Helping Out Along the Way

This pandemic has impacted life in so many ways for countless individuals. For those who identify as pilgrims—regardless of whether or not one has walked a single step across Spain—the images of an empty Praza do Obradoiro and stories of a Camino without pilgrims have made our safe-at-home strategies feel all the more confining. For many, 2020 was to be the year:

  • A pilgrim’s feet were finally going to fall upon the path that has led so many to Compostela.
  • A return to a place where clarity of purpose and deep meaning were discovered.
  • A pilgrimage was to be made—in gratitude for some blessing of life, in memory of dear loved one, or in search of something that is profound yet not quite utterable.
  • A pilgrim was making their way to Spain, not to walk, but to provide hospitality to a new wave of seekers making their way to City of St. James.

Now those identifying with one of these groups are beginning to mourn that much of the evidence points to a 2020 pilgrimage season that is either severely truncated or altogether cancelled. Questions abound—will employers allow you to take that long an amount of time off, again? Will family juggle calendars and expectations? Will the airlines, trains, or buses give you back all your hard-earned and patiently saved dollars?

And beyond that, there’s questions to which we do not yet know the answers:

  • When will the Camino reopen?
  • How will the Camino need to change—both in the short-term and the long-term to accomodate for our new reality?
  • How will the infrastructure of the Camino survive while at rest—especially those important places that depend on and operate with the seasonal donations of pilgrims?

It is on this last piece that I wish to focus. The Camino has given so much to so many, especially in the modern renewed interest in the Way of St. James. It is important in this season to remind each other that, yes, the Camino will be there; ever-ready to receive those seeking to find their way under the Field of Stars.

Right now, though, the Camino needs us to give as we have received. While there is no one place to give and there are many worthy Camino-related organizations and businesses, I have been moved to lift up those organizations that depend solely upon the donations received from each day’s wave of pilgrims making their way through the city, town, or village in which they find themselves. I would hope that if this effort focused on philanthropy, a difference could be made with those who have no other sources of revenue.

The below is not an exhaustive list—and intentionally so. These are just four that operate off of the donations made by pilgrims:

Beyond these three, here’s four other Albergues or Camino related operations that provide so much to many and could use your help:

If you would like a further list, Ivar Rekve’s The Camino de Santiago Forum has a list which can be found here:[https://www.caminodesantiago.me/community/categories/help-a-camino-business-in-these-covid-19-times.210/]. Sybille at her Egeria House page is keeping in a list, too [http://egeria.house/help-for-camino-people/].

Many thanks to those who have helped compile this list. I am grateful.

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4. Spiritual Practices and Social Distancing

In this episode, I share an segment where I was interviewed about Spiritual Practices for adults in times of social distancing.

Resources mentioned in the podcast include:
1. Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer from the United Methodist Church
2. Always We Begin Again
3. The Soul in Paraphrase

Note— I do not have any kind of referral agreements with anyone. If possible, please support your local bookstore.

For more about Wellroot Family Services and their ministry with children and families, please visit wellroot.org

On Returning to the Parish

I’m quickly approaching ninety days since returning to ministry which finds me day to day in the local church. And for that all I can say is I’m grateful. I thought I’d would be good for posterity to share some reflections on this return.

I’m Preaching Without Notes

This has been one of the biggest changes since the last time I was preaching to the same people week in and week out. Folk that know me half-decently know that I’m a wordsmith and that I love crafting just the right turn of phrase. There’s nothing wrong with this. It just turned out that in my first 15 years of preaching, I either fretted about that phrase to the point of doing nothing but reading my manuscript or I would work so hard at memorizing my manuscript that the first hiccup would derail to that there was no chance of return. There’s 2 particular Sunday’s I’d prefer to forget and hope, one day I will.

