Stay Home COVID Camino: Part 1

Stay Home COVID Camino: Part 1

April 24 – Janine, Dave, and I walked the “Camino For Good Virtual Camino,” leaving St. Jean Pied de Port on January 15th and arriving in Santiago de Compostela 87 days later on April 11th. We had such a good time doing it, that on April 22nd Janine and I hitched a ride back to St. Jean de Port (pressed the reset button) to begin the virtual journey again. Janine is in Australia and I am in Canada but we will be virtually walking together. Just one example of Camino magic!

I have been to St. Jean Pied de Port twice actually – the first time in the autumn of 2015 when Dave and I walked the Camino Frances together and the second time in the spring of 2019 when I walked the first 16 days alone. This is a mix of both actual journeys along the Camino Frances as well as our Virtual Camino at home.

Saint Jean Pied de Port’s quaint, medieval atmosphere with its old stone gates and buildings and narrow cobbled streets is magical! On September 9, 2015, Dave and I felt we could have been dropped into a movie set and wouldn’t have been surprised to see knights in their shining armour atop their proud steeds getting ready for a jousting match.

April 25 – On the first day of our “Stay Home COVID Camino,” Janine and I virtually arrived at Refuge Orisson on the flanks of the Pyrenees. We are sitting on the patio relaxing with our feet up and our vino tinto in hand. 🍷 🍷 

Dave liked it at Refuge Orisson, too, when we were here together in 2015 – in spite of the incident with the shower. We were given two tokens, each one good for a five-minute shower. Since we had worked up quite a sweat on the 8 km hike up from St. Jean Pied de Port, I went straight to the shower. I inserted my token and icey cold water rained down before warming up somewhat. The spray became a trickle and then stopped. I soon learned that you need to pump the tap to get more water. The procedure is repeated until five minutes is up. I got clean.

Dave unfortunately was not so lucky. When the spray became a trickle and stopped, he spent time lathering up, saving his water for later. Big mistake! You have five minutes to use the shower and, if you don’t use the water, you are out of luck. You can’t save it for later. He used his microfibre towel to wipe as much of the soap off his body as possible, but we were afraid that if it rained the next day he might get sudsy! 

I got to Refuge Orisson by walking around the Victoria International Airport here on Canada’s West Coast and along some neighbouring streets while listening to a Dan Mullins’ podcast episode. I also got a few close-up photos of British Columbia’s provincial emblem, the dogwood, which is in full bloom.

Dan Mullins’ guest was guidebook author and writer, Johnny Walker Santiago, but the tables were turned, with John interviewing Dan. They both played a few pieces of music that were meaningful to them, and their song choices touched my heart, too: “How Great Thou Art,” Cumbia,” and “We’ll Meet Again.”

John said he was walking the Camino with five others in March, 2020 when they heard the alarming news about the spread of the pandemic and the locking down of Spain. Bars and restaurants were closing and everyone had to get themselves home. John looked back at the beautiful but empty Camino. The old song from WW2 came to mind which seemed appropriate for the closing of the beloved Camino: “We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when, but I know we’ll meet again some sunny day. Keep smiling through, just like you always do, ‘till the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away.”

The episode ended with Dan’s recent message to a group of American pilgrims: “There are so many songs to sing, so many melodies to discover. Embrace the future. Enjoy your place in the global Camino family. Reach out. Feel and care. Get lost; be found. We shall overcome together.” More goosebumps! 😊

April 26 – Tonight Janine and I are spending the night on the flanks of the Pyrenees four kilometres before Roncesvalles. We brought our virtual tents, thank heavens! My daughter, Tania, didn’t have a tent when she was there in 2013, but could have used one. She wrote: “The forest was inky black and a faint fluttering of insects danced in the beam of my headlamp… I began to seriously consider spending the night right there; however I couldn’t help but notice the spiders and other bugs scurrying about in the dirt within the light of my head lamp. The thought of them crawling into my sleeping bag or into my hair or mouth while I slept (if I could have slept) made me cringe so I stood up, hauled my pack up and onto my back and retraced my steps.” (https://mymeseta.com/first-day-first-camino-moment/))

