chapel with a statue of Mary holding the crucified body of Jesus. It was a chapel for prayer for lost children, lost as in death or lost as in drugs, estrangement or by other means. It was overwhelming, beautiful and an amazing energy space. The tears ran as my heart felt the tenderness of the holy mother watching our children. The people tending the space offered to pray with me, an act of compassion that held us. This was me having a moment or two.

Back in our room it was time to repack and shed some weight. Dumping boarding passes, used papers, receipts, spare underwear, a tshirt and a blanket out of my pack as I tried to hone my weight for the adventure ahead.

Next stop would be St Jean Pier de Port. We had discovered we could get our pilgrims passports from Lourdes and so the next morning we went early to refill water bottles (need as much holy water as we can get), get our passports (not as flash as the fancy Camino ones) our first pilgrim stamps and off to the train. Two train changes later we were at our jumping off point. No more transport but our own feet for the next 5 weeks.

The Grotto of Our Lady, Lourdes

Food Tour in Montemarte

September 6 2018. Still in Paris. Some time ago Pilgrim Pauline found a food tour online, the secret food tour what’s more. She booked us and we wondered what we were getting into. Often on these types of tours there is pressure to purchase extras from the ‘best’ vendors of this or that. In true Kiwi style we are resistant to such selling techniques and hoped we would not have to endure too much of it.

We got sorted early on the Sunday morning, leaving our bags at the hotel, we took an uber to Montmartre, outside of Paris. The locals here refuse to be a part of Paris or be called Parisian.

The uber dropped us beside the subway entrance where we were to meet our guide. It was early and businesses were just opening. The church opposite the station was beautiful. Rather new but built in the old style. We went to a cafe that was just opening because breakfast out in Paris – why not? I had a cheese buckwheat pancake thingy called a gallette, which I thought was the name of ice-cream but turns out that is gelato. It was delicious! Could be my favourite breakfast if I can learn how to make them.

Returning to the subway entrance we met up with some others doing the tour. We all looked around wondering when the guide would turn up and suddenly there was this rather large kilted dude with a leather vest and a motorcycle teeshirt and boots. This was PJ, holding a pink umbrella, and he was not what we expected.

There is a large map on the fence by the subway, and using this we had a 10-minute history of Paris and Montmartre including the reasons behind the revolution. Very interesting. Then we found out why Montmarte is not part of Paris and sits outside the original city walls.

Going to the bakery, we learned about bread. Who knew that a baguette is only a baguette if it weighs 250g? If it is heavier, it is something else. Why? Because it was designed by an engineer! Seriously! How good is that? Apparently back in the day everyone took a round loaf of crusty bread to work in the fields or wherever, cut it up at meal breaks with a knife. Baking was once a week so it could get pretty tough by weeks end and a knife was needed to saw through it.

Society got a bit industrialized; workers came from all over to work different trades, factions arose, rivalries began and, well, knives are good for stabbing people. So an engineer came up with the idea of smaller loaves that could be torn with the hands and knives were banned from the workplace as the baguette was born.

PJ bought some fresh bread from the oven and on we went to the cheese shop. Volumes have been written about French cheese. We learned about types, tastes, rinds, probiotics and quality marks. And we got to taste some cheese. PJ bought some cheese and off to the butchers we went.

Meat, how it is presented – ducks and chooks have their heads and feet left on so the customer can identify what they are getting. Everything is fresh. Really fresh. We learned about the relationship between the vendor and the farmer, quality and traceability. PJ bought some meat.

Then we went up a side street where with a joke about breaking and entering, PJ unlocked a closed wine bar and led us inside. We were a mixed group with a young family in the mix. PJ was lovely with the girls, including them in the food discussions. Now we had a session on wine tasting, with cheeses, 4 or 5 different types. Then another wine and meats, the histories of different cuts and the flavors… oh la la!

By now we were in seventh heaven, wine, cheese, meat, good company, entertaining guide. We were having fun.

But wait, there was more! Following the meats came red wine, tasting and aroma and cellaring information and two more amazing cheeses, including Roquefort blue cheese. I did not know it was sheep cheese or made in a cave that has some special mould spores to make it blue (some is now made in factory conditions with the mould introduced by a bread with the mould). Great story, great cheese, lovely organic wine, what’s not to love?