A three different things clicked for me during me three year journey away from the local church:

  1. I had to learn to be an excellent communicator away from the pulpit… or at least at a time that’s not the sermon. I don’t know what the hang up was about sermons but it was there and it was real. To really communicate with folks I needed to learn to look them in the eye, know when I’m connecting and knowing how and when to change–even mid-stride–so that folks could get what I was trying to convey. Simple, right?
  2. When I did preach during my time in extension ministry, I had a particular outcome in mind–I wanted my listeners to engage in ministry with the nonprofit I represented. If we’re not preaching with an end in mind, then we need to reconsider the whole endeavor. As a friend says, it’s nice to be interesting but it’s transformational to be helpful.
  3. Carey Nieuwhof says that we don’t need to memorize our sermon, we need to understand it. For me that means understanding starting and ending points, transitions, and desired outcomes. Now, I’m not wedded to saying the exact same words on the manuscript on my desk at home and I don’t fret if an illustration doesn’t fall into flow of the sermon.

Where to Spend Energy

One of the great lessons I learned from our CEO while at my appointment to a nonprofit was that I could not control when (or whether) folks would trust me. All I could control was whether or not my actions are trustworthy. A large part of this in my first 90 days is how I spend my time and energy. And I have been spending a large part of my time investing in leaders–both those who are on staff and those in elected office. I’m listening to a lot stories, asking lots of questions and telling my own story, as well. I cannot tell you how important this has been.

Confidence in the Midst of Ambiguity

This is the other lesson I’ve learn and I really cannot tell you how important this is. First, let me be clear about what this is not–I’m not talking about arrogance, neither am I talking about deceiving folks. Confidence that has nothing backing it up, nor one that lacks any sense of a kingdom-minded trajectory soon rings hollow. And to “fake it until you make it” when it comes to vision is vulgar and disingenuous.

Confidence comes from a few different places:

  1. Rootedness in the calling upon your life and vocation.
  2. Complete ability to grasp current context without letting it consume or paralyze you.
  3. A holy confidence in a vision of God’s reign and a steadfast commitment to articulating that vision in your current context.
  4. A sense of a trajectory towards that vision with the wisdom and humility to course-correct to keep the vision of God’s reign before the congregation.

I’m sure none of this is new but I’m grateful for the lessons learned in extension ministry and to share those lessons learned.

There’s a whole other blog to share about finally learning good business and administrative practices. That will come later.

Walking the Camino: Albergues, Albergequette, and a Few Recommendations

Albergues—you gotta love ‘em.

Seriously, you do. Anyone who has done a lot of backpacking through Europe will probably think of—and mistakenly call them—hostels. All the accoutrements of a hostel are there—dorms filled with bunk beds, shared communal bathrooms, lockers, opportunities to wash your clothes in a tub, and hard-limit lights out.

There are differences, though. Namely, these are:

  • Early to bed, early to rise. Even though locals love to dine late, party into the night (and carry on until morning), Albergues have relatively early lock-out and lights out times—usually 9:30-10pm. Miss lockout because of one more glass of vino tincto? Good luck. Pray your host is gracious. Also, you’ll probably need to be out of the albergue by 8:30a, at the latest. I know most hostels have lights out and kicking-out time but most lights out are late and loose. Kick out is later than albergues.
  • License and Registration, ma’am. When you check in you not only have to provide your passport—verifying your identity and acts as not only a security measure but also a tracker in the rare chance you don’t check-in, call, or arrive when and where you are supposed to. You also have to provide your credencial or Camino Passport. This book of stamps acquired along The Way is proof that you are a pilgrim, giving you the privilege to stay at the albergue.
  • We’re Here All Week One Night Only. Most Albergues will let you spend one night and then you need to be making your way to Santiago. There’s always exceptions—especially if you are injured or sick. The rule, though, is get your rest and and get packing. Literally.

Beyond these three, albergues and hostels are pretty similar. Never been in a hotel before? Keep reading….