What would another day be without a nugget of wisdom from an episode of Dan Mullins’ podcast? This one is about fear which seems appropriate when thinking about how Tania must have felt, being lost in the dark on the flanks of the Pyrenees. “The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist. Danger is very real. But fear is a choice.” I know I would have been afraid in Tania’s shoes. The danger would have felt very real indeed! 😦 ⚠️

April 27 – It rained hard last night on the flanks of the Pyrenees where Janine and I pitched our virtual tents, but at least we stayed dry – the beauty of a “Virtual Camino!” We packed up early and headed into Roncesvalles for breakfast where we joined a long line-up of pilgrims waiting to get into Casa Sabina. Space to eat at a table was at a premium and the air was steamy, so we were out of there soon after our simple breakfast of orange juice, cafe con leche, toast and jam.

Because it was still raining and we were in no hurry to leave Roncesvalles, we toured the Royal Collegiate Church of Saint Mary as well as the Sala Capitular with its 13th century mausoleum that houses the tomb of Sancho VII and his wife Clemencia. What was most interesting were the numerous skulls staring back at us from under the floor! Yowsers! 😬

After a second breakfast which also served as an early lunch, we headed off to Burguete via the “Oak Grove of Witches” where nine witches were burned at the stake. We were grateful for the tall white cross that is meant to purify the forest from any evil. We made it through without incident.

Burguete is a picturesque little town with window boxes overflowing with flowers. We are staying at the Hotel Burguete which was favoured by Ernest Hemmingway. What a treat! Now it’s time for tapas and vino tinto. 🍷 🍷

April 28 – I am so glad Janine and I are taking our time to enjoy the scenery and the villages on our “Virtual Camino.” The 10.6 km distance I walked today is far enough, so we are staying in the little village of Lintzoain tonight.

This virtual experience is so much more enjoyable than the day I walked 24 km from Roncesvalles to Zubiri in 2019. I didn’t take my own advice: “Walk at your own pace; be in the moment; be open to whatever happens; and don’t worry about keeping to the schedule.” I needed to stop being a “spreadsheet pilgrim” – the term Dan Mullins likes to use for the sort of pilgrim that I was.

I envied a woman I saw the previous day coming down from the Pyrenees towards Roncesvalles. She had shrugged off her pack and found a mossy nest for herself under towering deciduous trees with their new bright green leaves providing a beautiful canopy. The birds were chattering and singing above. Sun dappled the forest floor. She was taking the time to enjoy herself right then and there.

She obviously wasn’t listening to any inward chatter that I had going on in my own head when walking from Roncesvalles to Zubiri: “Get to your albergue so you can get a bed, shower, wash your clothes while there is still hot water. THEN you can enjoy yourself.” For her that wasn’t the priority; she chose to enjoy herself right then and there.

On my actual walk to and from Sidney today, I listened to Dan Mullins interview Sean Gallagher. Sean has launched a YouTube series offering advice for pilgrims. I’m sure he will advise us to: “Walk at your own pace; be in the moment; be open to whatever happens; and don’t worry about keeping to the schedule” – all the things I ignored that day in 2019.” 😬

April 30, May 1 and 2 – Walking from Lintzoain to Pamplona was beautiful in 2015 and 2019, just as it was when walking 28.7 km here at home for the last three days.

When pilgrims think you have gone the wrong way, they call out to you and point in the direction they think is right. That’s what happened when I left the main trail and headed to Zabaldika in April, 2019. The pilgrims on the main trail might not have been aware of the short, worthwhile detour to visit the church and ancient belfry. You can ring the bell once to send your prayers out over the valley.

The lovely Sisters of the Society of the Sacred Heart in Zabaldika welcomed me and gave me “The Beatitudes of the Pilgrim” which they had written that year and translated into various languages. I especially like: “Blessed are you pilgrim, if you discover that the ‘Camino’ opens your eyes to what is not seen.”

After this lovely sojourn, I carried on to the vibrant city of Pamplona where a fellow pilgrim and resident of Pamplona offered to meet us at the City Hall and show us around. We followed the route the bulls run during the July festival and then went bar hopping, Spanish style. The pintxos we ate lived up to their reputation – “deliciosos!” Even the mysterious wormy things some of us had were good!

