Finding Our Way

May 26-27, 2019

“Hola!” I called cheerfully to a woman on her balcony. Jay and I were crossing a plaza in the town of Nájera, ready to begin another day of walking the Camino de Santiago.

The woman leaned over her railing and gestured urgently. “Seguir la flecha amarilla en la piedra!”

What did she say?’ I stared blankly upwards.

The woman repeated, slightly louder. “Seguir la flecha amarilla en la piedra!”

The only word I had caught was “piedra”. Thanks to teaching a fourth grade unit on rocks and minerals two decades ago, I knew “piedra” meant stone. But which stone? What did the woman on the balcony want me to know?

As Jay and I looked, the woman’s arms waved, her face full of earnest purpose. She repeated her phrase again and again, the volume of her voice rising, as if understanding were linked in direct proportion to the amount of sound being issued.

I looked around desperately. What was she trying so assiduously to communicate?

Suddenly, my eye alighted upon a boulder behind us. A large yellow arrow, painted across its side, pointed left. Understanding dawned.

“Follow the yellow arrow on the stone!” The lady above was showing the way out of town!

Laughing, I waved and nodded, pointing to the arrow.

“Gracias!” Jay called, as we turned.

The lady on the balcony smiled, “Buen Camino!” Once again, she had put wandering pilgrims upon the straight and narrow.

So, how does one follow a 1,000 year old trail? The Camino de Santiago is well marked.

A simple yellow arrow is always a welcome sight.
A yellow scallop shell tile, set into the sidewalk, gives direction.
An arrow can be paired with words.
Arrows, shells, words – this junction has it all!
One can know the trail from the people sharing the path!
Older markings are often not painted, though still plain to see.
Sometimes a sign has an unofficial addition.
No fear of misunderstanding the way here!
Bored or artistic pilgrims occasionally add their own arrows.

Not content to rely solely upon shells and arrows, we bought the guidebook by John Brierley, which has excellent maps and tells a little of the places we pass.

Halfway through our trip, the well used guidebook already looks a bit battered!

Because we’ve hiked (and been lost) often in our lives, we also bought the Guthook app for the Camino de Santiago, Camino Frances SJPP (St Jean Pied-du-Port). This app, on my phone, showed the Camino route with a blue dot signifying our location. It worked even in airplane mode with no wifi. Jay and I found it most helpful in the large cities, where old, winding streets sometimes made me wonder if my feet were headed the same direction as my face.

Finding our way has been only part of the pilgrimage. “Buen Camino,” the standard greeting between pilgrims, would become an empty phrase without a slight understanding of the sights we see. Jay has carried the following ebook.

It’s one thing to know where you are. It’s another thing entirely to know what you’re seeing. This book fills in blank spots regarding historical context and common daily life.

Oftentimes, the sights which attract my notice and imagination aren’t listed in any guidebook or map. And so I close this post with a few of the unique and beautiful sights we’ve encountered these two days.

Just past the town of Navarrete, a field of red poppies enchants.
The garden of Iglesia de San Saturnino in Ventosa invites a time of peaceful reflection.
A truly ancient olive tree graces the courtyard of Bodegas Alvia, a winery beside the Camino path.
At a park near the town of Cirueña, who can resist a lounge chair made entirely of stone?

Buen Camino!

Pilgrim Perspective

May 25, 2019

“Poetry and Hums aren’t things which you get, they’re things which get you. And all you can do is go where they can find you.”

-Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner

Dawn opened one eye, a crack of light barely visible across the horizon, while everyone in our bunkroom, except me, stirred industriously. Yesterday we had checked into a large hostel. Ten euros apiece had bought each of us a bed in a bunkroom with six other pilgrims.

I heard Jay’s voice, asking others if he could turn on the light, but all our roommates spoke only French. He received no answer.

“What’s ‘light’ in French?” Jay’s head appeared at the edge of my top bunk.

I actually knew that, thanks to Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast‘! “Lumíere,” I whispered.

“Great!” Jay smiled. “How do you say turn on?”

I blinked sleep-fogged eyes. “I have no idea!”

“Well, how do you say okay?” I could tell Jay’s problem-solving brain was wide awake.

“D’accord,” my answer materialized from the mists of long ago French lessons.

Jay’s head disappeared from sight, and I heard his voice below me. “Lumíere, d’accord?”

“Ah, oui, oui!” Immediately came the enthusiastic response.

Suddenly, light flared above, shining into my eyes with undiminished cheerfulness. I knew it was time to get up.

Breakfast, in the large shared dining room, was a social affair. We met a lovely family from New Mexico – father, mother, two girls ages ten and eleven. The family, now living in Devon, England, chose to hike part of the Camino during their two week spring vacation.

Later that morning, we met the family again as we left the town of Viana behind.

I had the fun of chatting with the girls while walking along a tree shaded path.

They had spent a few of their young years in France, and entertained me with amazing French idioms, such as “Je donne ma langue au chat.” (“I give my tongue to the cat.”) Giggling, the girls told me that meant, “I give up” in a guessing game! Who would have guessed I’d be learning French idioms about cats, in Spain, from two engaging, intelligent young pilgrims?

As Jay and I hiked with this charming family, we saw a white stork on a nest. Jay informed us that most white storks migrate between Africa and Europe. They are monogamous, and often return to the same nest each year. We’ve seen many far above on church towers, but this pair had built upon a slightly closer electric pylon. Enthralled, I stopped to take a picture.

Further along, our hiking pace slowed, and we said a cheerful good-bye to our morning’s companions.

The Camino led us around the Embalse de la Grajera. Swans slid smoothly across a sheltered nook of this reservoir.

An audacious squirrel ran down his tree, sure that I would have a snack for him. He stopped short of my feet, posed, then flicked his tail in disgust when no food was forthcoming.

In late afternoon, we entered the town of Navarrete, passing the Iglesia Nuestra Señora de la Asunción. Noticing the church door standing ajar, we stopped, answering the implicit invitation.

Of the cathedrals and churches we have visited, many felt like museums – holding places for ages of treasures. Often sightseeing tourists filled the sanctuaries, loud talk creating the atmosphere of appreciating a show.

The strains of Bach and Gounod’s “Ave Maria” on discreet speakers greeted us as we paused on this door step. Encouraged, we entered quietly, slowly walking the perimeter inside, amazed at the 17th century Baroque altar piece.

For me, the soft music stirred a response deep in my soul. I slipped into a pew, closing my eyes, entering deeply into the meditation this music offered.

Over the last year, I’ve wrestled with questions about my life, seeking direction, wondering what, exactly, I should be doing. As I sat on the bench, tired body gratefully melting into the boards, brain sinking into the melodic line of notes, I was suddenly swept with an awareness of the many gifts I’ve received, and the conviction that I needed to use those gifts. I opened my eyes, turned to smile at Jay, and together we slipped outside.

On our way to our hostel, Winnie the Pooh and A.A. Milne’s quotation popped into my head. I reflected upon all the times today that I was in a place poetry or hums could find me, beginning with a whispered morning conversation, through the enchantment of talking with two fun-loving and knowledgeable girls, being greeted with nature and animals, and finally opening to the messages of music, quietness, and reflection. Truly, life is amazing!