  • Dorm and Bunks—some are in rooms of 4 beds, some 12-16, some up to 100. Of course there’s also the occasional double room. There’s the occasional albergue that uses mats for regular or overflow use. Many will provide a pillow, blanket and disposable sheets. Other will before some, occasionally none. This is why most people bring a sleeping back, sleep sheet, or both. Some will bring a travel pillow while most seem to get by balling up their jacket and turning it into a pillow.
  • Squeaky Clean. Bathrooms in albergues make some people nervous. Most of the alburgues I stayed in had men’s and women’s bathrooms with multiple stalls. I understand that is not always the case, though.
  • Squeaky Clean, Pt 2. Most albergues will have a washbasin and a clothes line for you to wash your clothes. Increasingly, albergues are installing clothes washers and dryers as an additional service/ revenue source.
  • It should go without saying but….
    • Albergues are coed. This was never a problem for me but I’ve heard of the occasional modesty issue. The rule to follow—don’t stare at anyone’s junk
    • Bathrooms—Usually not a problem. If it is, talk it through—ladies go first while the guys go out for beer, for example. Same rule applies—don’t stare at other peoples’ junk.
    • At 10-12 Euro a night, please stay polite and moderate your expectations. Most hosts are either volunteers or hosting at their own property.

Alberguequette

There are definite codes of conduct for albergues—mostly they can be summed up in the rule of be courteous and respectful. But for some helpful remdinders, here’s a few details:

  • Respect curfew/ departure times. Folks have to get ready for the next crowd.
  • Be quick with your shower—no one likes to wait in line only to find no hot water.
  • If you are leaving early in the morning, take your things out into the hall and pack up there—don’t wake up the folks squeezing out every moment of sleep.
  • Likewise, lots of folks find the red light headlamps useful. They don’t wake up fellow pilgrims as easily.
  • Also to preserve the silence and peace—don’t organize your pack using plastic shopping bags or trash bags. They are noisy and wake people up. Use nylon or mesh bags, instead.
  • Don’t put your backpack on the bed.This keeps things clean and prevents you from transmitting bed bugs on the off chance they are there.
  • Respect the rules about walking poles and boots staying in the hall/ outside. It keeps things cleaner and easier to prepare for the next day.
  • If the albergue/ host provides a meal, make sure you keep your word about your plans. If you are eating there, don’t say yes and then change plans—unless you’re willing to pay for dinner twice. Likewise, don’t say no and expect to have room at the table for you.
  • If you’ve left your clothes on the clothes line, make sure you get them in before nightfall. Nothing like fresh fallen dew to dampen your clothes!!
  • Leave the lower bunks for the less mobile, elderly, or injured.
  • Check out this video from the Don’t Stop Walking series: https://youtu.be/mJkYrKTLGuw. As a matter of fact, watch all of them!

Recommended Albergues

The below are albergues that I have stayed in and I highly recommend each of them.

Sarria- Albergue La Casona de Sarria: On the eastern outskirts of Sarria, this albergue gives you either a head start on the day’s walk or let’s you have a few minutes extra sleep! The property has 2 medium sized dorms as well as double/ twin accommodations. There’s a large cubbie in the room for your stuff. There are men’s and women’s bathrooms and the bathrooms are arranged so that even the most modest won’t have any issues—and plent of hot water. The hosts provide disposable sheets, pillow, and blanket. There are reading lights at each bunk as well as a power outlet to recharge your phone and keep it nearby. The owners love engaging pilgrims and offer a happy hour with complementary drinks—coffee, soft drink, matcha, beer, and wine. The owners also are great to recommend a restaurant for dinner and will call ahead for you.

Portomarín- Albergue Gonzar: Probably my least favorite. It was a great location, at the top of the steps climbing into Portomarín—and there was a bar on the main floor, which was convenient for snack and breakfast. There were only 2 bathrooms, each with one toilet and shower. Again, the host provided blankets, pillows, and disposable sheets. The amazing part about this albergue was that the host did our laundry for us—4 Euro to wash, 4 Euro to dry. There were lockable lockers for our stuff. There was not an ample supply of power outlets—which were all taken up by a group of inspiring men in their 70’s. They had been friends for years and walked part of the Camino together. They all had CPAPs which was both loud and strangely soothing. And they took up the few power outlets. The establishment did have WiFi.

Palas de Rei—Albergue A Casina di Marcello: Another albergue on the outskirts of town. Another opportunity to get an early start or sleep a little later. The owner, Marcello, is great and a jovial host. His albergue is cozy, clean. Probably my favorite shower. He has laundry facilities (4 Euro to wash, 4 to dry). He’ll also cook dinner for 10 Euro. We chose not to and went out for pizza. He offers fresh linens to guests, a pillow, and blankets. I like that each lower bunk has a curtain to tamp down on light. There’s also a power outlet for every bunk, has WiFi. He also seems to have drinks available for purchase in the afternoons. I will say that you either need to get your breakfast the night before or be prepared to wait a while. It’s a walk to the first cafe.

