I awoke at 430 am. Climbed down from my upper bunk in the dark, landed on my aching, complaining feet, gathered my backpack, sleeping bag, stuff sack, etc and made my away around my eleven sleeping roommates, walked outside onto the balcony and followed that to the large room where we had had our evening gathering the previous night. The starlight shown through the windows that the atmosphere was incredible in that space. The sense of God there warmed the place.
I wrote: “My most frequently written question is this one: ‘Who am I?’ The single most constant reality in my life is walking, walking, walking. I feel this pressure to somehow “do something more” with this experience to make it matter more. I keep wondering how to “do” this thing, this camino. I’m lacking meaningful symbols in my life here. It is like I have lost my identity. I have no role. I’m frightened about this feeling, Lord. I continue to repeat the same question about who I am.”
“And Your answer is much clearer than the feeling I have within. You’ve previously said in response to my question, this answer: ‘You are Mine!’ And that who I am is detached from what I do. And that my role as a bringer of joy is significant.”
“But still I shake inside, so clearly, I’ve not grown enough! Or perhaps, I am growing just at the right rate! I still seek to know the next step, yet, I am taking so many steps every day. But perhaps my next step is simply to walk this way– to give myself to it. And once I’ve completed this way it will be to walk another way. All this is simply to walk with You. Trust You. Hug You. Be Yours, God.” But that, it seems is much easier “said, than done!
Have you ever encountered a time when the stuff you can usually keep tapped down, controlled, hidden away, gets exposed to the light? The Camino did this for me, daily. It exposed all those places of inadequacy, fear, and uncertainty which I would love to hide and which I feel “I ought to have handled by now!” Writing them out exposes my own heart. But it also reminds me, the Camino, this walk, worked on me. It also taught me how much “identity” I had found in my job and work back home, and how much my work was to move that identity to Jesus. Such hard work this– not just a prayer, for me it took all of these more than 1,000,000 steps to get near to there. I’m much closer now than I was!
That morning, I wrote, prayed, sat, breathed, rubbed down my sore feet, wrapped by leg in an ace bandage, and made my way to breakfast at 7, placing my backpack outside. The dining area boasted these big, wooden tables with benches. Everyone sat there, laughing, talking in multiple languages, passing toast, butter, jam and pots of coffee and tea around. I drank tea, since I didn’t believe I could eat anything else. Thankfully, I’d already eaten some fruit and an EPIC bar. And that morning, I couldn’t find a way to communicate.
Nannette and I left at 730 am. We walked about 5 km through the hills when we came to a cafe. By then, I needed more protein. They had no Spanish tortilla, at this bar, indeed no food being offered. But that never deterred Nannette. She simply asked the woman behind the counter, “Could you ask the chef if he would perhaps be willing to cook some eggs and ham?”
Some other pilgrims from Germany had left the cafe as we had arrived and told us that they would serve “nothing but sweets.” But then, those German pilgrims were not privileged as I was to be traveling with Nannette. People, everywhere, loved Nannette. And the woman behind the counter was among those, and so kindly said, “Yo preguntare.” (I will ask.) And indeed, out came these beautiful plates of food! Thinly sliced Spanish ham and two sunnyside up eggs. This meal helped my whole being so much.
We hiked out to the bluffs over the sea along a footpath that wound along the cliffs for some great views of the ocean and of the surfers. As we were transversing one cliff I glanced down to see this tall man standing naked in the surf. He walked into the waves and got good and wet then turned around and walked back up the beach toward us on the cliff above him some 100 feet. These two older Dutch women hiking in front of us had stopped to “enjoy the view!” They blushed as we passed them and commented upon the ‘scenery’!
The human body can be beautiful, that’s certain. Nannette commented upon one of the muscled surfers later on who passed closer to us as we walked by. “Oh man,” she said, “what a body!”
When we were eventually about to drop down to the beach, we stopped at a bench overlooking the coastline, the beach and the city of Santander in the distance. I took off my boots and socks to rub my feet with Vaseline as has been my habit every three hours. And in 14 days of walking no blisters — I was so thankful.
