Camino de Santiago: Day 20 (Christina)

From Hospital de Orbigo to Astorga (18 km)

From Astorga to VillaFranca by bus

I am on the Camino around 8:00 am and I am trying to figure out a strategy for the remaining days.  I want to walk each day, as far as my miserable feet will take me.  I know I must take a bus at some point because I simply don´t have enough time to walk the entire way to Santiago. Today I decide I will walk 18 km to Astorga where there is a bus station.  From there, I will figure out what to do next.

I think my feet are feeling better this morning until I squeeze them into my hiking shoes and take my first steps.  The familiar pain hits me, and I am almost sick to my stomach.  I know the routine now, just force myself through the pain to get into my stride and then ignore it as much as possible.

When I reach the first open restaurant, I walk by it because I have already had a nice breakfast at the albergue although I have not had a coffee yet.  I turn around and go back for a coffee and a bathroom break.  Who knows when the next restaurant will appear.

As I sit at a table outside, I hear a familiar voice a few blocks away.  I listen intently, quite certain I recognize the voice.  Sure enough, I see Chris coming around the corner, along with the guy on the recumbent bike who I met a few days ago, but I don´t remember his name.  Chris doesn´t see me and I watch him as he is laughing and talking with this guy, stopping to take some pictures and then goofing off near the water fountain, posing for some silly pictures.  As he approaches, he sees me and expresses surprise.  What are you doing here? he asks me.  I thought you would be way ahead of me since you are taking buses now.  Oh, how his words cut me to my core.  Doesn´t he know the pain I am in?  Doesn´t he know that every step is agony for me? I reply simply that my feet are still bothering me with blisters.  He tells me his feet are perfect.  Perfect?  What do perfect feet feel like?  I can´t even imagine.

More of his friends arrive, and he is distracted greeting them.  Everyone in his little group seems quite jovial, having fun.  Chris does mention he has some pain in his shins and is thinking about taking a bus soon.  But then he is talking to his friends, greeting the Swedish girl who I also met some time ago, but whose name I now forget.    Everyone in this group seems so happy, Chris included, laughing and joking.  Am I the only one suffering on this Camino? All of a sudden, I feel my lower lip quivering, and my eyes are glassy.  I don´t belong here amongst these happy pilgrims.  I don´t belong in this group.  I don´t belong with my husband.

I get up quickly, put on my pack and say Bye Chris, without looking at him.  He has been busy with his friends not paying much attention to me, and I sense his surprise at my abrupt departure.  I walk away as fast as I can.  I can feel Chris´ eyes on me.  He must be wondering what the hell is up with me.  What is my problem?  But I don´t care, I have to get away.

As I go around the corner, the tears come, fast and furious.  I am sobbing and I cannot stop.  I pass other pilgrims, the Camino is busy this morning, but I don´t care.  I keep walking as fast as my crippled feet will take me.  I cry and cry.  I let out all my pain and frustration and suffering.  The sense of not belonging with Chris and his group has triggered something far deeper.

I am acutely aware of a deep sense of loneliness, one that has been with me all my life, for as long as I can remember.  Some days ago, I shared with you my loneliness for female companionship, but this loneliness is far deeper, it permeates to my core, to my very soul.  I have spent my life struggling with this loneliness, with this feeling that I don´t belong.

The world seems so superficial to me.  People seem superficial.  I pretend.  I pretend to care about the things most people care about, the superficial things.  I pretend so I can fit in, so I can feel that I belong.  But it is not really who I am.  I yearn to be around people who are deeper, who are willing to share themselves, to be vulnerable, to let themselves be known.  But most people stay on the surface, and they seem to like it that way.  Am I the only one that feels this way?  I feel like I don´t belong in this world, I just don´t belong anywhere.  And I want to belong somewhere.  I don´t want to be alone.

In the moment I saw Chris with his happy group, I saw how different we are.  I see how I hold him back too.  I see we are from different worlds, cut from different cloth.

As I am walking and sobbing and thinking about these things which only makes me cry harder, I pass by the Italian man who made me the sandwich in Granon, many days ago.  I don´t even know his name. I am so surprised to see him, and as I pass, I say a quick hello without looking at him.  He recognizes me as I pass but he also sees my tear stained face.  Further ahead, I step off the path, as I feel suffocated by so many people around.  I let people pass and I decide to take my daily video which is really pathetic as I´m not even coherent, just a blubbering pilgrm. I guess I´m not even thinking straight.  Well, my Italian friend also steps off the path, and stands next to me.  He takes a photo and then just stands next to me, very close.  He doesn´t say a word, and I can´t look at him, I am feeling too raw.  He just stands next to me for a few minutes, and then as he passes me to leave, he wishes me a Buen Camino.