Ribadiso— Pension Albergue Los Caminantes. I loved this village and this albergue. There were 3 establishments in the village—the municipal albergue (owned by the government), a private albergue (possibly regularly staffed by American volunteers?) and a cafe. That’s it. The albergue had many rooms, which it seems they had the option of partitioning during slower seasons. During high season its just first come first serve bed-wise. Again, there was a blanket, Pillow, and sheets. There was laundry and WiFi. This was the one place where there was the potential for a little embarrassment for the modest. The bathrooms were unisex—but the toilets were in each of their own private rooms. The showers had walls between the shower heads—and were completely enclosed, even if the walls were opaque glass. For a tall person like myself (6’4”) if I didn’t follow the golden rule of Albergues—don’t stare at another person’s junk—there could have been the potential to get an unintended eye-full! Thankfully I was the only one in the bathroom when I showered—and I was quick. I think what I loved about this albergue was that this was the one night we didn’t stay in a town—so we were “forced” if you will to socialize more with the folks we were staying with.

O Pedrouzo- Albergue Mirador de Pedrouzo. From a sheer quality of accommodation, this place was tops. A converted large house, this place had just opened. There were several smallish dorms—each with clean sheets, blanket, pillow, reading light and power port. There was a lockable locker and there were many, many bathroom—all newly installed or remodeled—throughout the building. I will say this was the one place I had a cold shower. Apparently I timed it poorly. They had laundry facilities, a cafe, WiFi and what looked like would eventually be a restored pool. Found as you are coming into town, this albergue is along the route but unlike others, you’ll have to get an early start—especially if you want to make it into Compostela for the pilgrim mass. This one was a little more expensive—14 Euro per night. But it was worth it. This was also the only place where they gave us key cards to get in and out of the building. I passed out before I found out if there was a hard lock-out time.

Santiago de Compostela- Hotel Rua Villar. I certainly do recommend, if you can afford it, to splurge a little when you get to Santiago. While you might assume the only place to stay in relative luxury is the Parador, there are many 2 or 3 star hotels that seem like the lap of luxury. I loved Hotel Rua Villar. You were not even a block away from the Cathedral. They have breakfast available, happy hour. Bathrooms are en suite. WiFi is great and there was air conditioning! They even had room service if you wanted it. I would note, especially if you haven’t travelled in Europe much, that there’s a difference between twin and double rooms. A double room is one double bed. A twin room is 2 twin beds, often pushed together. My very favorite thing about this hotel from a customer service view was this: I sent everything I didn’t need on the Camino ahead to the hotel. They held and had my extra bag in my room upon arrival. They helped me check into my flight and even helped arrange a taxi to the airport at an ungodly hour of the morning.

Are there other places to stay along the Camino besides Albergues? Heavens no! All along the Camino there are pensiones (lower cost hotels akin to a bed and breakfast) and even the occasional hotel. They just aren’t as frequent. But your travel costs are going to go up. Many folks seem to budget staying in either a double room in an alburgue or in a pension once per week—to knock the dirt off, talk a long shower or not have to worry about an early check out.

I also heard a couple tell of a farmhouse they stayed in. The owner opened their home, provided 2 amazing meals and gave them a lovely room to stay in. Accommodations like these—pensiones and farmhouse arrangements usually require some booking or enquiring at the tourist office in the local municipality.

Walking the Camino: Food, Glorious Food

Part of traveling anywhere that is not “home” is experiencing (and hopefully enjoying) the local cuisine. The Camino is no different. Each region has its own unique twists on common themes. And when burning 5,000 calories per day, there’s amply opportunity to try them all. So what’s the food like in Spain? Read on to find out!

Breakfast

It’s the most important meal of the day, right? Breakfast in Spain is simple. Most mornings my breakfast was a pastry of some sort—usually a chocolate croissant—and coffee.