After visiting Ernest Hemmingway’s favourite hangout, Cafe Iruna, we encountered a little trouble with the bulls, or at least Monette did! 😁

May 3/4 – Yesterday Janine and I virtually and sadly said ‘adios’ to Pamplona and headed towards Alto de Perdon (Hill of Forgiveness). The albergue at Zariquiegui was closed, so once again we were thankful for our virtual tents. Today we continued climbing while enjoying the wonderful views back over Pamplona.

We passed through the row of wind turbines that line the crest of the hill and came to the wrought iron representation of medieval pilgrims, heads bent to the west wind. What fun it was posing amongst them just like Tom and his new friends did in the movie, “The Way.” Looking down the other side of the ridge, we could see the villages we would pass through in the distance: Uterga where Dave and I actually stayed in 2015 and Muruzabal where I stayed in 2019.

What goes up must come down! The way down was over loose rocks that threatened to roll and throw us off balance if we weren’t careful. At least the loose rocks were dry; wet ones would have posed an even greater hazard. A fierce wind accompanied us all the way from the top of the hill. No wonder there are so many wind turbines!

After walking 22.3 km close to home for the last couple of days, I am now virtually camped out within sight of Puente la Reina, ahead of Janine. I didn’t take the two kilometre detour from Maruzubal to the Iglesia de Santa Maria de Eunate as Dave and I did in 2015 for fear of missing Janine when she comes by.

The church at Eunate has an interesting history linked with the Knights Templar who long defended pilgrims on the route to Santiago. It might also have been a burial place for pilgrims who had sadly succumbed to the gruelling physical hardships experienced along the route. Gruelling? What are we in for? Hmmmm… 🤔

Meanwhile, here is where I actually walked here at home.

May 5/6 – Yesterday morning Janine and I packed up our virtual tents and headed the rest of the way into Puente la Reina. We were happy to see at least one little white head bobbing up and down in the stork’s nest at Padres Repardores. When Dave and I walked the Camino in 2015, all the nests were empty but now (happily) they are occupied.

We made our way directly to the Queen’s Bridge, named after Dona Mayor, wife of Sancho III. In the 11th century, she commanded the magnificent Romanesque bridge to be built to support the safe movement of the increasing number of medieval pilgrims. It may or may not be true that the bridge was designed to represent a lifespan. Just like in life, you can’t quite see where you are going until you get there. 

I got a head start leaving Puente la Reina and didn’t stop walking before reaching Cirauqui on the hill. By then, it was definitely time for breakfast number two! When I was leaving the cafe back in 2019, Adele’s song “Rolling in the Deep” was playing on the radio and (drats!) accompanied me for the rest of the afternoon. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get that song out of my head. The crunching of my foot steps kept perfect time: 1234/5678. Same tempo! I tried to change the soundtrack by changing the rhythm of my steps into 123/123 but before I could say “Adele,” she was back with her 1234/5678. She nearly drove me nuts! 😞 🏃‍♂️

May 6 – What an unusual afternoon I had yesterday here in Victoria! With an hour to spare while waiting for Dave, I wandered down Lochside Trail and across Blenkinsop Trestle. At one time there were twelve wooden trestles in Greater Victoria (Saanich). All but two have been destroyed through road construction, scavenging, and decay. The original Blenkinsop Trestle was built during WWI and restored twenty years ago for use by walkers and cyclists.