After this sumptuous feast we headed out thinking the tour was done. But no! We stopped at a sweet shop and had a talk on the chocolates (handmade) and the macarons. Such variety! We were allowed to choose 2 macarons and 2 chocolates. I chose an almond and a grassy/herby type macaron, really soooo good, with a wasabi and a salted chocolate. PJ paid the account and off we went to the crepe shop where he took orders from the group and we all had a crepe each.

It was an amazing tour, no pressure to buy anything. Jam packed with information, jokes, anecdotes and fun. We had an amazing time and would highly recommend the experience.

https://www.secretfoodtours.com/paris/

(Photos: Brenda and Pauline with PJ outside the bar; my galette breakfast; the church opposite the subway)

Next stop, Lourdes via Biarritz.

Top: PJ with Brenda and Pauline outside lunch venue. Middle: Cheese Gallette. Below: Montemarte Church

Actually Leaving

August 23 2018. The starting point. Then there is leaving home and family. Getting ready to leave has been a marathon in itself. In the last week I have moved my wee home, tried to compress enough gear for 2 months into a pack, had several meltdowns, worried about my knee and finally made it to Wellington airport to discover my bag won’t be checked through to Paris as I expected. Quiet panic over the two hours I have to collect said bag, get to international and book in. Need a cup of tea and a lie down before the adventure begins.

My daughter and grandson ready to drive me to the airport.

This blog is about one part of my life, walking the Camino de Santiago. The challenges and the successes. It was hard, it was long and I was glad to get home. The pilgrimage changed me in many ways. Stories are still writing themselves in my mind and heart of my adventures there.

Getting started…

August 28. When we started this journey I didn’t realise how time-poor we would be. It has been an education.

From Lourdes we took 3 trains to St Jean Pied de Port, a small town in the lower Pyranees. We arrived at 1pm when everything was closed except the cafes so lunch was the first stop. It was very hot and I had the first tickle of unease about our days plan. My pack was too heavy and it had taken time to arrange to send some stuff forward. To do this we needed to wait for the post office to open. So we had lunch, wandered down to the post office, packed up 3kg of items into a box, including my one dress, my spare tights and a book among other things. Having already left a fleece blanket, a teeshirt and some underwear in Lourdes, I felt I had trimmed enough. Later in the day, I knew I hadn’t.

We had got our Compostellas or pilgrim passports in Lourdes, so needed a stamp from the pilgrims office. Finding that took a bit, the lovely man, Patrick phoned ahead to Orrisón to let them know we were coming and advised we needed to be there by 6pm. Even though we had booked and paid, our beds would be given away if we did not get there. Nine km, 3 hours? Piece of cake!

We set off at 3pm in 33degC and got on to The Way. It is marked with yellow arrows and yellow shell signs. The shell being the sign of the pilgrim on the Camino.

Leaving town, the road went up, and up, and up. It was hot, the pack was heavy, and the road was very very steep. I plodded. Watched my companions disappear in front of me. I sweated, drank a bit of water. Stopped in whatever shade I could find to rest a moment and then plodded on. I hoped that Brenda had enough in the engine to get us booked in by 6pm, I knew I didn’t. It was hot, the heat was unrelenting. By this time it felt like the road was perpendicular and required a grappling hook and crampons.

It was too hot and too hard. And it was day 1. The track deviated from the road into a dirt goat track around 2km short of the destination. Oh Holy Mother I was going to die on this hill!

I stopped and prayed for a ride, any kind of ride. The only thing that came along was a tractor. So much for that.

Shuffling on up the track using my trekking poles to haul me up, I stopped in a bit of shade. Hard to get started again, I felt like a failure. A year in the planning and this hill was going to beat me.

Funny thing about having no choices, we all kept going, in our own particular kind of hell. At one point I decided sleeping under a tree would be a good idea. But kept going anyway, gasping every step of the way.

Why, when the cold that had put me in bed for 5 days 6 weeks ago and left me very weak had I thought this was a good idea. Fair, fat and over 50, what the hell had I been thinking?

