Friday, July 10, 2009

The Camino de Santiago - The Beginning

May 15, 2009 We couldn’t believe we were there. On Sunday, May 10 we took the 7AM train from Madrid to Pamplona and then a taxi up to Roncesvalles. We got there at noon. It was so much smaller than we had expected, about 10 buildings - all from the Middle Ages. We got our Credential, waited for the albergue (a dormitory for pilgrims) to open at 2 and checked in. The albergue held 120 pilgrims and by the end of the day it was filled and turning people down. Paul & I got adjoining top bunks - bare mattresses with bare pillows, so we spread out our sleeping bags. (Not exactly Comfort Suites with a pillow selection!) The single women were place on one side of the room and the men on the other. Couples were in the middle. The hospitaleros (the men who ran the albergue) were from a Protestant church in Holland and were helpful and friendly. We were surprised they were Protestant, because we thought that most of the workers on the Camino would be Catholic.

At 6 PM there was a Pilgrim´s Mass in the Abby. It was a relatively small chapel with beautiful stained glass and ornate altars. The sermon was about St. Paul´s journeys to preach to all nations. At the end of the sermon, everyone, (both Catholic and Protestant) who felt at peace with their relationship with Christ, was invited to take Communion. I was surprised at how welcoming and ecumenical the church was. After Communion, all pilgrims were invited to the front of the church to receive the Pilgrim´s blessing. It was so perfect and personal that many of us were in tears. This was the blessing:

Almighty God, grant your mercy on those who love You and never go far from those who seek You. Assist your servants as they walk your pilgrimage and direct their paths according to your will. During the day provide them with a protective shade and at night light their paths with your grace. Let them know that they will never walk alone, because You will always accompany them; so that they may arrive happily at their destination. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen At 7PM we all went to the Pilgrim´s dinner in the adjoining building to share a common meal (for 7 Euros). We were seated at round tables for 10, so we met several other people - only one from the USA! It started with a lentil soup, then trout with french fries, pitchers of red wine, water, bread and yogurt for dessert. After supper, we returned to the albergue. We got dressed for bed and, at 5 minutes to 10PM, we heard spiritual organ music fill the high ceilinged, stone gothic building we were in. At 10PM all the lights went out. One of the hospitaleros began singing a Gregorian chant. It was an incredible way to fall asleep.

Surprisingly, not that many people snored and we soon heard more music. It was 5:55AM on Monday! At 6 AM the lights went on and we all got dressed. Paul and I were on the road by 7AM and walked 28 kilometers through the beautiful Pyrenees! You can´t believe how often we kept saying, "I can´t believe we are here." and "Look at that!". There was one beautiful vista after another. The weather was great (about 55 when we started and by noon it was in the upper 60s) - perfect for hiking. After about 18 kilometers, we were congratulating ourselves on how well we were doing. Little did we know that the last 10 kilometers were going to be killers. We climbed and climbed up muddy paths, full of large rocks and roots. It was even tougher coming downhill, because it was really slippery. By the time we arrived in Zubiri, we were exhausted and decided to stay in a pension with a private room instead of an albergue. At 8:15 PM we were sound asleep.

We woke up at 6AM again and the owner of the pension told us that there had been a huge storm last night. We hadn´t heard a thing. We began the Camino at 6:50AM with a prayer and went straight up a muddy hill for about 1.5 km before we reached a village of about 10 houses with no place to eat breakfast. We went through the hills and two more villages until we finally arrived in city of about 100 houses with a bar open. We were really tired already and had only gone 5.5 km! We ate breakfast of coffee and a jamon serrano (cured ham) sandwich and felt a whole lot better. We continued on through more beautiful villages, crossed over two streams and went over two hills to arrive in Trinidad de Arre – a total of 18km. When we crossed the medieval bridge into the city, we saw the albergue and knocked on the arched door. A Marianista Brother greeted us, stamped our Credential, and gave us a tour of the building. Turns out it was a Pilgrim´s hospital in the 13th Century and was located next to a monastery. In the 17th Century, the two buildings were bought by a Confradia (like a group of fraternal people) and converted into one building. The hospital was made into the pilgrim´s albergue where we slept and the chapel is still there. The Cloister is also still there and the garden of the cloister is where we hung our wet clothes! Since Paul & I were the first married couple to check into the albergue, we were given a private room. Cool! There were 36 other beds in the albergue, 8 in one room for women only and the rest were coed. There was also a kitchen, living room, and a laundry area (with washing machine).

So far the whole Camino has been an amazing learning experience. We are thankful that we have stayed healthy and have been able to go even this far. We’re looking forward to the rest of this adventure.

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