Day Five on the Camino – Puenta la Reina to Villamayor de Monjardin (30-ish kilometers, about 8 hours)
They say that pilgrimages can be transformational. Well, if that’s the case, I think Jay is hoping I’ll have a transformation today. I’m a little cranky – as is he – after our night in our hotel in Puenta La Reina.
Turns out our bargain room was right by the church, a gorgeous, Romanesque-style church with a soaring steeple housing an SUV-sized church bell that rings every 15 minutes, round the clock.
It took us till about 3 a.m. to figure out that one ring meant 15 minutes after the hour, two meant the half hour, and so on. After that, it was just counting the rings until we knew it would be light enough to hike.
Fortunately for both us, salvation arrives in the form of a hot chocolate croissant and, you-guessed-it, coffee (via vending machine). We rendezvous with other hikers, get a tip about to stay that night, and start back on the trail.
Today is all about just carrying on. Prior to our Camino trip someone asked me why Jay and I would do anything so arduous for a vacation, I replied, “Because it’s a luxury to only have to think about the next step.”
I still feel that way. Life is complicated; walking is simple. No multi-tasking, no emails. Just the simple act of one foot in front of the other. Sure some of the steps are a little painful but for the most part I just let my thoughts skip, float, and flow uninterrupted – until my stomach starts growling.
Lunch with an Archangel
Around noon Jay and I spot a small stone chapel, seemingly abandoned, and a few picnic tables around it. Perfect for our pilgrim picnic of wine, cheese, fruit, and bread.
After lunch, I tell Jay I’m going to explore (that’s the Nebraskan for “find the ladies room”) and as I round the corner of the chapel, I see the chapel door partway open. I walk through and enter another world.
We’ve visited a lot of churches along the Camino and each is more ornate, more baroque, and awe-inspiring than the other. This one, on the other hand, is different.
No gold leaf, no stained glass windows, or frescoes. Just a small window shedding light on a simple stone altar covered with blessings left by pilgrims. There are scraps of paper written upon in every language, simple drawings, olive branches, and small piles of stones in the form of Cairns.
It’s probably one of the most powerful and sacred spaces I’ve ever been in. I run out and find Jay, grab a slip of paper, and scribble my own wish for blessings for our family and friends. I leave a note for my mom and friends who I am sure are hanging out with her in heaven.
As we leave and head back on the trail, I see a tiny plaque nearly hidden by weeds. It says this is the chapel of Michael, the archangel. I can’t think of anything more perfect or fitting. Jay and I have come without a guidebook or any real plan, and yet, time and time again on this trip, someone has appeared to point us in the right direction and keep us safe.
Dinner with Harry Potter and Heidi
The transformation goes on. We finish our massive day’s hike climbing a steep hill to an auberge in a 400-year-old house (sort of a Heidi-meets-Harry Potter structure in which you have to duck through doorways and find your way in a maze of stairways). There Dutch volunteers feed us and our fellow pilgrims a fantastic, hearty meal and once again on this trip, we’re thanking our lucky stars (and our guardian angels).
Day’s Wish List
What we’re glad we have: Neither Jay or I would be able to do this hike without the good company of each other, optimistic natures, and a healthy sense of humor. Oh yeah, and a full squadron of guardian angels.
What we could do without: It’s becoming clear that you really only need two pairs of everything – shirts, pants, socks, etc. As long as you have camp suds for laundry on the go, quick-drying clothes, and plenty of clothespins, you can do your wash, let it dry overnight, and be on your way with fairly clean clothes the next day.