Finally I popped out the top of the goat track onto the road. Staggering up the hill a little I saw a building, yes! But no, it was the alburgue before Orrisón. Oh hell.

Then a van came along. Holding out my hand, he pulled up. I asked how far to Orrisón. I had no French, he had no English and could not tell me. I think he may have thought I was going to have a heart attack on the spot, he could have been right. He waved to the passenger seat and I caved, hell yes! Prayers get answered sometimes. He gave me ride the last 900metres. Shite. 900 metres, if I had known that I would have staggered on but as it was I made it in time for dinner in just under 4 hours.

Blessings on my sister Brenda who nearly burst a fufu valve, and also wanted to die on the climb, she put in tremendous effort to claim our beds so we did not have to sleep under a tree. Forever grateful to her determination. I cannot describe what an effort she put in. Huge gratitude to her, people were waiting for beds. Just as well we weren’t all under a tree, there was a massive thunderstorm in the night.

The dinner was fantastic! Just what the doctor would have ordered. Our hosts got everyone to stand and introduce themselves with where they were from and why they were walking. It was to prove very helpful as we meet with the same folk in various places along The Way.

Bed was welcome in a dorm of 10 people. Showered and in my sleeping liner, I listened to the storm outside. Tomorrow we had to climb the rest of the Pyranees to Roncesvalles. Oh Lord what have I let myself in for?

The Too Much Woman

On a pilgrimage like this, with nothing between you, your thoughts and the sound of your feet meeting the trail, you meet yourself.

Having been invited to join my sister and her friend on their journey, I got organised and tried to train well. Things I did not understand – I wear my heart on my sleeve and needed to learn to hide my heart along with any pain and any thoughts. I was travelling with the ‘suck it up’ team.

In my job as a carer, I hear adult children bewildered by finding out a loved one has a serious illness they have not disclosed. The ‘stiff upper lip’ brigade we call them. Family are devastated that they have not had an opportunity to be included in the process and now it is too late. My travel companions subscribed to this mode of being, don’t mention it, don’t dwell on it, get hard or go home.

Steep learning curve for the soft one but I eventually learned to keep my thoughts to myself, that because I live alone, work autonomously and have no one to share these things with it is being self-centred to talk about myself or mention thoughts or feelings. This was a trigger for all of my issues with being ‘not enough’ in this world. Or perhaps a better expression is being ‘too much’ in life.

I started the journey out of shape, 30kg overweight, recovering from a bad cold and a fitness level that was well below par. In training I walked up to 15 kilometres on the weekends and tried to do 3-5km during the week. This gave stiff muscles time to recover and never gave my feet a taste of what they were in for. In my wildest imaginings I could not have imagined what my body would feel like day after day, walking a half marathon.  So yes, I walked regularly, but did nowhere near enough.

To be fair, no one really has any idea of the endurance and tenacity needed to walk 800km in temperatures ranging from 15-35ºC. Cool mornings, brutally hot days.  Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun…  Oh, how often that phrase danced around my brain as I willed myself forward in the blistering heat.

Weirdly enough carrying a pack, and walking everyday saw my life long back issues pale in comparison to the pain in my left knee which was to become my nemesis. It was an old injury so before leaving I went to a physio who showed me how to strap it and sent me off to buy K Tape.  I diligently strapped the knee and off we went. On day one, the mountain climb to Orrison, I limped to bed with all the ligament attachment points throbbing. The next day, we went over the Pyranees, following the signs, I took the steep path down the other side, trying to protect the knee. The others went down the road. Not knowing there was another option, my knee got worse.

After nearly 10 days, I was limping on what felt like razor blades right around the knee. Strapping was useless. The joint was on fire and none of the drugs on hand was really touching it. My companions were annoyed with my lack of ability to suck it up, an area I still needed training in.

In Pamplona, we went in search of a knee brace, the pharmacy had a good selection. It was not cheap and it was the best investment I could have made. Pulling the brace on was like magic. Around 75% of the pain disappeared. Hallelujah! After that, unless I twisted or wrenched the joint, I was able to cope with the pain.