On my return walk I took more photos of the trestle and, unbeknownst to me, was witnessing a police incident happening in the middle of the trestle involving an injured teenage girl with slashes to her forearms. Three police officers arrived at the same time as I did. They were armed with one really big gun and handcuffs. They waved me through and stopped anyone else from passing until everything was under control – until the girl was in handcuffs, that is. 👮‍♂️ 👮 👮‍♀️ 👧

The reason I was waiting for Dave is because he was taking a driving test as folks who are over 80 have to do. I was amused watching a mom taking various photos of her son holding his big yellow “L” because he just passed the test to get his learner’s licence. No doubt he was relieved to pass and proud of himself, but he was acting cool and unsmiling, unlike his mom. I thought about the contrast between the 16-year-old who gets his learners’ licence and the 82-year-old Dave who gets to keep his licence. Dave was smiling! 👍 😃

The unusual afternoon continued when my new book, “The Art of Pilgrimage,” arrived in the mail. The book immediately fell open to a photo of the Hill of Crosses in Lithuania, a place of national pilgrimage. I then recalled the group of Lithuanian people Dave and I shared the trail with between Lorca and Villatuerta in 2015. They were walking in a procession decked out in traditional clothing, waving flags, and carrying Jesus on a cross and a statue of the Virgin Mary. Coincidentally, by adding 4.6 km onto my 9 km walk to Sidney that morning, I virtually arrived in Villatuerta from Lorca – the exact same area where we met the Lithuanians on the trail in 2015.

I am so excited to finally stay at the highly recommended La Casa Magica here in Villatuerta. Dave and I passed the Albergue in 2015 and carried on to Estella. It was closed in 2019 due to water damage. If the hospitaleros can use extra help, I will stay here at La Casa Magica where I have reserved bunks for Janine and I.

At the end of September, 2013, Tania and her Camino buddy, Andrew, walked from Uterga to Villatuerta. What a fun day it was, in spite of Andrew’s nasty blisters. It was at La Casa Magica where Andrew got minor surgery performed on his painful blisters. Yikes! Here’s how THAT went… https://mymeseta.com/5-a-funny-coincidence/. 😬

May 10/11 – I was so happy to get back on the trail yesterday after taking a couple of days off. The weather has been absolutely perfect for another visit to one of our favourite places: Butchart Gardens. What an amazing variety of tulips!

At the same time, I virtually caught up with Janine at La Perla Negra in the little town of Azqueta. The owner, Helena, greets everyone with an open heart and made dinner for us all with produce from her own garden. Thank you, Janine, for finding this wonderful place for us to stay!

I arrived in Azqueta in fine form, unlike the shape I was in on April 25, 2019. I was doing the “pilgrim hobble” then, caused by two blisters that sprouted the previous day – the first of many. I took advantage of any excuse to rest my poor feet, so stopped at the lovely little Namaste Tea Room in Estella for a healthy veggie smoothie and at the wine fountain in Irache for my share of free wine. The wine was not aged to perfection but beggars can’t be choosers!

Dave and I had no blisters during the entire seven weeks we were on the trail in 2015, so I was surprised to get so many in 2019. Never again will I see others doing the pilgrim hobble without feeling a whole lot of compassion and offering them whatever they need from my extra large first aid kit. I will be well prepared to pay forward all the help people gave me.

After a delightful stay in Azqueta last night, I made it to Villamayor de Monjardin. What a beautiful walk it was! I am in a room for six here at Albergue Oasis Trails and staked out a lower bunk for Janine when she arrives. I heard that they serve a delicious communal vegetarian dinner and buffet breakfast. They also offer tea and meditation after dinner in a cozy, warm room next door. What a treat!

We have full intentions to climb to St. Steven’s Castle on the peak behind the town tomorrow morning, in spite of my blisters. The castle is believed to have been built by the Romans, reinforced by the Arabs, and conquered by the Christians. It was once poetically compared to a stone ship that had run aground on the clouds. Hasta manana! 🏰

May 12th – Today I took a long route from home to Sidney and discovered a rose already in bloom. Isn’t May 12th early for roses? Tulips and roses are competing for attention! Oh, how we love spring!

At the same time Janine and I virtually climbed to St. Steven’s Castle on the peak above the town of Villamayor de Monjardin in time for sunrise. What a beautiful start to a most beautiful day. It was followed by a fantastic buffet breakfast back at Albergue Oasis Trails before heading back onto the trail to Los Arcos. 🤤 🏃‍♂️ 🏃‍♀️

Our walk from Villamayor de Monjardin to Los Arcos was one of the most stunning days ever! On the Camino it seems that all the places you visit, people you meet, and experiences you have every day stand out, probably because when you are walking and have nothing complicated to occupy your mind, you can be more fully present.

