Archives for posts with tag: refuge

(This story is part of a continuing series based on my adventures walking 500 miles across Northern Spain on the ancient pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago. The first part begins here.)

I woke up early on the morning of my departure, February 27, 2005. I’d already laid out my clothes for the journey and tucked everything else into my backpack. Back at home, so long ago, I’d made up daily packets of vitamins for the trek but I couldn’t find them anywhere, and I was a bit panicked about it. I searched my suitcase a dozen times but came up with nothing. I couldn’t believe it. I thought I’d had every detail covered. And already it seemed like things were drifting afoul. I don’t need no stinkin’ vitamins, I told myself.

I tucked my suitcase with most everything I’d been traveling with into Karen’s closet, and I picked up my pack, which seemed miniscule in comparison. I walked downstairs to my final breakfast dressed in the only clothes I would have for the next month. Karen had hot coffee waiting. She picked up my pack, impressed by it’s size. I met her eyes sheepishly. I wondered if she was thinking what I was thinking—will this be enough? Neither of us said anything.

This was the plan. From Exeter, I would take a train to London. In London, I would switch trains and arrive at the Stansted airport where I would hop on a flight to Biarritz in southwestern France. In Biarritz, I was hoping to find a taxi that would escort me about 30 miles to St. Jean Pied de Port, my starting point. Otherwise, I’d have to take a train.

Karen dropped me off at the train station in Exeter just before 10 AM. I hugged her for a long time imaging hers would be the last friendly face I’d see for a very long time. And hers would also be the first recognizable face I’d see upon my return. She’d been so welcoming, so accommodating, so protective, so motherly, so loving, so perfect.

I stood at the entrance to the train station and watched her drive away. When I could no longer see her car, I took a very big breath and turned, moving forward into the station… and into the great beyond.
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(This story is part of a continuing series based on my adventures walking 500 miles across Northern Spain on the ancient pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago. The first part begins here.)

March 2, 2005
Day 3: Larrasoana to Cizur Menor, 22 km/13.7 m

In the morning, the Italian sat on his bunk watching my every move. I got dressed and went into the kitchen, and he was there handing me a mug for my coffee. I struggled with what to say to him. Can I tell him of my need to walk alone without hurting him? I thought. And can I separate myself from hurting him? I didn’t want to hurt him, but this was a great test for me: I needed to get better at not feeling responsible for someone else’s emotions. Unless I was responsible, of course. It was a theme that had revisited me again and again, and so it came as no surprise that it would catch up with me on the Camino.

I told him not to wait for me, to start without me. He shook his head, no. I expressed, in the simplest of English, that I wanted to walk by myself, that I needed to be alone.

“No, no,” he said. “I wait. Wherever you want to go, I wait for you, is no trouble.”

Strike one.

He was so earnest in his desire to shepherd me. It was both adorable and awful. But since I didn’t know what else to say, I would spend another day with his silence and his footsteps and his ever-present energy pulling at me… even though I was determined to have MY Camino anyway.

When I left the refuge, my Italian Shepherd (IS) was behind me. Meanwhile, my PA was raising the white flag. He stood at the side of the road waiting for a bus to Pamplona where he would mail some of his belongings back home and reassess his journey. I wished him good luck with his travels.

It was another bitterly cold day on the Camino but every time I walked out into it and was met with a landscape of snow, its beauty took my breath away.
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(This story is part of a continuing series based on my adventures walking 500 miles across Northern Spain on the ancient pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago. The first part begins here.)

March 6, 2005
Day 7: Torres del Rio to Navarette, 34.7 km/ 21.5 m

When I awakened, Martin was still on his bed, and I was on mine. We smiled at each other and said good morning. We went down to the kitchen and made breakfast with the Canadians. The meal was slightly less festive if only because we knew it would be our last together.

I was certain that when I hugged them goodbye, I would never see them again.


Martin and I left the refuge together. We were greeted by Torres del Rio in the sun, and it was a paradise. Tiny cobbled streets formed a maze around the town’s most prominent feature—an octagonal church from the days of the Knights Templar. And the views surrounding were simply breathtaking.


We both stood for a long moment in awe. And then Martin asked the most beautiful question. “Is it okay if I walk with you?”

I met his eyes and smiled. “Thank you for asking,” I said. “I would love that.”

