My yoga teacher recently gave me a beautiful card. In it, was an excerpt from a poem by John O’Donohue, “For the traveler“. I thought I would share with whoever is reading our blog for it contains blessings for everyone, especially those who are about to take a journey, of any kind; journey through an illness, loss of loved ones, journey of finding a new job, journey of raising children, journey of preparing to leave your body, and journey of finding who you really are.

“A journey can become a sacred thing: make sure, before you go, to take the time to bless your going forth, to free your heart of ballast. So that the compass of your soul might direct you toward the territories of spirit. Where you will discover more of your hidden life, and the urgencies that deserve to claim you. May you travel in an awakened way, gathered wisely into your inner ground; that you may not waste the invitations, which wait along the way to transform you. May you travel safely, arrive refreshed, and live your time away to its fullest; Return home more enriched, and free to balance the gift of days which call you.”

J has packed his back pack tonight and I am about to pack mine. It is time, to leave behind what is comfortable to us and travel into the unknown where everything will be shaped by the openness of our hearts. My friend D told me that every step I go forward will take me closer to the heart of Christ. So I repose, in thanksgiving for all the possibilities that reside in me.

“Hail Mary, full of grace, bless the journey, bless the place we go to and we leave.” Pilgrim Prayer

In the gathering light

This morning, with life restoring pots of tea at hand, Robin and I talked in the shifting shadows before the fireplace, and yes the subject was the camino (what a shock..I know), I reflected back to a previous conversation we had about letting go. In short the associated vision is a large old house with many rooms. These rooms represent the various places in our mind where we have placed our life’s baggage. Perhaps we have done this to avoid an unpleasantness, delay a confrontation, because we lack the knowledge of what to do, because we fear the unknown, or maybe we are just procrastinators. Whatever the reason this is our house, the place where we dwell. These rooms contain all the constraints and limitations we have placed upon ourselves. These are the things that encumber life’s essential freedom (to be). The realization that whatever is entombed in this labyrinth of passageways impedes our journey, limits our happiness and denies what is possible, should give us the courage to approach each door, confront its contents, reconcile or remove what is within, and then move on. Yes, I know it is a lot harder to actually do. As we approach D-Day (departure day for St.Jean) Robin and I have a shared commitment to use our time on the camino to throw open those doors (and a few windows too) and let the scouring winds of the Meseta help us clean house.

On our way

Le grand sausage

We awoke this morning at 2:00 AM to attend to the last minute details associated with leaving our home for two months. Last loads of bedding, and towels are currently circulating in the dryer, and the tea is kettle huffing on the stove ( this always equates to hope in the morning around here). We managed (just) to get our two Aarn Peak Aspiration packs with balance pockets (detached), our boots and Pacer poles all into an REI pack duffel ( le grand sausage) that is perfect for this trip. We gave up the notion of trying to carry everything on the flight. Our packs are not heavy, but bulky enough to challenge an overhead bin and the patience of fellow travelers (what were they thinking). A taxi will pick us up at 5:00 for the trip to the Portland airport. Our itinerary has us leaving PDX for Dulles (Washington DC) at 7:25 and then on to Paris at 5:30 PM. We are scheduled to arrive in Paris at 7:00 AM. We will figure out how to get le grand sausage through customs and immigration and down to the CDG TGV 2 station in time for the 9:10 departure for Bordeaux (change trains) and then on to Bayonne. We will arrive in Bayonne shortly after 3:00 PM. We expect to catch a 6:18 PM departure for St. Jean Pied de Port which should have Robin and I (avec le grand sausage) expiring at the Pilgrim Office door a couple of hours later. Wish us luck. We are on our way.

Le jeu son fait

After 33 hours of travel we arrived safely, if somewhat weary, in St. Jean Pied de Port. During the train journey south we stared out at a rictus of hoar frosted fields and frozen ponds flashing past as the TGV sped towards Bordeaux. Our thoughts drifted to the Pyrenees and the cold climb ahead of us. But, as the kilometers clicked off the weather moderated and our spirits climbed with the thermometer. Upon arrival in St. John we departed the train station into a dark empty town. It was right around freezing but calm as we climbed the steep narrow streets searching for the Pilgrim Office. A well practiced Kabuki of gestures augmented my high school French and miraculously we were led through the shadows by kind strangers to an iron gate which in turn led to the only visible pool of light along the stone wall of what turned out to be the Pilgrim Office. A knock on the door ushered us into the presence of two very kind men who registered us and gave us our pilgrim credentials. Antoine then took us up to the municipal albergue where we were to spend the night. He also walked us down to a bar where he arranged a meal for us. The kindness of people in this town is remarkable. It is as though they keep a silent vigil, awaiting the next pilgrim to wander in off the road, anxious to answer their needs. It is now Wednesday and we are off to Valcarlos under a clear cold sky. The Port D’Espagne, our exit from the town, awaits us. Very soon the crunch of gravel under our feet will mark the start of our camino. What an experience so far and it has only just begun.

Above the snow line

Originally uploaded by johnpigott0820

We spent last night in Valcarlos after a beautiful day hiking up the valley. Clear skies and temperatures right around freezing made for good walking weather. We arrived in the mid afternoon, cooked our own dinner at the albergue, which only had one other guest a young Spaniard traveling on horseback from Catalonia to the Bay of Biscay. We were sound asleep at 8:30 and awoke at 7:30 for today┬┤s walk to Roncesvalles. The weather again was cooperative and the early kilometers slipped past under partly cloudy skies and freezing temperatures. The valley walk is picutre perfect. Stunning scenery abounds. As Robin and I climbed up to the summit the snow started to fall. It was light and only dusted the landscape. We descended down into Roncesvalles (pop. 100), checked in at the Pilgrim office and got our bunks in the albergue. We did some washing and are now in La Posada, a bar/restaurant near the albergue, enjoying a well earned glass of wine or two. We will attend the pilgrim mass at the church tonight and call it quits. Hope to reach Zubiri tomorrow. All is well. Feet are holding up. No blisters. Our gear is well matched for the weather so no problems there. All in all, much to be thankful for.

Bound for Zubiri

Originally uploaded by johnpigott0820

Robin and I arev traveling wityh a new companion, Daniel from Quebec. He is on his 3rd camino. We left together from Roncesvalles on Wednesday and had a glorious descent through rural Navarre in light to moderate snow until we arrived in Zubiri. As wee approached the town we met a young man ascending the camino but without a pack. He was a young French guy on his way back from Compostela to Grenoble. He was making a round trip of it and had been on the camino since August. He was out checking his departure route for the next day. We all went down into Zubiri together and our new French friend, Xavier, arranged bunks for us at the pension where he as staying (Pension Usoa). and that was that. We were very fortunate to encounter him as many albergues are closed or on reservation status only. This means call and the hospitelara will decide if it is worth opening for you. Xavier had this problem in Larrasoana where they would not open just for him alone. Had a great communal meal at the pension, a couple of bottles of wine, and made plans for our departure the next morning. Had a great sleep after a gorgeous days walking in the snow.