On this particular stage, the temperature was perfect, the clouds were dramatic, the breeze made waves across endless fields of grain with their new feathery tops. Red poppies and yellow canola stood out amongst all the other wild flowers. Busy roads were nowhere to be seen or heard.

May 13 – On my walk home from Sidney yesterday, I listened to Patrick and Justin’s interview with Dan Mullins for the second time. I had just finished reading their book, “I’ll Push You,” and wanted to hear about their journey in their own voices again. It was perfect timing to be slogging up my final hill toward home while Patrick and Justin were telling about their difficult climb to O’Cebreiro.

At the same time, Janine and I made it from Los Arcos to Torres del Rio and are virtually 18.5% of the way to Santiago. It was on that stretch in September, 2015, that Dave and I became “hooked” on the Camino. After walking for just ten days, we already knew we didn’t want the journey to end. We were immersed in the Camino with our only responsibilities being to walk, eat, sleep, repeat!

I felt the company of all the pilgrims who had walked this way before us. All the people in my life – living or passed on – were with me, too. I felt their company, their love, and we were all one. It was like being in a trance. The feeling might have been brought on by the rhythm of our footsteps, the tapping of our hiking poles. There were no pressures, no distractions, no telephones, and no news – nothing else in the world except walking the Camino. Life was complete.

The magic caught hold so strongly that I imagined I had the power to create a bench in the shade under the tree ahead. I wanted to sit there and watch the man herding his sheep. When we reached the tree, I was surprised there was no bench.

When the trail became more difficult, it was hard to maintain the magic. Physical challenges took over. It was a struggle in the heat. At the same time, I could understand why people say the Camino is a metaphor for life. We have our ups and downs, our good times and our bad times. Sometimes life is easy and sometimes it isn’t. We came to a long, hot, steep, uphill grind and I thought, “Life can be like that sometimes.”

Making decisions in life can be like coming to an intersection and not knowing which way to turn. We take a route or make a decision and might never know what would have happened if we took a different route or made a different decision. It is easier to lose your way in life than it is to lose your way on the Camino, however. You simply follow the yellow arrows. Even when you enter a path where you see a yellow arrow and, even when there are no intersections, yellow arrows appear periodically to reassure you that you are going the right way. Thank you to the pilgrims with the yellow paint! 🙏 ☺️

May 15/16 – Walking 28.9 km here at home during the last couple of days is a record for me. Tonight I am virtually camped out between rows of grapevines within sight of Navarette, 22.2% of the way to Santiago.

When I saw the triple 2’s, I thought there might be a hidden meaning behind them and YES! The numbers 222 suggest that “You are at a point in your life where you are looking for some sense of balance. This means it’s the best time to have faith and to keep trusting.” The numbers also mean peace and harmony.

Okay! But on my actual Camino on April 28, 2019, my thoughts weren’t so positive. I had been doing the “pilgrim hobble” painfully for five days because of blisters and a suspected stress fracture. I was in desperate need of expert help, but the farmacia in Logrono wouldn’t open for two hours. Should I resort to taking the bus to Navarette – my first bus on either of my two Caminos? The answer had to be “Yes!” I wish I had more faith and trust in my own decision and wasn’t so conflicted.

Soon after I arrived in Navarette, a bus ride of about 13 km, a Swiss pilgrim with a beautifully carved and decorated wooden hiking pole asked me if I had five minutes to spare. I said “Twenty to be exact,” the time it would take before the farmacia opened.

Why did he need five minutes? He and his friend were creating a video of the Camino for his friend’s father. His father loves the Camino and had walked it three times when he was able. Now the father can’t walk, so his son was creating a video of the Camino for him.

A Spanish man and I were to act as pilgrims (not too far-fetched), walking slowly in front of the church as the young man sang a beautiful song. My acting stint as a pilgrim performing the “pilgrim hobble” was well received, but my Academy Award must have got lost in the mail. 🙂

The vintner who owns these vineyards asked if I wouldn’t mind helping him tie up some grapevines tomorrow. I said I’d be happy to since I am waiting for my friend, Janine, to come along. (Too bad there are no Rioja grapes to snack on this time of year!) 😋

May 17-22 – The weather here in the Pacific Northwest for the last few days has been exactly like it was on the actual Camino at the end of April, 2019 – clear skies and cool.

