Camino de Santiago: Day 9 (Christina)

From Najara to Granon (32 km ….by bus)

At 6:00 am I am awakened to the sounds of the French group getting ready. I can´t believe I have slept through the entire night and I wasn´t even wearing my earplugs. I remember waking up during the night when the guy on the bunk above me dropped his pillow and I saw him leap, yes leap off the bed, pick up his pillow and then leap back onto the top bunk. Why use a ladder when you can leap like a frog. I thought the whole bed was going to collapse on top of me. But I went back to sleep right away after that.

I lie in bed listening to everybody getting ready. I am in no rush as I have decided not to walk today. Instead I will take the bus to Granon. I have struggled to make this decision but my feet are no better today and I know I must stop walking to let them heal. Pauline had mentioned Granon was a lovely location to take a rest and that is why I am heading there today.

The French group leaves at 6:30, followed shortly thereafter by ¨Leap Frog¨. Now there is only me and the young man in the bunk next to me. I can tell he is awake but he is not getting up. I am waiting for him to leave so I can have the place to myself, but now I realize he might be doing the same of me. Almost at the same time, we both get up and start to get ready. I haven´t spoken to him before, but I know he is Spanish speaking. I don´t feel like being social, still coming to terms with taking the bus.

I notice he is sitting on the edge of the bed, massaging his ankle….and then I hear it….sniffles. Oh no, not again. I just don´t want to deal with anybody today. I try to pretend I don´t hear him and continue to get ready. I don´t look at him again, but soon I can´t ignore the sniffles. I turn to him and ask him kindly if he is ok. I am hoping he will say yes. But no, he says he is not ok. He has sprained his ankle and cannot walk. He does not know what to do. We must be out of the room by 8:00 and there doesn´t seem to be any medical facilities close by. I tell him my feet are very bad today and I am taking a bus to Santo Domingo at 9:00, hopefully from there to Granon. His face brightens: There is a bus to Santo Domingo? And you know where to get it? Ah, yes, I just spent my afternoon yesterday at the damn bus station, so yes, I know where it is.

Well, he´s happy now that he has a solution, and suggests we have breakfast first before we hobble to the bus station. I have a new friend, Alexandro who I learn is from Catalina. Turns out he speaks not a word of English andbut someone we manage to communicate with my pitiful Spanish. At the bus station, we run into another injured pilgrim, an older Italian man (Valentino) who has a bandaged knee. I invite him to join us as we are the injured pilgrims taking the bus to Santo Domingo. It must be true that misery loves company because all of a sudden this has turned into a little party and we are all smiling again.

Injured pilgrims waiting for the bus – all smiles now that we’re not alone.

In Santo Domingo, I discover the bus will let me off at Granon so I stay on, but Valentino and Alexandro are heading to the church and then to seek medical help. We wish each other a Buen Camino.

The bus drops me off on the side of the road next to a sign that points to Granon in 1 km. I hobble into town and head to the church where they run a ¨hospital for pilgrims¨ where they tend to the physical and spiritual needs of pilgrims in equal measure. It is run by volunteers on a rotating shift of two volunteers for two weeks at a time. The bedrooms are spread out over three floors at the back of the church. Each room is large and contains floor mats lined up along the walls, butt up to each other. No bunk beds, but no personal space either. There will be a communal dinner at 8:00 tonight and mass at 7:00 but this is optional.

I do my laundry from the day before and then head to the little restaurant for a bite to eat. I just sit down when who do I see strolling up the street in her bright red t-shirt and bouncy gait, it´s Pauline. She spots me and once she has settled in and found her mat she joins me for a drink and some food. We get caught up again. She tells me about how beautiful the walk was to Azofra, in fact, it was the best part of the Camino for her. I am happy for her, and glad that she had her solitude in which to enjoy it fully. Turns out Chris was there last night and he had dinner with Pauline and Ronnie and Noel. I hear he is doing much better, walking quite strongly. Lucky him!

Laundry facilities in the rafters of the church.  
The washing machine was off limits to pilgrims.

 

Unusual sleeping arrangement.  I was happy to have my
sleeping mat for some extra cushioning and my cosy down sleeping bag.

I am surprised to find Eleanor and Sinead (the Irish nurses who had helped me a few days ago with my feet) have turned up at the church today, and they are sleeping on the mats next to me! They are in bad shape today, but it is self inflicted pain I soon find out. They tell me the tale of the previous night when they hit the town in Santo Domingo, celebrating a party of a fellow pilgrim. They finally staggered back to the convent at 3:30 am, long past curfew (yes, they were staying at the convent while having their shananigans). Sinead insisted on removing the crucifix above her bed as she couldn´t bear looking up at Jesus in her state only to find him looking down at her, tut tutting her with reproach. These girls tell a great story and they had me laughing my head off.

From left to right: Eleanor, Sinead, myself and Pauline

Sinead is recovering nicely with her steady supply of water just like a drip.

Eleanor and Sinead stay hydrated while the rest of us are drinking beer.

I have a nap later in the afternoon and I am surprised I can sleep in spite of all the noise and commotion. I think my body needs the rest and I´m certain the two large beers from earlier had nothing to do with it.