Cafe con Leche and postre

But not just any coffee—cafe con leche. I don’t know what alchemy Spanish cafe owners practice but they take coffee, milk, sugar, and turn it into this delightful elixir unlike anything I’ve had before—and I was a barista . It’s not a latte. Its not cafe au lait. Neither is it Cuban coffee and it is definitely not coffee with milk and sugar. That said, like much of Europe, you are not going to find a “bottomless cup” of coffee like was have in many restaurants in the US. And if you don’t want cafe con leche, you can always order a cafe americano (coffee + hot water) or cafe negro (coffee without water or milk).

Second Breakfast

About two hours after you finish breakfast, you’ve probably walked around 10km… a little over 6 miles. Time to gas up! For me this meant another cafe con leche and, probably a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice. To each I would have some variation of toast (with butter, with butter and jelly, with ham, with egg, with ham and egg—get the picture?). Spaniards call this tostada (sorry Taco Bell, yours doesn’t cut it). Occasionally I would get a tortilla—think frittata, but not baked.

Bocadilla

While stopped for my second breakfast, I would make sure I refilled my water bottle, got a stamp for my credencial, and did my first changing over of socks—to prevent blisters. Yep, I’d have second breakfast barefoot. When it was time to go, I’d don fresh socks, clip the already worn ones to my pack, and head out.

A couple of hours later it would be time to cycle The socks because its now time for—

Lunch

The most common lunch food I had was a bocadilla—very crusty bread, Spanish ham (jamon iberico), and—if you’re lucky—a little olive oil. I cannot tell you how spoiled I was eat fresh baked bread and not sandwich loaf slice. And the ham—thinly sliced and dry cured (but not smoked). I don’t know how they do it but its amazing. To wash it down, there’s always water, cafe con leche, or the regional American-style lager—low gravity but refreshing.

Jamon Iberico—hoof and all!

After that, its time to get the pack back on and head back on The Way because you’ve probably got another 2 hours of walking before arriving at where you are going to sleep or where ever you are going to stop for:

Afternoon Snack

If it’s going to be a long day walking, you’ll need to keep your energy up. Maybe its time for a slice of Santiago cake and cafe con leche. Some folks simply sat down at a cafe and ordered a beer or two before finishing out their walking for the day.

Once in town and settled for the evening, its time for:

Dinner

An early dinner (5 or 6). There’s a couple of different options for dinner. Some pilgrims will huddle together with other pilgrims and cook for one another. This is a great community building exercise and a way to learn about other cultures. Sometimes the folks running the alburgue will offer a meal, for a nominal extra fee. If you’re staying at one of the more rural alburgues, this might be your only option for dinner. In the larger towns you can eat at restaurants—most of whom will have a three-course pilgrim menu:

First Course—pasta, salad, or soup

Second Course—some kind of meat, fries

Third Course—Santiago cake, cheese cake, ice cream

On the table—bread, red wine

All of this food for 10 Euro! Is it the best food you ever ate? No. Is it tasty with plenty of calories (again, remember you’re burning as much as 5,000 calories per day). Of course!

Regional Variation

There’s things you’ll want to try along the way:

  • In Galicia: Pulpo (Octopus), Galego soup, Paella
  • In Basque Region: cheese, Pinxtos (basque tappas)
  • Rioja: wine!
  • Anywhere west of Rioja: Tapas
  • Anywhere: churros and chocolate
Churros y chocolate

Just remember, some of these regional special meals—tapas, pinxtos, pulpo, paella will blow your budget. So save and spend accordingly.

What’s the Bill?

If you budget 40 Euro per day for food, you’ll live like a king. Need to economize? Buy breakfast and a picnic lunch in the local market. Drink water. Keep your discipline to the pilgrim menu at night. You can get by for 20-25 Euro per day this way.

So You Want to Walk The Camino?

While it is foolish to think that there’s no preparation involved in walking The Way of St. James, its also… convenient… to think that it takes years of preparation to walk. In fact, it is one of the simpler trips to plan.

How Long Do You Have?