Although it was perfect walking weather then, I was ready to call it a day by 1 PM because of blisters that kept sprouting. I waited with Vania from Slovenia and Glen from the USA for the San Saturnino Albergue in Ventosa to open. Inevitable questions were asked: How is your Camino? Where did you start? Are you going to go the whole way to Santiago? Is this your first Camino? Glen’s response to the last question was: You are going to think I am crazy, but this is my eighth Camino! He admitted to being a Camino addict! I assured him that he’s NOT crazy!

The San Saturnino Albergue was such a treat! There are 42 beds in six rooms. Unlike the previous night at the municipal albergue in Logrono, there is a ladies-only shower with excellent water pressure and the water is hot. There is a kitchen that is so well stocked I almost felt like cooking. Almost! The laundry area is in a separate building a few steps up from the garden. I washed all my clothes along with those of Glen in one load.

The following day I stopped for cafe con leche at a bar by the river in Najera. It was a perfect place to relax, take off my boots, let my socks air dry a bit, and check for hot spots which would indicate new blisters brewing. Wonderful! No new ones! I was tempted to stay longer at the bar by the river, but was afraid I would grow roots and not wanted to carry on to Azofra, my destination for the day.

Sixty pilgrims can be accommodated in thirty cubicles at the municipal albergue in Azofra. Glen didn’t want to share his cubicle with anyone and was willing to pay double, but I was happy to share mine with delightful Annette from Copenhagen, Denmark, for just 10 Euros. A bonus here is the little fountain and pool you can soak your feet in. Great!

Okay, so where was a farmacia’s vending machine when I needed one? You don’t have to wait until Monday for the farmacia to open. You simply put money into a slot and out pops what you need: Compeed, band aids, Ibuprofen, etc. Brilliant! This was in Azofra.

Ciruena is described in the guidebook as “soulless, with a maze of empty apartment blocks.” That describes the town to a “T’! It is like a modern ghost town. The funny thing is, they are building more apartment blocks even though the many already constructed didn’t look occupied. The only people I saw in Ciruena other than pilgrims was one person with two dogs, and a few golfers. Apparently construction of this resort started about fifteen years ago and then the financial crisis of 2008/2009 happened. Someone must have lost a bundle of money on the project.

I stopped at a bar in Ciruena and ran into Glen again. We talked about some of the beautiful stretches of the Camino and the red poppies that grow wild. He thinks about them whenever he experiences a storm on the Camino. Poppies with their delicate petals survive these storms no worse for the wear. Glen says to himself: “If the poppies can do it so can I!” 🌺 😊

My “virtual blisters” is the reason I’ve fallen behind Janine Sawyer. I’ll reach Santo Domingo in 5 km and Janine is already in Castildelgado. Maybe a taxi is in order… 🚖 😞

May 23/24 – Even though my walks here at home are repetitive, there is usually something new to see. Yesterday it was the foxgloves now in bloom. I walked 15.3 km and am virtually a stone’s throw away from Redecilla del Camino and my virtual tent is once again coming in handy.

One of my favourite views on the actual Camino in 2019 was of the fields of yellow canola between Ciruena and Santo Domingo. When I reached Santo Domingo, bells were ringing as people headed to church for a special May Day celebration. The little village of Granon was celebrating, too, with residents decked out in their Sunday best.

The Iglesias S. Juan Bautista Albergue where I stayed in Granon is in the upper floors of the annex to the Church of Saint John the Baptist. It is treasured by pilgrims for the hospitality, cool interior, and tranquil setting. Beatrice and Zilene were beginning their half month as hospitaleras the day I arrived. They greeted me with hugs and kisses and I instantly felt like we were old friends even though we had just met!

Oh no! When I took off my socks I discovered yet another blister! I punctured this one with a needle and thread given to me by a pilgrim from Australia, along with instructions to leave the thread in so that the blister would continue draining. She also gave me a cozy sleeve for the poor toe. At the rate I was going, I might need nine more!