A little further ahead, I find a private spot under a tree that shields me a little from the busy path.  I sit down and take off my shoes and socks.  I notice the bandages are a bloody mess but I decide in this moment my feet must take care of themselves as I have more important matters of the heart to tend to.  I feel I must write about what has happened, what is happening, I just need to release it.  And so I sit for quite a while, writing in my journal, resting on my back pack.  When I am done, I know something important has happened, although I am not sure what it means.  I feel much better now, and put my socks and shoes on and get back on the Camino.

As I ease back into my stride, I suddenly have an epiphany.  My blistered feet are a blessing, not a curse.  They have forced me to slow down, they have humbled me, they have been my teacher.  And in this moment of understanding, I am overcome with a deep sense of calm.  What happens next is very strange and I don´t understand it.  I will just describe it.  I feel like I am floating, that somehow I am separate from my physical body that has caused me so much pain.  In this moment, I understand myself, I accept myself, I love myself.  I continue to walk but I feel no pain, I feel nothing, I am in a dreamy state.  I am thinking how strange and wonderful I feel.  I am sure I haven´t lost my mind, because I am having coherent thoughts, like wow, what is going on here.  I don´t want to forget this experience.  I need to write this in the blog.  This dreaminess subsides after awhile, but the rest of the walk into Astorga is a blur. The last 10 km pass by and I have lost my sense of time.

From a distance, I can see the cathedral of Astorga and I am drawn to it, I do not know why.  I just know that I must go to the cathedral and from there I will decide what to do next.

My first glimpse of Astorga and the Cathedral. Little did I know at this point
that the bus station was right beside the Cathedral! 

Before I reach the cathedral, I see Marcel, the guy with the recumbent bike sitting at a cafe with another guy who looks familiar.  I stop and say hello and it turns out that we have never met, although both know Chris well.  I ask them if they know where the bus station is and also can I join them to have a beer.  Both are shocked to learn that I am considering taking a bus at this point on the Camino.  Don’t I know what is ahead?  The famous cross on the mountain, where people leave a stone or some other momento which symbolizes leaving something behind, letting go of something.  How could I even think to miss this by taking a bus now?

The central square in Astorga is full of people – tourists, locals and pilgrims.

The cathedral that was closed by the time I reached it.

A pilgrim museum in the forefront (designed by the famous Spanish architect, Gaudi). Unfortunately, I missed seeing the museum as it closed at 2:00 on Sundays.

I consider what they have to say carefully and I consider all my options.  Hans suggests I go to his albergue, just around the corner from the cathedral (which by the way is now closed for siesta time), to talk to the hospitalero to get advice about the buses.  He is confident that I will change my mind and stay the night in the albergue.

While I am chatting with these guys, Monique walks by.  This is the woman I met on my first day, my second camino friend, who is from Vancouver.  She is equally surprised to see me and I ask her for her contact info as I regretted not getting it the first day when I met her, especially since I haven´t seen her since.

At the albergue, the friendly, english speaking woman suggests I go to the bus station which is right behind the cathedral to see the bus schedules.  She warns me though that it is impossible to take a bus near the cross on the mountain – either I take a bus around the mountain from here, or I walk the mountain and take a bus further on down the road.

When I get to the bus station, a bus has just pulled in and a young couple enter the station.  They are looking at the schedule with me and mention they are going to Villafranca which is where I have decided to go.  They realize, too late, that they should have stayed on the bus they were on, which they had taken in Leon.  So they must now wait until 6:15 like me to catch the last bus of the day.

With a few hours to kill, I head back to the main square to get some food.  On my way, I run into Alf and Kathryn (to my immense delight).  They are looking for the albergue I was just in getting bus information and I offer to take them there because it is a little complicated to find.  At the albergue, I run into Monique again.  I want to invite her to join us, but she tells me she is heading off for a nap.

Once Alf and Kathryn are registered and have found a bed, we all go out for a beer together.  We spend a couple of hours together, and I am amazed at the things we talk about.  There is nothing superficial about this couple, I just knew were kindred spirits when we first met!

