I read the scriptures for the day and this one from Ezekiel jumped off the page, where God speaking to Ezekiel had said, “Son of Man, let all my words sink deep into your own heart first. Listen to tthem carefully for yourself. Then go to your people, saying, This is what the Sovereign Lord says….” That advice to “receive first” was the message for me. God spoke to my heart, in that dimly lit room where I had sat up journaling for hours: “Don’t be one to give what you have not first received. Receive child, receive. Receive my love, my power, my life. Receive Me deep within. And I’m proud of you son, for beginning to trust Me. I am at work, already, in every person’s life… and to answer another question, your leg is to slow you down but not stop you. Walk slower son. Walk with care. Walk with trust. I love you.”
Leaving the Albergue later than I intended, with that word and especially the calling to “receive first” clearly in my heart, I began to walk uphill on a hard, rocky, dusty path. The hike was around and over rocks. And truly this day it felt as if I walked uphill for the next 16 km! By the end of the day I had walked a full 20 miles! Truly, were you to experience it, you’d say, “Well, actually, you were going downhill here.” “Ah, yes,” I might have responded, “but even that was short-lived and nothing as intense as the uphill climbs.” Always up. Continually up.
I was hiking through forest, tall pines and deciduous trees. The sun was beating down again from the heavens. Every step hurt. My feet felt bruised, my calf ached, just like God had said, to slow me down. I had begun using my walking sticks today, and that helped walking immensely. But I didn’t learn ‘slow’ very well. I passed Honsa (or Jack) and his dad from the Ukraine as I walked uphill. Honsa spoke little of English or German. So I greeted them in German and walked on.
The path took me out of the forest, across the side of this mountain and then round the other side of this valley and into a small village of Collado de Arno with maybe 50 people. There was a village well there, around which was built a shelter and within benches, for the pilgrims to stop and rest.
There were five French walkers there, some Italians, and others. I greeted them, unbuckled and slipped off my pack, sat down, and took off my boots and socks and rubbed down my feet. The shade beneath the enclosure felt so cool and with the wonderful sound of running water, it was a pleasant place. The French and Italian groups left, and some Spaniards and Germans arrived. The Spaniards went off to create their own latrines, which seemed to be something the Spanish like to do. I learned to watch my step if I went off trail!
With more and more arriving, the space became crowded around the well, and since I’d rested, I left and walked on.
As I hiked the mile or more rise up out of the village, I passed a young woman hiking alone. She was out of water and looking for a place to fill her bottle. I offered some of my water from my water bladder in my pack, but she said she would be fine. And was heading back to find some.
The climb was arduous, up, in full sun. Once it headed downhill slightly, I caught up with the group of five French walkers, and began to keep pace with a petite, older woman, wrapped in a colorful scarf. We walked in silence for a time, then, I said, “My name is Brian.”
She spoke no English or Spanish, so understood none of that.
“What?” she mostly signaled.
I then did actions with the words again saying my name, then added in French: “et tu?” The extent of my French! It took a few times, and by the end she and I were both laughing, when she said in French, “Oh!!! I am Nicole!”
We walked on in silence, clearly communication was challenging! Eventually I got to meet her friend Josephina, Angel and a man named Mark. Now Mark had learned some English he said from TV And Bob Dylan! He insisted on having my email so that he could email me. We headed downhill into the outskirts of Markina-Xemein. The path went downhill so steeply that we had to create our own switchbacks across the cement pavement path to execute the downhill safely.
We then entered the town to a church building that had been built around this huge stone. The chapel was built around it with all seating facing the stone from all sides. There was a strange sensation in this building, it felt as if whatever was worshiped there had nothing to do with life nor hope. But the cool inside the building felt wonderful.
I had arrived around 1:30 pm. It was a trek to find the city center, but I didn’t want to stay too long. I still had at least two more hours to hike to reach my albergue for that evening called Monasterio de Zenarruza. When I had read about this Cistercian Monastery, first established in 1082, I sensed that I needed to make a long stop here. So planned on staying there two nights.
I stopped to eat, sitting on a park bench, surrounded by a open air market, and across from two older Spanish residents from that community. I was eating raw celery with tuna fish. And as I ate the two men watched me closely then one of them said, “You like raw celery?” “Si,” I answered his Spanish, “mi gusta apio crudo.” The one man continued in Spanish, with many gestures, “I don’t like it raw, but chopped up in sopa!” I told him: “Me gusta en sopa también.” They laughed, wished me a Buen Camino, and went their way.
I had read and heard there were no bars or services near the monastery, so I needed to buy supplies before leaving the town. I began to look for the grocery store. I saw this man carrying a bag of groceries. I followed him readying my sentences. Then, I lost him, when he walked into an apartment complex. I was wandering around this complex when he came out of a door still carrying his bags! Like a eagle to its prey, I was there…
“Senor! Pardon! Donde esta (I pointed to his bags)? (I had no clue how to say grocery store!)
He got it. And with words and gestures, he pointed me back down the street.
“Three minutes then turn.”
“Izquierda?” I asked, having learned that word on the MAX train in Beaverton.
