Ultreïa – Go Further. Go Higher.

Go Further. Go Higher.img_20190605_114841
I watched several movies and YouTubes related to the Camino before my pilgrimage in 2019. Of course, I watched “The Way” twice. One showed pilgrims at their communal dinner and afterwards, they sang Le chant des pèlerins de Compostelle. I had not heard that song and looked it up and the internet taught me it was sung by pilgrims centuries ago.
After a couple of weeks on my Way at Hornillos del Camino, a priest led us pilgrims after Vespers. He had sheets with the words we could share. This celebration was really special and I am pretty sure all of us at that church felt blessed that evening.
I did not hear the music again for several weeks. One day two French women were behind me as we climbed to Alto de Cerezales and they sang Ultreia. What was wrong? Why have I not heard that song all along the Way? I wished I had learned the lyrics and music as part of my preparations and training. I guess I assumed I would hear it more frequently and, like that evening at Vespers, someone would have pages to help us pilgrims.
Whatever our pace, whether we walk only the ten days we can afford or forty or more days on the entire Camino we all follow the same daily practices. Every morning we take the path and every morning we go further. Every day we hold our scallop shell. Day after day, St. James calls us on our Way.
This ancient path follows the Milky Way where Celtic people defined a route to the end of the continent. Charlemagne took that path toward St. James and all pilgrims since take the same path. We all go onward and upward, asking God to help us.
We know that when we reach the end of the continent James waits for us with a smile. He waits where the sun sets at Finisterre.
At every step, pilgrims, we become brothers of St. James. We all walk hand in hand following the path of faint along the same Way as pilgrims before us.
St. James, listen to our call whether from the Pyrenees or Compostela and everywhere in between. Call us from your altar, down here, and up to heaven.

The Man With the Blue Hat

Two men were working their way carefully down the steep part of the Camino de Santiago above Zubiri coming down from Alto de Erro. The Way descends nearly 300 meters over only three kilometers here and, as this is near the beginning of the Camino for many pilgrims, some of them realize now their conditioning is not as good as they thought.
One man wears a floppy, wide-brimmed hat designed as sun protection, his hat is a drab green color. He is American and about 70 years old. The other man wears a blue hat in a fedora style. He is Asian and maybe 50 years old. Both men are otherwise outfitted as pilgrims with sturdy shoes and backpacks.
The man in the blue hat approaches the other man from behind, overtaking him and passing a few meters ahead. He turns and speaks to the other man who tries to reply but neither man understands the language of the other. So, using gestures, the man in the blue hat asks the other man to stand still for a minute. He looks the other man over carefully from the front and walking around examines him from the back and from both sides. He now returns so both men face each other again.
Blue hat now asks, still using gestures, that the other man move about shifting his weight from side to side and front to back. Blue hat walks around to the back of the other man and lifts his backpack a little and then adjusts the weight from side to side.
He now returns to the front of the other man and looks carefully at floppy hat’s backpack and shoulder straps. Blue hat takes hold of floppy hat’s shoulder straps and lifts and adjusts the weight and carriage of his backpack while floppy hat is still wearing the pack.
The man in the blue hat motions for the man with the floppy hat to loosen the small strap across his chest that joins the two shoulder straps. Blue hat again holds the shoulder straps and moves the other man’s backpack up and down and side to side.

Again he moves to the back of the other man and asks the man to lift his pack from the bottom. He does as requested and then blue hat asks him to squat a little and lift the bottom of his pack again. Now, the man in the blue hat pulls two small adjusting straps at the top of the backpack that bring the backpack a centimeter or two closer to the shoulder straps. Using thumbs up or down, he asks if this change helped or not. It seemed to help a little so he asked the man again to lift his pack and tightened the same small straps another centimeter. Now he returned to face the other man and loosened the shoulder straps by only a centimeter where they adjusted at the bottom above the waist strap.
These adjustments seemed to help. The man in the floppy hat now had an ear-to-ear smile and tried to thank the man in the blue hat. Still, neither spoke the other’s language. The man in the blue hat returned the smile and with a quick wave, returned to his Camino and walked on.
The man with the floppy hat continued his Camino too but at a slower pace. He looked for the man with the blue hat for a week after, hoping again to thank him again and perhaps to find another pilgrim who could interpret their words.
After 260 km. and twelve days of walking, the man with the floppy hat checked into Albergue Municipal de Peregrinos at Hornillos del Camino. While he made up his cot, he noticed an Asian man sleeping in another cot. There is a blue fedora on the cot next to the man. The man with the blue hat is right here in this albergue! Another Asian man in the cot next to floppy hat notices the attention so floppy hat tells his story. He learns that both Asian men are Korean and that the sleeping man does not speak English. He promises to convey thanks later when the man awakens.
Later in the evening, I had a chance to say Thank You and shake the man with the blue hat’s hand. We never did meet again. Charity of this kind is one of the best memories of the Camino de Santiago I will have forever. I hope he will read this someday and recognize how grateful I am to this day.

April 17, 2019 St. Jean Pied de Port to Valcarlos

April 17, 2019 St. Jean Pied de Port,
Luzaideko Municipal albergue
Walked 15.1 km starting at St. Jean Pied de Port. Had reservations at this municipal albergue. Maybe half full. I met a man and two women from New Zealand that I ran into later too. Also the French man who remembered I was not fond of non-alcoholic beer. Do not remember much about the place, clean but i had no reference points yet. Walk was scenic farmlands except for the shops right on the border.