When we say our good-byes, I know I won´t see them again because I am jumping way ahead by bus.  They remind me of the invitation to visit them in Melbourne and they tell me they will be on the look out for Chris.  They are dying to meet him, the other Chris, and somehow I am quite sure their paths will cross, such is the way of the Camino.

Back at the bus station, the young couple arrive and I learn they are actually brother and sister, Glenn and Frances from Georgia, USA.  They have time constraints as well, so they did the first part of the Camino from St. Jean Pied de Port to Logrono, and are resuming the Camino for the last part from Villafranca to Santiago.  It´s interesting how we share a common bond because we are pilgrims.

The bus to Villafranca stops in every little village along the way, the milk run. It starts to rain hard, and I have a sinking feeling.  We are now going through the mountains again, and the scenery is stunning in spite of the rain.  When we arrive in Villafranca, the rain has subsided and it is a mere drizzle.  We walk together into town and we all decide to head to the same albergue on the other side of town.  We are shocked to learn that all the beds are taken, in fact, every bed in town is taken.  It is 8:30 in the evening, too late to go to the next town.  The kind hospitalero offers to call the hotels in town to see if by chance there is a room available.  He finds one room, with three beds, for 60 euros.  It´s more than any of us want to spend, but we take it, gratefully.

On the way to the Albergue in Villa Franca.

So here we are, virtual strangers just a few hours ago, sharing a hotel room.  I think I have made my first camino friends on this leg of the journey.  The room is lovely, with three single beds and a private, large bathroom. And free internet on a functioning computer – a bonus for me. I manage to post two blog entries and then head to bed.  We´re all asleep by 11:00 pm.

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5 Responses
  1. Jurgen says:

    Hi Christina,

    Wow, that was quite the day you had! Sounds like the Camino is working very powerfully for you to bring up all sorts of deep stuff and you’re allowing it to arise and work with it. Feelings of loneliness I believe are common to all of us no matter what life situation we’re in. It’s just that often people won’t admit it to themselves and keep pushing it down by keeping busy with lots of activities. I agree with you that when we do get a chance to connect more deeply with people (rather than surface level) it feels very fulfilling. We are truly multi-dimensional beings. Also, sounds like you had a bit of an altered state / spiritual experience when you were in a dream like state. Very interested. Again, thanks for sharing so deeply.


  2. Angus says:

    Hi Christina,

    Very deep thoughts here. I hope when you get back we have a chance to get together and talk about your insights. I know exactly what you mean when you feel you don’t fit in to a group with someone close to you and how it hurts. I think everyone has experienced this at some point or other. I’ve felt that way sometimes around Janet if she’s with certain groups but I suspect she’s felt it more often around me as I can often be oblivious to what’s happening around me. I have to watch out for this. Sometimes it’s probably more imagined than real.

    I’m a bit surprised at your comment about lonliness and hope it’s coming more from the pain and stress of the trip than reality, although I understand the hole that is there from leaving so many people behind when you had to leave your church is probably a big part of this. However, you have an amazing family with Chris, your children and of course your sister who all adore you and I know how much everyone at work enjoyed being around you and working with you (maybe we leaned on you too much at times because we wanted things done right). I know that I always really enjoyed our talks together at Zix, hearing about the kids and the projects and being able to discuss the challenges Janet and I were going through with Laura and Christine.


  3. Dave says:

    Hi ya odd couple,

    Cameron gave me your blog address and it reminded me when I used to update mine regularly. Sadly it’s now a month or so out of date. You’ve inspired me to stop here in Molinaseca to update it.

    Enjoy your travels . . .


    • christina says:

      Hi Dave,
      Looking forward to reading your Camino stories on your blog. Thanks for keeping in touch.

  4. sonja says:

    Hi Chris,

    I think I’ve read your post a dozen times, trying to understand to some degree what is going on. The one thing I think I can say is with some certainty is that this time alone is something that was very much needed. When life is going full swing there just isn’t any time to really think about things and to think things through. Here on the camino, you have hours and hours for days on end to do nothing but reflect on life – what you have accomplished, the here and now and where you want to go.

    I am certain of one thing and that is that you will find what it is you are seeking and once you do I believe you are strong enough to go and grab it. We only get one chance at life and we really do have to make the most of it.

    I’m looking forward to more of your postings and hearing about how you are doing.

    Take care,