Almost there!

   I am now few days away from Santiago, and as I am walking on this nice mountain trail I find myself reviewing my camino.
First of all, I feel ready to arrive. It seems to me that after 2 months of walking I really found what I was looking for and even more! 

Therefore, it is important to write it down do I can come back to it later, in the infinite race of life. As there is a lot to write, I will publish few articles. Articles to follow very soon! 

The house of silence 

 » On the way there is all I need, when I need it ».  

 
This morning, I wake up feeling tired. Despite the short walking day yesterday, the evening has been tiring: the Albergue was full, the kitchen very small and the people rather noisy. I even decline the invitation of my companions for breakfast: the TV background noise irritates me. Instead I prefer to have my breakfast in the peaceful dinning room, sitting by myself. Today, it is decided I walk alone! 

Once on the way, my mood improves considerably. Today the wind is blowing strongly, it is chasing the rain from the day before and above all drying the muddy soil. In my head the ideas of articles are flourishing and I can’t wait to reach the next village, stop in a coffee and write.

At the entrance of Castrojeriz, I meet Finja with who I walked yesterday. We enter the village together, while sharing our impressions of the last evening and our plans for the day. After few meters, a house catches my attention. On the door it is written « House of silence, for pilgrims. Open ». I show it to Finja and share my intention to enter. We say good bye to each other and I open the door.
I enter, close the door behind me and a sentence I am saying and sharing often since I started to walk comes to my mind:  » On the way there is all I need, when I need it ». Today again this sentence proves to be true.  
The place I entered is magical: inside the first room there is a picture exhibition with an inspirational quotes or a philosophical sentences under each of them. I carry on my visit and discover a kitchen, facing a living room and a conservatory with a wood burner. The house is decorated with taste, everything is in monastic simplicity and evokes a sense of journeys to fare away lands. The background music is relaxing and invites to contemplate and meditate. There are little places to sit, in every corners. It feels good to be there and I can see by the window  a nice garden with the floor covered by autumn leaves.    
I go through the rest of the house more quickly. A nice staircase covered with floor-tile leads to the first floor. A well of light brings some natural light inside. It is painted in yellow and I can see some bird shadows soaring up to the sky. Upstairs, there is a little chapel, very simple: a cross on the wall, a carpet and a cushion to sit on it. Opposite to it, a meditation room with Spanish texts written by hand in colourful sheets of paper left to the eyes of the visitor on the little carpet. In between theses 2 rooms, the bathroom in which big bouquets of rosmary and lavender are drying. I give a glance to the last room: a multilingual library with great books, chosen with taste.   

  

I go back downstairs, it is decided I am spending the rest of the morning here! I remove my shoes, my rain trousers and jacket. And I adventure again in this quiet and comfortable space. This time, I take my time to decide where to sit.  
On the table of the first living room there is a table with tea, biscuits and dark chocolate on it. On a little piece of paper it says « Help yourself ». The cups are in Chinese porcelain and I even find a Genmaïcha tea bag, one of my favourite with green tea and roasted rice. I help myself, take out my phone and sit comfortably in the conservatory to write. 

  
Half an hour later an Asian girl entre from the garden and joins to sit right in opposite to me. We sight to greet each other. She observes me during few minutes, and to my surprise breaks the silence to tell me that the phones are strictly forbidden in that house. And that the creator of this place is positive: he doesn’t want to see it. Stopped in my momentum, I leave my writing project to later.

I stand up to clean my cup, I climb upstairs and try to read a bit in the library. Then, I make an attempt of meditation in the chapel. I hear the wind blowing outside, I feel my energy bubbling inside me and my mind getting agitated. It is the call of the camino! It is time to leave the silence to return in the autumn wind. I can’t wait to share my discovery with my travel companions !

Gratitude

There are places and key moments for each of us on the way. Personally, the halt in the small village of Zabaltica will remain in my memory.

  

I decided to stop there because I knew I would find there a donativo. A donativo is a non profitable pilgrim hostel which is based on volounteer work and donations from pilgrims.  

I arrived there after a day walking through amazing autumn landscapes, the weather was nice and warm. The donativo is sitting on the top of Zabaltica village, in a nice and bright house next to the church.

I am welcomed with my two hiking companions by a tall Irish man: Michael. He explains us that he is volunteer host with his wife Kathleen in this house for 2 weeks. The house can host 19 pilgrims, it belongs to the Catholic Church and there is a small community of 4 sisters who live there.  
Mickeal offers us to leave our bags in the dormitory, to get a shower and invite us to rest a bit or to go to the mass before diner. He also tell us that there is a time of sharing experiences with the sisters and the pilgrims after diner.