Twice I really twisted the joint, limping into Santo Domingo after twisting it early in the day by stepping badly on a rock and slipping.  My companions, who also had sore feet, knees and hips didn’t need to hear me whining. I climbed into bed with a rolled towel under my knee, swallowed more ibuprofen and tried to suck it up. The second time was on the descent into Leon, a short day, we were there late morning. I stumbled on the way down the hill into town, wrenching my knee, setting all the razor blades going again.  We spent some time in the town shopping, heavy packs notwithstanding, I was not coping well and in tears by the time we got to the hotel, determined not to mention the pain but I was sooo bad at sucking it up. Ordering room service to have something to take medication with, I swallowed 1600mg of ibuprofen and waited for it to kick in. I am sure my companions would have preferred me to take my drugs and holiday elsewhere at that point and I got the burden talk again.  That day was the anniversary of my father’s death, on top of not coping it was just a hard day. Pouring a huge gin and tonic on top of the drugs did wonders. After that, I started each day with ibuprofen for breakfast and shut the fuck up.

According to Louise Hay, knees are about pride and the ego. Related to the inability to bend, fear, inflexibility and kidney problems. Well maybe this is what I have to work on… Later, I was to buy a brace for the right knee, to stop it becoming more of a problem.

So went the days of walking, trying not to rock the boat, suck it up and shut up. In spite of doing my best I was still ‘The too much woman’ – I was too loud, constantly being shushed, too clumsy, dropping my pack too heavily when taking it off, too destructive, if I sat at table and bumped it I was like an earthquake waiting to happen. One night on closing a door, locking it with the key that had a huge metal tab attached, which clanked. I was then of course the most heavy-handed person ever, not being able to do anything quietly. Judgement that may have been warranted however it was not kind.

The more I felt judged, the clumsier I got, the more I shrank inside myself, the more I tried to disappear, simply agree and pray that that was not the wrong thing to do in the moment. As I walked mostly on my own the problem with being too much everything weighed on me and the tears flowed a lot as I tried to hustle at my best pace to not fall too far behind.

I cried for who I thought I was and wasn’t. I cried because life had not been kind. I cried because I was rejected by the man I had loved for 35 years without realising he never loved me. I cried because I couldn’t phone Mum and talk to her and I was mad at her for dying. I cried because my relationship with my sister was not what I had thought it was. I cried because I was lonely. I cried because I had no one to hear me. I cried because for most of my life I have not been heard. I cried because I simply had too many tears to contain them. I cried because I could, because no one was there to judge me in the moment, because I had miles to walk and my knee hurt, because my heart was sore and I have no idea what life holds for me when I go home. I cried because I did not want to go home.

Stopping in various places we gathered with other hot sweaty pilgrims. I observed those that like me are overweight and struggling quietly pick up their packs and move on, their insecurities pulled to the fore by the relentless heat and energy expenditure. And I know, in that moment, I am not alone on this trail. There are other women out here that are ‘too much’ in life also.

The Journey

The Journey (June 2018)

Over the past nearly four years my life has moved at an incredible rate in all sorts of directions I could never have imagined. I have had to leave my home, then moved five times, traveled to California and Colorado in the USA, hopped across the ditch to Australia, moved out of the Bay of Plenty for the first time in over twenty years, to Taupo, then on to Wellington.

Each place I have lived has become successively smaller, from a small farm cottage, to a flat, to a cabin, to a camper until now I live in a caravan with all my stuff in storage. I wonder how much stuff I actually need. Ending up with two storage units was not the plan, so in my own version of storage wars, I had to move everything once again into one larger unit, getting rid of some stuff just to fit it all in.

Then to show me stuff is really not important, life has done it again in the form of my sister convincing me that a pilgrimage is needed at this time of my life so in 2018 I will be walking across Spain on the Camino de Santiago for 6 weeks and 800km. The distances seem to vary, so the uncertainty in that feels just right. Why am I doing this? Just because. My life will be condensed to my hiking pack and good shoes. This raises several questions, like, why a pilgrimage? What has this to do with getting my life back together? How important is stuff? Hopefully I will find the answers somewhere along the path…