For most of us that are not retired or between jobs, we may or may not have unlimited time. Family, work, and other responsibilities can dictate how much time you have. Also, maybe you are worried about distances. Generally, folks can travel 20-30km per day. That’s 120-180 km if you walk 6 days and rest 1 (a recommended practice). At an average of 160km per week, you could finish from St. Jean Pied-de-Port in 5 weeks But, if that’s not appealing, there’s a myriad of starting points but the major cities seem to be:

Buy a Ticket

After you figure out how much time you’ve got, everyone I’ve talked to, every blog I’ve read, every podcast I’ve listened to begins with this advice—buy your ticket. When it comes to large international airports, you have 3 options:

  • Madrid
    • Hub for Iberia Airlines. One World Alliance, of which American Airlines is a part.
    • Served by Delta (Sky Team), United (Star Alliance).
    • You can get to your starting point via rail, bus, or a combination.
  • Paris
    • Hub for Air France (Again, Delta’s Sky Team)
    • Also served by Star Alliance and One World Alliance airlines
    • Mainly for folks who which to start in St. Jean Pied-de-Port or other locations in France.
    • Folks usually take a high-speed train to southwest France (Biarritz) and then catch a local train or bus to St. Jean Pied-de-Port.
  • Barcelona
    • Not a major hub but served by the major Airlines—either as a connecting flight or direct year-round from a few location, with more seasonally.
    • Sometimes it is cheaper to get to your starting point because, while it might be marginally more expensive to get to Barcelona from the US, it can be cheaper to get from Barcelona to where you want to start.

I’m sure folks have their favorite travel sites but let me recommend:

  • Scott’s Cheap Flights. This is a curated list of sales, date entry errors, and generally cheap flights. Select your home airport, the part of the world to which you’d like to travel and you’ll get emails when a deal pops.
  • Kayak and Google flights are good.
  • For me, I travelled on skymiles (Avios Points, actually). The original plan was to fly through London but it turned out cheaper to fly through Miami to Madrid—simply because of taxes and landing fees for Heathrow.
  • Once you get in Spain, Rome2Rio is an amazing site and app. It can tell you very possible way to get from point A to point B, and the cost.

Buy Your Pack

This is simply the single most important purchase you will make. Factors to consider include:

  • Size—35-45L is plenty. Any smaller and you risk an uncomfortable load. Much more and you’ll either carry more than you need or have a ridiculously empty pack.
  • Fit. Do not under-estimate this. Fit is everything. Historically, I’ve been a Gregory guy. Also, I know that the general public loves Osprey packs—they’re everywhere on the trail. They’re got good features—especially straps to carry your poles without having a friend unstrap them from the back of your pack and a suspension system that keeps the airflow between your back and your pack. But when I looked at what fit my needs and my long frame the best, it was the REI pack. The only two complaints I had about my pack—no daisy chains and side pockets—were fixed on the 2019 version of the pack.
  • While you don’t need to wear your backpack every time you go for a walk, it is a good idea to get used to the weight and make sure it works for you over a long hike.

Get Fitted for Shoes

This is the other major purchase you’ll need to make—and make it early. You’ll want to not only break your shoes in but go on several long walks to make sure your shoes fit well and don’t rub. A word of warning—I broke my shoes in, wore then on long and short walks and never had an issue. In Spain, I couldn’t keep my heel from slipping and wound up with blisters on both heels—ouch!! I survived but if I was walking longer, I would have had issues.

What shoes did people wear?

  • Most people wore low-cut boots, like the Merrell MOAB2’s I wore.
  • A smaller group of folk wore trail running shoes.
  • A much smaller group of people wore ankle-length or higher boots.

Folks that wore a fuller boot were comfortable with the familiarity but didn’t like the weight. Trail runners loved the weight but sometimes felt like they didn’t have a rigid enough shoe for some sections. Low-cut boot folks felt good about their choice but wondered if the lighter trail runner would work.

Another question folk ask about their shoes is whether to wear Gore-tex or not. I chose not—to wear ventilated shoes, as they are called. While you can keep your feet a little bit more dry when walking through puddles, on a rainy day it won’t matter. What does matter is that Gore-Tex boots are hotter and if your feet sweat even the least bit, this can raise your potential for blister. Just like there’s no one type of shoe, there not a right answer to this one, either.