  
The place is beautiful and peaceful. After my shower I go down to the garden, some delicious smells of food are escaping from the kitchen where Kathleen is working. I seat for a while on the grass facing the view. I can see Pamplona in the horizon and I suddenly and surprisingly feel like crying. It is an indescribable mixed feeling of tiredness and joy which are inhabiting me at this moment. I think again of a text I received few minutes ago from a friend who is telling me how lucky I am to be walking through Spain, and right at this moment I can fully realise it. I feel blessed and immensely grateful for all the kilometres already walked, this great day, the encounters and the lessons learned on the way; and above all for having the time and the possibility to choose where and when I will end my travel: Santiago? Finisterre?  

  
The diner is delicious, we are many around the table. Then, comes time to share our experiences, whatever our belief and religions we are welcomed in the church by sister Marie Ascu. She speaks Spanish, English as well as French and Swedish. She leads this time which is all about gratitude. The exchange is rich and beautiful, each person explains a bit why she/he is on the way and what she/he is grateful for. We speak about the Autumn of life, about going away from the life motorway to find our own path and about Love. Then, the sisters and the Irish host give us them benediction, it feel great to hear theses people wishing for us to find what we came for! Finally, it is Michael who is closing this time by a song in Gaelic. His strong voice resonate in the church, the pilgrims are sitting comfortably on the pillows. I can see stars in their eyes and a smile on their faces. Here in Zabaldica they experienced a time in the true spirit of the camino. And me, I realised I already found a bit of what I came for. 

T-H-A-N-K    Y-O-U

Lovely France!

As I am about to pass the Pyrenees and continue my way in Spain, I have at heart to share with you theses little thoughts from the experienced traveller I am. 
From the mountains of Le Puy to l’Aubrac; until Conques and even further: Figeac, the Célè valley, the beautiful arrival over Cahors, the villages of Lot and Gers until the French Basque Country, I have been in marvel. What a beautiful countryside, mountains, vineyards, cows, gardens, fig trees, old historic buildings ! Walking through all of that, is for me, a great way to come back in the country of my childhood. 

   

  

    

  

 
It taste so good! In a figurative way as much as in the proper way. I rediscovered and discovered our terroir products: a new cheese every 50km from the local producer and a glass of wine. In the halts, I enjoyed the fresh fruits and veggies from the garden, the homemade juices and jams…Hummm…such a tasty way!
Talking about the way, do you know how lucky we are to live in a country which maintains so many trails ? Yes, I can tell you : I visited beautiful countries with splendid landscapes where there are very few possibilities to hike .

Therefore today I share with you all my love of the good sides of France 😉 

Sweet France, dear country of my childhood! 

See you soon, after Roncevau pass! 

  

Letter to my rucksack

  
My dear bag pack, You have been with me since my first scout camp, you have been part of all the adventures, all the travels and all hikes; and it now time to say good bye. 

Indeed, little Decathlon Quechua bag, somewhere in the world you left your 2 aluminium sticks which I am missing so badly since a week! 

Your too low shoulder straps are waking up a old ski injury in my left shoulder. 

My love for you, first blinded me: I am so used to back pain. Yes, but it is taking out of me so much energy and I am becoming tensed and grumpy. Therefore today, mid way on the Camino, I chose the one who will replace you.

Please, forgive me! You know me so well, you know we couldn’t continue that way!

Little Decathlon Quechua bag, thank you for containing my clothes, my notebooks, my food, my books, my presents and souvenirs for so many years. I will (almost) miss you!

Maïthé (who just came back from a yoga session and is going to get a massage)

The little pleasures of life

« There is a sunrise and a sunset everyday. And you can choose to be there for it. You can put yourself on the way of beauty. » Cheryl Strayed

There is something magic about sunsets. Today it is Sunday and I decide to treat myself! I wake up at 5.48, feeling fresh and ready for my day (yes, I was in bed at 9pm last night). I sneak out the bedroom, start the kettle and dress up. One of my many guilty pleasures of the way (and life) is my breakfast. Today, I am having an earl grey with a porridge full of fresh and dry fruits, nuts and because it is Sunday, I add some chocolate chips. This is a day which is starting well!   
Once my bag ready, my feet in my shoes and my stick in my hand, I try to find my way out of the asleep city. I pass the walls, cross the bridge and follow the departmental road. When I pass the roundabout I can tell: the show is about to start. Quickly I spot a nice stone wall, perfect to sit and rest my bag. Just in time to turn back and watch the sunrise: the sky is blue, purple, pink, orange and yellow. I am here, alone along the road in this fresh morning, the day is ahead, and this moment full full of promises is simple, unique and beautiful. Soon, the birds are joining in, adding their music. Perfect and magical show…I promise I will come back! Happy Sunday everyone ! 