Everyone participated in preparing the communal meal and cleaning up afterwards. We then gathered by candle light in the church choir loft. Thoughts, feelings, experiences, a song, tears, and hugs were shared. Bonds were made, and a Camino family came together.

I shared a story about a special rock. When our daughter, Tania, was in Granon in 2013, a Spanish man with a long pony tail and pinstriped pants placed a little brown rock in the palm of her hand, closed her fingers around it, and said, “When you need something, ask the rock.” Tania treasured this rock until it was stolen (another long story).

I remembered Tania’s little brown rock as I approached Granon earlier and decided to look for one of my own. I found a brown one but it was a little too large and wasn’t as smooth as I would like. Its only redeeming feature was that it was warm from the sun. Then it occurred to me that even if my rock was the right size and perfectly smooth, it couldn’t possibly be as meaningful as Tania’s unless I received it in the same fashion Tania’s little brown rock was given to her.

May 25/26/27 – When I left Granon, I took one of the yellow bags that read: “Fill your ‘Camino’ with experiences and free it from litter.” I thought: Why not? I was happy to do my part at cleaning up the Camino for a day or even a few hours. I had no idea then that picking up litter was to become the theme of my journey for the next two days. It was impossible to pass the litter by…

What a motivator it is trying to catch up with Janine and Melanie! Other motivators over the last couple of days were the decent weather, spring flowers, and an inspirational Dan Mullins’ interview.

I loved walking through beautiful Belorado. Many of the walls there have been painted by artists. Interesting imprints of hands and feet are on plaques set into the paving bricks. At least one of the 2,100 people who live here is a giant, judging by the size of his hand!

In 2015 when Dave and I were walking past the small town of Tosantos, we were surprised to see the beautiful facade of “Our Lady of the Rock” built into the side of the cliffs. I stopped to point it out to pilgrims behind us, thinking they might miss seeing it like we nearly did. Suddenly I found myself speaking a mix of Italian/Spanish with a woman who exclaimed: “Bella! Bella!” I replied, “Si! Bella! Buen Camino!”

In 2019 I didn’t pass by Tosantos, but stayed there at the Los Aracones Albergue. It is connected to a bar where I had a delicious pilgrim meal and maybe too much wine. When the waiter noticed sediment in my almost empty carafe of wine, he brought me more even though I protested. Most of it didn’t go to waste…

Dan Mullins’ interview of Jennifer Wills (July 18, 2018) was so inspirational that I listened to it twice today! She and her daughter, Tasha, walked the Camino in 2013 when they were both at the lowest point in their lives. Walking the Camino truly was a life saver for them both! Jennie imagines life’s problems being wound up like a big ball of string inside. Pin one end of that string down at the start of the Camino and let it unravel. What a great metaphor!

May 28 – Rain was predicted this morning, but at least it didn’t start until I was half way through my 10.3 km walk to Patricia Bay, North Saanich. At the same time, I miraculously and virtually made it from Tosantos to Villafranca de Montes de Oca and then up the first of three “mountains” to climb on the way to San Juan de Ortega.

I passed by the historical San Anton Abad Hotel/Albergue in Villafranca where Dave and I stayed in 2015. Was it ever impressive! It was built in 1377 and was the most important hospital on the Camino de Santiago to serve pilgrims. The owner has travelled the Camino, and this hostel fulfils his wish to “give something back.” We were glad the hotel/albergue was set back from the busy highway behind the church. It was quiet except for the church bells.

I climbed up the trail from Villafranca and pitched my virtual tent in a quiet, remote area at the top of the first mountain. This is where I saw a bus with a man standing by. There was fruit and other snacks on the front seat and I assumed they were for sale. I asked, “Cuanto cuesta dos bananas?” He told me they weren’t for sale but were for a tour group he was waiting for. Anyway, the kind man handed me a banana and said, “This is a gift! Buen Camino!” They say the Camino gives you what you need and this is just one example. He was a Camino Angel! 😇 ⛺️ 😊 🏃‍♂️ 🏃‍♀️

May 29/30 – Look what arrived in the mail! Thank you, Annette Schaab, for being such a caring, sharing, thoughtful pilgrim to send me Vegemite and a roll of Life Savers. I am so excited to try Vegemite for the first time. Its reputation among Australians has peaked my curiosity!