And so I walked with tall, handsome, sweet, 24-year-old Martin, from Cologne, in school studying economics, my German Knight. I told him about my Italian Shepherd—how I was trying not to be annoyed, but I didn’t understand his interest in me.

Martin looked at me sweetly, cocked his head and said, “Well, it’s obvious. You are beautiful!”

I was stunned by that. I certainly didn’t feel beautiful. I had yesterday’s mud on my pants. I’d slept in the shirt I was wearing. And let’s not forget about my hair, or lack thereof. Perhaps it’s been a long time since Martin’s seen a woman, I thought.
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(This story is part of a continuing series based on my adventures walking 500 miles across Northern Spain on the ancient pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago. The first part begins here.)

March 10, 2005
Day 11: Ages to Burgos, 24.5 km/15.2 m

As I was making eggs for Martin, Simon and I, my Italian Shepherd popped into the kitchen to say goodbye. He was leaving ahead of me with no discomfort or fanfare. He no longer needed something from me, and I no longer guarded myself from him. We were finally able to share a sweet smile and a friendly hug.

The morning was a visual feast. We were greeted with spectacular views and a layer of frost blanketing them. The grass, the fence, the trees, the stones—everything was coated with a shield of ice. It was cold, of course, but I didn’t mind it.


The top of the first hill in Atapuerca was shrouded in a fog so dense we couldn’t see 100 feet in front of us. The thickness of the haze made everything appear in black and white, and walking through it was like entering an Ansel Adams photograph.

I lagged behind, letting the boys go ahead. I needed some time of silence and internal discussion. I was still thinking about the change in Martin’s behavior. He was hardening. His jabs at me had an edge, an unkind one. I knew he was sensing rejection and reacting to it, but it still surprised me. At times he acted as if he’d laid claim to me and could therefore be cruel. He’d become a fighter, and he was fighting me. Any time I got close to complimenting him, he’d reject my words, sometimes with a harsh, “Liar!” He was clearly pushing me away, and it saddened me.

I watched Martin and Simon in the fog ahead, and I saw myself in each of them. In Simon, I saw my serenity, or at least my quiet contemplation. In Martin, I saw so much more. I saw the part of me that opened so eagerly and closed so quickly. I saw my fear of rejection in the face of desire. I saw the fighter in me—fighting attraction, fighting being known, fighting tenderness and vulnerability. I was growing farther and farther past all that, and I trusted that Martin would, too, but I probably wasn’t going to see it. In ten years, I suspected he’d be quite a catch, and some lovely young woman would reap the rewards of him.

I thought about my initial attraction to him, and how much I’d thought about kissing him. In the real world, I would have likely slept with him too soon. In fact, all of my past relationships had been shaped by a race to the bedroom. Yes, I was an active participant, sometimes an eager one, caught up in the frenzy of enticement, giving in to expectation. But that was not my real desire. I had never once gone to bed with a man when I was entirely comfortable, open and ready. I kept attracting men who assumed I knew exactly what I was doing, that I was completely in control, that I could take care of myself. I never gave them the impression that I could be hurt. I had traded sexuality for intimacy. If I hadn’t, maybe I could have discovered sooner the ones who weren’t yet capable of intimacy. And maybe I could have spared myself some heartache.

In the real world, I figured that once I’d slept with Martin I would have tolerated his distance and cruelty because I would have been too fully invested. On the Camino, I thought about all those things I have tolerated in men, and I made a promise to myself to not to do it again. I also decided that I would not harden to Martin. Instead, I would allow him his edge and remain tender in spite of it because I knew there was a softness inside him that wanted only to be loved and accepted, just like me.
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(This story is part of a continuing series based on my adventures walking 500 miles across Northern Spain on the ancient pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago. The first part begins here.)

March 18, 2005
Day 19: Hospital del Orbigo to Santa Catalina, 28.9 km/18 m

Simon and I were up and ready with the sun. As I was making breakfast, Manfred joined us, his hair askew, his eyes slanted from sleep. He was still hobbling, and he thrust himself into the chair as if the music had stopped and he didn’t want to be caught standing. He admitted that he had attempted too much, and he was going to take the day off, hang back, rest, travel more slowly to Compostela. He hung his head in shame as he spoke, which made me sad. Walking the Camino is not a competition. Perhaps that was the realization he had come to. Or would come to.