   
 

The pilgrim state, a way of being

  Yesterday I shared a table with a group of hikers in their fifties. A man more curious than the others asked me lot of questions “Where did you start?” “Where are you going ?” “Why do you go til the end?” “Is the way helping you in your reflexion?” This question inhabited me for the rest of the afternoon. Is the way helping me? Since I left, I am floating on the ocean of encounters, discussions, experiences and reading of books & magazines borrowed for an evening in the halt. And thinking of it, yes I believe it is nourishing my reflexion. No need to focus on my objectives and to think of it days and nights to reach it. I have it clear in my head but on the way it is like in life: everything comes at the right time, and sometimes not in the order I would imagine. As I spend my days outside and speaking with people (when I am not walking on my own), I now reached a new state of being: the pilgrim state.

The pilgrim state is about the body as much as the spirit and the heart.

  First of all there is the body. This body which carry a bag and walk in average 20km per day. This body is under new pressures and soon start to scream: for me it has been the Achilles’ tendon, for others it has been blisters or shoulders pain. Once the 10 first days are passed, my body became used to the rhythm. At that point I realised I had lost the notion of time : I don’t use my watch anymore, I don’t know which day of the week we are. I eat when I am hungry, I do breaks when I feel pain or tiredness. And I sleep and wake up when my body ask for it. It might sound like holidays-luxury-mode but it is actually a great learning. Indeed, it happen that all the books or magazines I found on my way in the last few halt were all about this topic: the language of our body. Our body express many things and if we listen to those signs it becomes easier to live, to interact with others and even to make choices! My body is wise and on the way there is the space and the time to learn more its language. It is sometimes more difficult to accept to rest for a day or to understand that the pain is not necessary related to physical effort but to something bothering me since a day or two. In any case, it is a great lesson, a universal lesson in the pilgrim’s universe.


And there is also the spirit and the heart. I did this experience few times since Le Puy: to share to someone I met few hours before, something I would usually share only to a very close friend. It is part of the magic of the way: everyone is walking there for a very specific reason, I meet people who live miles away from my home, totally detached from my friends and family circles. Therefore I know the confidence will remain secret and won’t impact further my life. It becomes more easy to share thoughts and questions, It has a liberating effect and the discussion often help to move forward. It is comfortable and make me realise once again that often exchanging few words can lead me further on my way.

Et voila! This is the pilgrim state of being: listening to the body and clearing the heart and the spirit. I highly recommend the experience, it feel and taste good!

People of the way I (full version) 

  Megan from Portland (US- Oregan)

« I am walking on the Camino now because I am 67 years old and soon i will be too old. I wanted to excercise, see how beautiful it is, to challenge myself, to try to speak French again. And I thought I could take 3 weeks before my 4th grandchild is born. All my grand children are in Portland and I spend lot of time with them. Also, I want to enjoy the « vin du pays et le fromage du pays » before returning to Portland winter and my own cooking« . 

   Yean- Seoul Korea

« I travelled almost all over EU by train, bus & flight. And when I see through the window I was really disappointed to pass by that beautiful landscape. So this time I wanted to walk through that beautiful landscape, not just passing by. More importantly, this experience is a kind of ritual before I start another way in my life ».

 Ian – Melbourne Australia

« I am 70, it is very great to be alive. To do a walk like this is very important because I had 3 different lot of cancer; and because of that I have a care free attitude and I enjoy life. I’m fortunate to have a grata wife, 3 sons, 2 wonderful daughter in law and 8 grand children. To do a walk like camino walk, your journey start from the first step you take from your home. Along the way you meet wonderful individuals who have them own personal issues that they often share with you. That’s what make the way so special. Wherever you start and your finish being Santiago. It is one of the most moving experiences you can have in life. How lucky we are. »

 
Nicolas- Champagnole France

« If I need to say it in few word: life is beautiful and short, the world is wide and beautiful, we need to enjoy that. To not stay at home, to travel. The Camino is without a doubt a good way to see the world, to meet the people of the world, to experience something meaningful ».