Today I walked to Sidney (Western Canada) and took the long route (12 km) since I am still trying to catch up with Janine. It was fun finding perfect places to put my rocks with the painted arrows.

At the same time, I virtually walked from Orbaneja Riopico, through Burgos, and am now on my way to Tardajos and the Meseta. Burgos was as far as I got in 2019. I was approaching the notoriously tedious section of the Camino on the outskirts of Burgos, when a young girl who had been sitting in the shade of a little table popped up. She offered a selection of snacks and drinks, so I bought a bag of Cocktail Mambo and chatted with her. She pointed the way to the riverside walk into Burgos, a more pleasant approach to the city. If you miss the turnoff, it is a long 8 km walk through the never-ending industrial suburbs on pavement.

The first part of the walk before reaching the river was around the airport fence and could be described as boring but that’s where I met Sheena and Sandra. We walked the rest of the way into Burgos together and had an enjoyable conversation that touched on the topic of what we can take away from the Camino and incorporate into our Western way of life to improve it. We all agreed that the way people are willing to help others unbidden is most noticeable on the Camino.

The riverside walk truly was beautiful and cool in the shade of towering trees. Ducks tried swimming against the rapids and then gave up and let the river take them downstream. The walk led all the way into the city centre. When we caught sight of the multiple spires of the Catedral de Santa Maria, we knew we had made it. We easily found our way to the big municipal albergue behind the cathedral. It is spacious, well organized, and has an excellent kitchen if you want to cook. Instead of cooking, though, bars are always a fun place to go in the evenings to watch Spanish families, friends, and their dogs socialize.

I was so conflicted the following morning in 2019! As much as I wanted to take the bus from Burgos to San Sebastián to walk with Dave along part of the Camino del Norte, I felt envious of all the pilgrims who were walking out of the city toward the Meseta. I wanted to go, too.

I had packed, said my good-byes to Sheena and Sandra, and gone downstairs, when I realized my scallop shell was missing. It was special because it had been given to me by a good friend before my first Camino. I returned to the dormitory to see if my shell had fallen off there. No such luck!

Sheena was such a Camino Angel! She reached into her pack and presented me with an extra scallop shell she just happened to have – one more example of a pilgrim giving another what they need. Both of my scallop shells, the one I lost and the one I now have, were given to me by friends. Both are treasured more for that reason.

I walked up to the castle overlooking the city of Burgos as the sun was rising and had a cry. Honestly, my heart was there on the Camino Frances. Leaving it was like leaving home when you know you won’t be back for a very long time. The only thought that pacified me then was that I could return to Burgos and continue walking the Camino Frances another time. I couldn’t imagine then that the next time I was in Burgos would be when I was walking a “Virtual Camino!” ❤️ 🏃‍♂️ 😊

4 thoughts on “Stay Home COVID Camino: Part 1

    1. Susanne, I am so surprised that this Camino For Good Virtual Camino is every bit as special and memorable as our actual journeys. Who could have anticipated this?! And we never would have met you without this virtual journey. 🙂

  1. Good morning Judy. What an absolutely beautiful job you have done of presenting your journey to us. So many vivid descriptions, gorgeous pictures and some very raw moments to share. Lots and lots of inspiration – well done. I sat down with my coffee but didn’t take a sip until I had finished your whole presentation. You may have even inspired me to do a virtual journey of my own – I love to walk and thankfully know that walking is the one activity (God willing) one can do for the rest of one’s life. Thank you for sharing this with me – good luck and stay the course. 👍🥰

    1. I am so glad you liked this, Kathryn! You would absolutely love doing the Camino For Good Virtual Camino – discovering different places in and beyond your own neighbourhood and seeing where other people are walking around the world. Best of all, though, are the other people you meet at the “Camino For Good Cafe” – caring, sharing, and kind. I’ve learned so much about what it really means to be a pilgrim!

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