I left St. Jean Pied de Port a little after 2 PM walking with Jim, a Canadian I met earlier in the day and a woman from Ohio. We split up outside of the town as they were going over the Napoleon route and I planned to travel by Valcarlos. Waking was pleasant, the weather was warm and sunny. I remember pig farms and probably there were other farms too. I passed an outlet store center that was much like the ones in the US. crossed back over the border to Spain. When I got to Valcarlos, I followed a rule I had read that the church was always in the highest part of the town and I knew the albergue was near the church. So I kept walking up through residential areas and then found myself in the woods where I could easily say I was lost. I checked google maps on my phone and saw I was not far but the church was somewhere through the woods and across a valley so I backtracked. When I found the city again, there was the church if I had only looked to my left instead of up the hill.

I rang the bell at the albergue and someone let me in and told me the manager was away but it was not full and I probably could claim any bed. There were three from New Zealand and a man from France and a few more people I cannot remember. The whole experience was new to me and I did not yet know that I should become acquainted with the others as I would meet them over and over. I ran into the New Zealanders several times over the next few weeks. The french guy was amused by some comment I made regarding no-alcohol beer and he reminded me a couple of times later on our Camino.

We must have eaten at the albergue but I have no memory. The day was a wonderful start to my Camino. I walked 15 km. and found my way with only a minor snag taking a wrong turn in the town.

Of course, it was not really that easy. I decided around Thanksgiving the year before to walk my Camino pilgrimage. By about New Year, I had worked out a rough schedule and made plane reservations from San Francisco to Bilbau and a return flight from Santiago. Then I worked out the remaining logistics. I could take a bus from Bilbao to Bayonne in France and from there was a train to St. Jean Pied de Port and although I could not yet make reservations I knew from the schedules I would be at the starting point about mid day. I figured out where the bus station in Bilbao was and found a hotel within an easy walking distance and made that reservation. I picked out a gite in St. Jean Pied de Port for the beginning of my Camino but could not make a reservation for a few more weeks.

Now for my equipment. I had a good pair of Keen shoes I probably would wear. An on-line advice article also suggested my Asics trail running shoes would be a good choice so my feet were covered. I needed a backpack that was 40 to 50 liters and decided on the REI Trail 45. I already had a Trail 25 and the conversion should be easy but the deciding factor was size as this one would fit within the international guide for carry-on luggage.

I already owned several sleeping bags but all were bought for car camping. I wanted the lightest and smallest for this journey and REI came to the rescue again with one that was 1 ½ lbs. Now to look for the right socks. An article gave several good ones and I bought a pair of Darn Tough socks to try out. Paying over $20 for a pair of socks seemed crazy. But the pair I tried was comfortable and I knew my feet were worth money. I bought two more pairs in the same color. I had some quick dry shirts, shorts, and underpants already so I was pretty well outfitted now.

Training was important too. I stopped running and concentrated on distance walking after Thanksgiving when I decided on the Camino. I worked my way to a twenty mile walk and tried walking fifteen miles several days in a row. I felt great. Next I started using my new backpack with a load approximately the weight I planned to carry. My progression took a break at the end of January when my heart stopped one day. I woke up on the floor with a lot of firefighter boots surrounding me. I got to go to the hospital in an ambulance and then the next day I got a heart stent and a pacemaker implant. They told me no backpacks for at least a month and to try to get as much walking as I could. I doubt they expected me to begin ten miles within a few days. After a month I passed my heart exam and treadmill test and the doctor said I could go on my Camino. I never did tell her I was going anyway.

Six weeks more to complete my training before I was off to Spain. That was plenty of time. I took everything out of my pack and weighed it all. Now I made some choices and decided to leave behind my favorite sandals and a few other items in order to keep the weight down. The guides I read said to stay under 20 lbs. The airline guides said the maximum for carry on was 16 lbs. I got just under that weight figuring I would add water and still stay under 20 lbs

I realized when Easter fell and decided I would like to go to Mass in Pamplona. That required a small itinerary change. I would start walking in the first afternoon at sjpdp and get to Valcarlos. This way I could be in Pamplona for Easter Sunday. I cancelled the gite and made a reservation at the municipal albergue in Valcarlos. The name is Luzaideko Municipal albergue.

I got to the airport and found no one checked anything. My pack easily fit in the space over my seat. No problems in Munich finding the customs area and the gate for my flight to Bilbao. Looked for an ATM as I only had American money but never saw one. When I arrived in Bilbao, I did find an ATM and was a little suspicious it was one of those with a lot of charges so I only got 100 Euros. The hotel manager had emailed where to catch a bus and which number I should catch. Within a few minutes I was on my way again. The bus stopped in a terminal and I got off and looked around. Google satellite view had me prepared with what the buildings looked like and my hotel was a little more than the 200 meters he told me but still an easy walk.

Checking in was quick and the room was small but plenty for only a single night. I found several banks on the next street and got another 200 Euros. It was a nice stroll to the waterfront where I saw a pleasant park and many people out for the evening. A walk up another street presented several restaurants and places for pintxos. I was still a little unsure of myself and afraid to spend too much money on the first day.

In the morning, I walked back to the bus terminal and caught my Flixbus to Bayonne. We stopped at several terminals in other cities and the way all the buses navigated these constricted terminals was interesting. When we got to Bayonne, I expected to stop at the train station but there was construction. The driver said to walk a couple of blocks and there it was. I got my ticket and waited a while and bought some lunch. There I met Jim, another pilgrim from Canada, and we talked too long in the terminal. When we got to the train, It was packed and we had to sit on the floor or stand. The ride was an hour or so going up and up into the Pyrenees. We got off the train and walked through town before we realized we must have missed the registration place and we needed to get our stamps. Returning to town, we found the place with a line of pilgrims. They had closed for lunch and we missed it.

The volunteers were great with good suggestions and a lot of potentially useful paperwork and lists of all the albergues. I tossed it all as I had seen the same stuff on line and already had my plan made.

My Camino began.