Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Camino Three - La Casa Magica and Beyond

 Before I left for the Camino I read that a woman in the sacristy at Le Puy walked from there to Santiago three times; Le Puy to Santiago is 1000 miles.  The third time she walked it was after a serious hip operation at the age of 74.  Alexandra David-Néel, whose photo I have on my camera for a quick pick-me-up when I’m flagging, walked at least 3000 miles into and through Tibet and the Himalayas over a number of years.  The French government refused to renew her passport at the age of 87, or was it 94, because by then she was a National Treasure and they didn’t want her disappearing behind a snow drift somewhere beyond Zhongba.  She died in 1969 aged 101, on my 13th birthday, as it happened. 

Peace Pilgrim, between the ages of 59 to 86, clocked up 25,000 miles wearing out numberless pairs of plimsolls as she criss-crossed America.  The young Slovenian angel yesterday had walked from Trinidad des Arres to Cirauqui in one go.  Twenty five plus miles.  Exhausted, she still took time to massage my knee ... 

I walked as far as Villatuerta, taking the advice of the two women hospitaleros who were so kind yesterday and who said firmly do not walk more than 10 kilometres tomorrow.  Villatuerta was about ten kilometres, not a hilly walk and across the bridge I saw the sign for an albergue and as the town was so pretty, the river so clear and gurgling as it wound its way through glades, I stopped right there.  As soon as I entered the huge door of the unpromising exterior I was entranced: the renovation of this old warren of rooms under many layered roof heights supported by massive round beams was a delight to see.  Cobbled courtyard, tiled stairs, whitewashed dormitories with real beds not bunks, little individual alcoves - I chose one by a balcony with French doors, the fragrance of the jasmine polyanthum tumbling down the old wall outside filled the room. 

La Casa Magica was ... magic.  I washed my 1000mile socks and yellow towel, adding a touch of zest to the old warm walls behind the washing lines.  Everyone I met here was special: the Lovelies from Castlemaine in Victoria; Canadian Lovelies; all manner of Lovelies.  I named all the couples I had more than passing conversations with ‘Lovelies’ as that’s what they were.  Hullo Lovelies! I would call when we were to meet along the Way – and guess what, they all knew who I was calling which just proves that really lovely people know they are just that – lovely!  Better than names any day. 

The owners of la Casa Magica met while walking the Camino; later they created this haven for pilgrims.  Dinner and breakfast, all organic, prepared and cooked lovingly, were beyond delicious.  I overheard a young man at the other end of the table say, nodding in my direction, that he wished he had a video so he could show his wife he had met Judi Dench’s sister.  Poor JD ... it’s been said before, but walking the Camino is not doing my appearance any favours. 

Cherries in abundance by the river and a glamorous wedding in the old church left warm memories of a relaxing day and a reluctance to walk on ... but I woke refreshed – no one in my dorm except a Frenchman in the other alcove.  He didn’t snore.  And he thoroughly approved of my use of NOK in the morning, saying also that a midday sprinkle of l’Occitane Roses des Quatre Reines talcum powder on the feet was the perfect protection against blisters for longer walks.  One can always rely on a Frenchman to be so specific in his preferences. 

A beautiful walk over small bridges took me through Estella, another town that appeared too large to explore for an albergue.  I passed the thousand steps up to the church, my legs said firmly, No! at the thought of climbing them.  I walked on two blocks, happened to glance left and to my amazement saw a lift shaft ascending straight to heaven with no apparent reason for its being there at the end of an alley.  An adventure, I thought, and veered off to explore it.  I pressed the button, opened the door, pressed the button for the top floor and whoosh! I was on top of the world. 

Stepping out revealed a splendid panorama of the town with the mountains beyond – and a long wooden walkway directing me into the back of the church.  An invitation.  It just so happened Mass was on.  Still wearing my mochila I joined the queue and to my surprise the priest offering the Host said Body of Christ in English.

I replied, as one does, and he hesitated.  In a nanosecond I knew why: I am Catholic, I smiled, and he was comforted!  Later he said, heavily, there are very few Catholics in England and I replied I know, I’m one of the few!  I added: and could I possibly use your loo?  He invited me into the Sacristy where I had a brainwave.  ‘I’ve not been able to access my emails,’ I said, ‘and no one knows where I am, could I ask you an enormous favour?  Please would you look up Our Lady of Glastonbury and send an email telling my parish that Zoé made it to Estella?’  Many weeks later I learned that he did. 

On I walked through light forests, pausing at the Monasterio de Irache for the obligatory wine from the fountain.  I topped up my water bottle with it, a wise move; it gave me wings to ascend the next vertical mountain to Villamayor de Montjardin.  

That vertical did it for me.  I sank into a heap at the hospitalero's table and asked for a bed in this attractive restored Dutch albergue.  Well, he didn't think there were any left, but to wait a moment as he disappeared.  Quite a while later he returned to say a young person had given up the last bed and would sleep on a mattress in the foyer... and it really was a bed, not a bunk, with gay red sheets and pillowcase.  I gave profuse thanks to all and later watched with compassion as so many other tired peregrinos were being turned away.

Again, a super albergue with good food, lots of grace, a touch evangelical, but that was their charism. A ditzy Australian wearing 4 inch high heeled boots shared my room.  Her rucksack weighed 20 kgs, she thought, and she carried the entire range of Lancôme serums and creams, make up and perfume!  Time, I thought, to break out my eyeliner ... but, oh bummer!  I couldn't find it.  The last time I used it was in Bilbao the day before I became a peregrina ... ah well, it'll have to go on my must buy list for Burgos.  

to be continued...

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