“Si.” He said.
So off I limped back down the road and turned left, then right, then left again, and discovered the supermarket. I got a few things, cautious for I didn’t want to add too much weight to my pack. Then I began to look for the arrows to lead me out of town. For that I knew I needed to find the albergue in Markina-Xemein. My guidebook per usual was no help. “The albergue is located shortly before the end of town,” but gave me no clue as to what “end” that might be.
I backtracked into town and met Gunda and Helmut sitting at a table outside in the plaza having cokes. (The picture was taken the previous day). They planned to spend the night there. I chatted with them and shared about my day so far. I left and walked back until I found the yellow arrows and followed them back out of town the same direction I had just come just on a different road, passing by the albergue there “on the edge of town.”
It was by now 240 pm. I had spent half an hour going backwards. It was 90F+ and I was walking into that heat. The path was great. It wound along a stream, behind some industrial buildings, passing a piece of graffiti on an underpass that read “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” then up into a forest,
After an hour I came to a village and went into a bar hopefully with facilities. The bartender, a man in his 50s, with salt and pepper hair, and a sparkle in his eyes, spoke English. He’d played sports in America years ago. He was jovial. I asked for a beer. He poured it. I said, “It is very hot today!” And he responded, in English, “You know what I call this weather? Sick!” He and I talked about the weather, the day, and in between him serving others about bits of life. I asked how far yet to the monastery and he estimated about 3.5 km. He encouraged me, saying: “It will take you about an hour more.”
I left and turned right out of the front door onto the street and these guys sitting outside drinking beers while seated on the benches in front of this little place said “Ola! Amigo!” I looked back and they said with many gestures. “You are heading in the wrong direction! That way.” And sure enough, I was heading away from the path. The way was behind them, up the alley, yellow arrows there led the way. I thanked them profusely.
I thought of the prayer Sandy H. had written into my journal:
“All powerful God, you always show mercy toward those whom you love and you are never far from those who seek you. Be with your servant Brian on this pilgrimage. And guide his way in accord with your will. Be a companion for him along his journey, a guide at crossroads, strength in his weariness, defense before dangers, shelter on the Way, shade against the heat, light in the darkness, a comforter in his discouragements and firmness in his intentions, in order that through your guidance, he will arrive unscathed at the end of his journey and enriched with graces and virtues he will return safely home. Through Jesus Christ Your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit one God, forever and ever. Amen.”
Direction, shelter, care, provision all provided by God all along the way. The guys in front of the bar were no exception.
The previous night I had purchased a cotton t-shirt at the albergue, and was thankful I had it as I walked along this stream through this wood. I walked down to the water, and got the shirt soaking wet in the stream and then wore this on my head. The water streaming down my face and on my neck and shoulders felt wonderful. This was my hat and to keep me cool. In the heat it dried quickly, but was a huge relief. The way was uphill now (of course) through trees and along a forest path. It wound around farmhouses and then along a road.
I reached the village where Simon Bolivar was born I saw what looked like the monastery high on a hillside above the village. I moaned thinking that I bet that was where I was headed, but hoping perhaps there would be a monastery closer!
I came to the pathway that began with this sign promising: 1.1 km. 35 minutes. It was a rock pathway. Up. Up. Up the longest 1.1 km ever. The steep ascent, on this rocky-cobblestone-like path was tiring. It came out at the monastery. I went through the arched entryway and felt the peace borne on the prayers prayed there for so long. I had sensed the Lord saying he wanted this day for him.
I took off my boots by the church entrance. I left me gear there and walked barefoot to the gift shop and there discovered where the albergue was located. Just around the opposite side of the building from where I had entered.
I carried my gear around the corner and there was a table full of people on this balcony that overlooked the valley down, down toward the town of Markina-Xemein. And it looked up to stunning mountain peaks around us. I greeted Steve, from my 2nd night on the Camino, holding a beer, and slicing a block of cheese. There he sat, with Carl from Sweden, three Spaniards Mario, Alberto and Ferdinand, a new group of Germans, including Frenzie, a young woman who spoke fluent English and had worked in England as a nanny. She had much to share later about her nanny experiences.
There on the table were several bottles of the cider beer and the huge round of white cheese both of which the Monks made. I sat down for a moment. Frenzie offered me her orange and apple which was great. Steve said I could have “just a small piece” of the hunk of cheese, which I did. It was the best cheese.
Not feeling especially welcomed, nor at ease, I made myself a bit scarce while showering, doing laundry and just hanging around. It was enough to overhear the conversation. A group of the Germans taught a monk a game!
Many of us went to evening worship together. The prayer vespers was sung in Spanish. But even with a bulletin was difficult to follow. There were only 6 monks in worship that night. And a few people had come up from the village. I was exhausted. I could not sense anything of the Spirit there in that chapel. They served dinner after vespers, but I couldn’t eat it. Since I wasn’t hungry, I just had a conversation with Frenzie, and headed early to bed sharing a room with the Spaniards, some four others.
With a gift of grace, I slept 8.5 hours. I awoke feeling so great. Ready for my quiet day, my first rest day.