I said goodbye to Manfred, knowing I would not see him again, and Simon and I left together. We walked through the woods in silence, and when we came to the old Roman bridge at the edge of town, we found the note that Manfred and I had left for Simon the night before. Although he’d not seen it, he had decided to stay at the remote refuge anyway. It was kismet that kept bringing him to me, I thought.

Out of Hospital del Orbigo, the landscape began to roll again with gentle hills, and we moved up and down through the sparse landscape toward Astorga. The sun arrived and the temperature climbed to 70 degrees. For the first time, my jackets were both stuffed into my pack, and my sleeves were rolled up.


Simon, with his careful eye and expert camera, logged our journey on film while I wrote down scattered thoughts in my journal.

The villages in Spain are dying. Old people with sad eyes and so little. The Camino can’t sustain them. I see why it is moving closer to the roads; there may be no refuges to support the pilgrims at some point.

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(This story is part of a continuing series based on my adventures walking 500 miles across Northern Spain on the ancient pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago. The first part begins here.)

March 21, 2005
Day 22: Villafranca to O’Cebreiro, 32.9 km/20.4 m

I’d walked for three straight weeks, averaging nearly 20 miles a day. When my bag and I had crossed the threshold of the Villafranca refuge, we’d ambled 401.5 miles together. Otherwise, I’d carried pain, questions, boredom, songs, joy, bliss, disbelief, wonderment and more than a few men.

It’s possible that Day 22 was the turning point. Of course I didn’t think about that at the time. Maybe I didn’t even know it until years later, sitting down to write about it. But on Day 22 I discovered something else about myself—something else I hadn’t known before.

It seems that I have untapped reserves of determination.

You see, the route to O’Cebreiro wasn’t just the steepest ascent of the Camino—a grueling 5-mile climb along a forested dirt path—it was the steepest ascent of the Camino in the rain. And to be clear, it wasn’t just rain; it was driving rain that would ultimately become a bombardment of hail in swirling gale-force winds.

It began gloriously enough. The drizzle that carried me along the highway out of Villafranca singed the surrounding mountainside with a dewy glow. Patches of green earth rolled out across the landscape in a visual masterpiece. I took it all in, but I was well aware of the forecast. I knew the weather would tire me, and I didn’t feel as though I could afford a long day. So I figured that as long as I felt strong, I would run.


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(This story is part of a continuing series based on my adventures walking 500 miles across Northern Spain on the ancient pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago. The first part begins here.)

March 25, 2005
Day 26: Melide to Arca, 34.5 km/21.4 m

fountainIn the morning, I found myself waiting by the fountain for Martin. Of course I’d be waiting for Martin—I only half believed that he’d really show. I decided I would spare 15 minutes, and I struggled through every second trying not to be angry for not getting an earlier start.

When it began to sprinkle, I abandoned my post and went in search of coffee, all the while questioning why I had agreed to walk another day with Martin and Nick. Was it because the day goes faster and there’s more laughter? Was it the security blanket of men and language? I liked Martin, very much, but I suspected that our moment had passed. We were certainly not going to have conversations of any real depth with Nick around, and I felt the growing need to enter Santiago on my own. Martin was undoubtedly going to grow into a caring, thoughtful, soulful man. For now, there was still a boy in him, and that boy exhibited very age-appropriate behavior.

With a cup of steaming brew in hand, I decided to pass by the refuge before heading out of town. I shouldn’t have. It would have been a far more fitting end to our journey had I ventured off on my own and left Martin to come to his senses without my judgmental eye. But no, there he was, heaped into a ball in the grass. I called to him and he stirred, harried and ragged. He explained that he’d been locked out of the refuge and had gone clubbing all night. He got in at 6 AM, slept through his alarm and awakened to an angry huéspeda kicking him out. His energy was just as offensive as his appearance. I would have preferred that he sleep off his hangover in the bushes, but he slung his bag over his shoulder and wobbled next to me, spewing all the way out of town.

melide
I let him ramble and complain for an hour, envisioning his tirade bouncing off the force field I’d projected around myself. I didn’t love him any less; I simply no longer wanted to be consumed by his energy. When he suggested we stop in Boente for breakfast, I told him that I needed to walk the rest of the way to Santiago alone. It didn’t surprise him. His eyes softened, and I looked into them for the last time. I knew that I would cherish him always.

I continued alone on the Camino and turned back a couple minutes later. He was standing where I’d left him, watching me. We waved a sweet goodbye.
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