Before dinner, everyone who wants to can help in the preparations although most of the heavy lifting had already been done. I cut olives for the salad, my big contribution to the meal. Dinner is simple but delicious – salad, boiled eggs, tuna, omelette, stewed vegetables, bread and wine. Before we eat, the volunteers lead the way in a rhythmic tapping of the table and clapping for a few minutes – it´s kinda strange but joyful at the same time. Then we all dig in.

Nela, the Polish volunteer, taking care of the last minutes details before serving.

There was a surprise after dinner. It was one of the volunteer´s birthday (Nela) and a cake has been prepared for her. Everyone is asked to sing Happy Birthday in the language of their country so as each country is called out, the song is sung, over and over again in different languages: German, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, Danish, Finnish, Korean, Japanese, French, English and many more. Nela was moved to tears. Earlier in the day, she had told me her Camino story and it was a sad tale. Her son had died three years earlier at the young age of 28. My son, Andrew will be 28 this summer and I couldn´t imagine life without him not now, not ever. My heart went out to her. She said her faith in God was tested by this as she believed everything had a reason, there was a purpose to all things that happen to us. So she went on the Camino last year, starting in this village of Granon. And now she was back volunteering. After dinner, she told me that she had not celebrated her birthday since her son´s death, so tonight was very special for her. It was very moving.

After dinner there is a prayer service open to one and all. I don´t know why but I decide to attend. It is held in the church choir which is lit by candles that are placed on the arm rests of the choir chairs. Everyone is given a pamphlet in their language. The service begins with a few minutes of silence for reflection and then a pilgrim with a guitar plays a haunting song that echoes through the church. Next, we are all asked to read a passage from the pamphlet.

At this point, my heart is racing and I don´t know why. I am even trembling inside. I try to breathe deeply to regain some control but instead I almost start to hyperventilate. When it is my turn to read, my eyes are watery and my voice quivers.

Next they light a red candle, the Pilgrim´s candle, and turn off all the lights. As the candle is passed to each pilgrim, we are encouraged to express ourselves in any way we wish: silence, words, music. When it is my turn, I am a wreck. I know what I want to say, but the words don´t come out. I can barely breathe. I have no voice. I say my words silently: I lost my faith many years ago, and tonight I am feeling that loss acutely. I pass the candle on.

At the end, we all stand and hold hands and then they recite a prayer, I think it is the Lord´s Prayer, everyone saying it in their own language. I remain silent. We are then encouraged to hug our neighbour and wish them a Buen Camino. I am choking with emotion and leave the church as soon as I can. I walk around the town which is quite deserted. I don´t know what has happened in that service and it has rattled me.

I am reminded again of being a Jehovah´s Witness and of the trauma of leaving that religion. In choosing to leave that religion, I lost my entire social network, it seemed like my entire life was taken away from me. I have not spoken to any of these former associates, including family members in over fifteen years. When I left that religion, a thick wall formed around my heart, impenetrable with regards to religion and faith and God. I lost my faith in God and even came to the conclusion that there is no god.

To this day I envy people who have faith because I know how comforting your faith can be especially when going through difficulties. I also know how much strength can be drawn from your faith. But I have lost my faith.

I don´t know what to make of this evening so I will just accept that it has happened, that it is yet another experience on the Camino. Who knows what else the Camino has in store for me……

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4 Responses
  1. Jurgen says:

    Hi Christina,

    Sounds to me that you didn’t loose your faith but rather that it had to evolve into a more modern and palpable version where you don’t have to turn off your rational mind. Fascinating stuff. I’m really enjoying your Camino posts! For me that’s the best reading so far on your adventure. Keep it up.

    Jurgen

    • christina says:

      Thanks Jurgen. I think I´m still trying to figure out what I believe in….it is definitely evolving and must respect my rational mind as you say. I can´t just believe something blindly like I used to. I feel like I´m baring my soul to the world in my posts from the Camino which makes me feel very vulnerable. So I really appreciate your feedback.
      Christina

  2. Marc says:

    Hi Christina,

    Wow! where to begin… well, let’s start with a thank you for sharing your dream, at let me say that I have no doubt that you can (and will) achieve it. You have accomplished so much in your life already and are constantly learning new things from the countries you visit and people you meet.

    So many people are just wanderers in this world, going from one place to the next without really knowing what they want… often never finding out what their purpose is. If you value your dream then grab it. You will never regret it.

    You are beyond the 1/3 mark on the Camino – no small achievement! – and you have been challenged many times in many fashions but you have come out stronger and wiser for it. You are being tested deep in your core and beliefs (sorry if I’m being philosophical, it happens to me sometimes) and there will be more challenges as you progress.

    Pauline seems to be some sort of guardian that pops up when you need her most and I’m sure there will be others as well and you will know them when you meet. Some friendships are made for life and some friends happen upon your path when you need them, to serve a purpose, and then the disappear.

    I’m glad I can share my thoughts with you and Chris as you travel the Camino… I send you strength and hope you find enlightenment down you path.

    Marc

    • christina says:

      HI Marc,
      I didn´t even realize I was 1/3 of the way – that has given me a bit of a boost :) Thank you for sharing your thoughts too. You have no idea how much comments like yours buoy me when I am feeling as low as I am right now.
      Christina