Ingrid – Den Haag Holland

« I’m doing the camino because I want to think about my future. I work 28hrs a week and in the rest if the time I am a sculptor. 6 years ago, I finished a 4 years course in transpersonal counselling. What I am thinking of now is what can I do withe people in transpersonal counselling, in sculpture and walking. How can I combine it? That ‘a were my heart is ».

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Natalie – Montreal Canada

« My dad did Santiago from Le Puy to St Jean-Pieds-de-Port and there are people around me who did it or want to do it, this is where my idea of this form of travel is from. I arrived at Barcelona for a yoga training and my plan was to visit France through the Camino and meditate. The way is fascinating, the landscape are beautiful and you can see abundance everywhere you look: through the people, the garden. It takes us back to the source, we don’t need more than that, people in the farm simply live from the land. When walking, we can realise that it is easier to walk on the grass than on the asphalt. As if the human being is destroying more than being in harmony with nature. »


Gregoire – Paris France

« I am with Caroline since 2 years and the change of life between single to in couple pushed me to stop living for myself only . Therefore, to be more exigent with myself in order to be the best possible for her. For that and also for my professionals aspirations I needed to take a step back, to get away from my Parisian daily life and everything which was familiar: my friends, my family, the cigarette, all those things! I decided to go to Santiago because I think it is a place where you find simplicity, the joy of meeting people, of arriving somewhere after a long day of walk. It is taking you out of the nowadays malaise, a kind if spleen that you impose to yourself by choosing a repetitive life, routinely and above all comfortable and mediocre ».

Finding the good rhythm on the camino

Can you feel the bit of your life? Is it slow? Is it fast? Do you feel peaceful? Do you feel breathless? Are you currently pushing your limits or are you comfortable? Do you sometimes happen to need  a break?

No one can walk on the camino without asking themself these questions. Nivia and Andrea had told me:  » On the camino, each person has its own rhythm. You will see some days, you won’t be able to walk and that’s fine. » I would have never imagine that would happen to me on the 3rd day after 40 km only!  Yersterday I happily walk the first 15km, no issue to climb the 400m difference in height between Monistrol d’Allier et Montaure. However, as I was taking my distance with the group I had share the first kilometers on the plateau, in order to take my well diserved lunch break, a unknown sensation started to bother me. My right Achilles tendon started to « grate », to pull, to be painfull…as if it had rusted. In reality, it is the complete opposite which happen. It was a cloudy day with sunny spells and I haven’t drunk enough: less than 1L over the 20 kms, typical beginner mistake!!!!

As a result, I reached Saugues with 2 painful tendons and a heavy feeling of tiredness. Nothing to do with the good old tiredness feeling of one walking day in open air. I couldn’t beleive the energy level of my companions around the table at tea time!

Fortunately, there are the good encounters: a French Canadian girl who already walked the Camino 7 years ago, recommended me to drink loads of water. And I was lucky enough to meet in Le Puy Simon ( professional physio) who massaged my 2 tendons while I was lying on the table of the dinning area!

However,  this morning I had to accept to let my companions go and continue the way while I was resting. My left tendon is back to normal but the right one is still « grating ». Since yesterday evening, I have drunk not less than 4L of water, I have stretched and more importantly I have slept, slept and slept.

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I am recovering fast. Tomorrow, if everything goes well, I will be back on the camino. Happy Sunday to you, enjoy this day of rest as well!

The bag and the fears 

  Before going on my way, I was reading the book Immortelle Randonné written by Jean-Christophe Ruffin who shares his experience of the way. A chapter is dedicated to the bag a very important element of pilgrims life. The author promotes the idea that the bag tells a lot about the fears of its owner, that every single items which appear to be useless on the way despite the careful selection operated during the preparation reflects the fears of the carrier.

As I was preparing my bag, this idea made me think. I shared the concept to my relatives who were witnessing the operation and someone said « I know what you are scared about! You are scared about the weight of your bag » that was an evidence and I believe I am not alone in that case. However, I learned something about myself as I was going through the exercise. I was surprised to find more difficult giving up on taking a book (171g) than giving up on my fear camera (880g). And I don’t exclude the possibility to buy a book on my way! And yes, I have to admit: I still have the possibility to take pictures with my phone!
And you, which useless item is in your bag?