Down onto the sand and across the wet and dry sand we trod. Some pilgrims took shoes off and walked barefoot through the water. Others stayed on the beach and went for a swim. We trudged on looking forward to connecting with Claudio and Lorenzo, finding lodging and, then, hoped to swim later.
Nannette said, “Hey look, It’s Claudio and Lorenzo!” Every time we greeted them I was transported back into Shakespeare’s plays! They were delightful, for certain, better than any of those other characters. And sure enough they had come onto the beach just above us. I yelled and waved: “CLAUDIO!! LORENZO!!” They saw us and waved and made their way toward us. We hugged as if we had not seen each other in years, when it had just been half a day! We walked on together.
At the ferry we met up with the same man from Argentina who had been riding his bike around the world! Some goal! Man!! He had 55 kilos of stuff on his bike! He’d biked 65,000 miles so far throughout south and Central America. Now Spain riding two caminos and then Europe and Italy and Russia.
The ferry crossing to Santander was this great experience. As we journeyed, he broke out his photo album of his journeys with pictures of National Geographic quality. It was incredible.
We arrived at Santander and walked off into this “watch your wallet” city. We began to make our ways toward the cathedral, the central point for us, where we hoped to get our stamp for our credentials and see the cathedral. As we made our way there, trekking through this park, this Santander woman approached us. She asked if we were on the Camino. When we told her that we were, she asked what our plans were. We said we were planning to go to the next town to stay in a small albergue there.
She said “No, no, no that town just cement, CEMENT! No sea! No BEAUTY! Here,” she dug into her purse and pulled out a green card with the name of her Airbnb on it. She said – “Stay here in Santander, it is beautiful, I’ll do your laundry.” I’m certain all of us began to groan with the pleasure at the very idea of someone offering to do our laundry for us after two weeks of very basic washing abilities by hand with miscellaneous soaps!.
And then she said, “And you pay only 13€ per person with your own private room, just the four of you.” This was all in Spanish.
Lorenzo and Claudio understood many of the words close to Italian, Nannette and I pieced the rest together by gestures, word order, and inflection. Nannette was actually better at catching a translation than I was. The woman told us how to find her place, and how to do tomorrow’s walk in the best way — take the train (‘just two blocks from my place’) to a certain village, and then walk from there. And so we said we would come.
We first wanted to see the cathedral, so walked up into what turned out to be the crypt. By the time we went find the main cathedral, it was closed for the day.
So, we returned to the crypt and we were there a brief time when the crypt was to close up for the day as well. Lorenzo went and spoke to the man telling everyone to leave, asking if we could get our credentials stamped by him. He shooed everyone else out but us, locked this huge gate behind them, and then led us through this huge door and this enormous wall into his office. The inner sanctum– actually his office looked fairly ordinary except for the immense walls! Imagine having an office just “behind the crypt”! There he stamped our credentials for us! We had a brief connection with this laughing, joyful, smiling priest. He encouraged us on our way and bid us “Buen Camino!”
Later, we were wandering a bit in the city seeking the address of the woman’s Airbnb.
“Did she say, ‘second left’ or ‘go two streets and then turn left’?” we were wondering. And as we wandered up the second left, suddenly she stood beside us and looked at us like a mom might look at her wayward child, and said: “Oh! Come!” Indeed, we were on the wrong street, and she led us around another block. Even as I write this today, I’m still astounded at how she had happened to appear suddenly! Certainly, she was a godsend.
She was good to her word. She had completed all our laundry by the time we returned from the beach later in the afternoon. And the room was lovely!!!
We had a window open to an alley three stories below it. A great bathroom and it was the most beautiful place. I walked in thinking. “there had to be a catch.” It seemed too good to be true!! But no catch– just grace, an immense gift to us all.
Lorenzo checked trip advisor and found this highly recommended bar. We ate there for dinner. It was this amazing meal with a waiter who spoke English so helped us understand the menu. Upon his recommendation I tried pulpo for the first time (octopus, the Galacian delicacy).
When he went on break, a woman who spoke Italian and Spanish serviced us, and that’s when the fun began. Such conversations between Italian, our attempts at Spanish and English.
We were out until 10 pm, exhausted came back and slept well in our small room, with four bunks and our window looking out onto the alley.