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October 31, 2017


By Maryanna Gabriel

“You can't get away from yourself by moving from one place to another.”
- Ernest Hemingway "The Sun Also Rises"

My Swedish friend and I connected once again without intending to. We walked together and it seemed strange that police were on the path. We asked some Spanish women if there was anything wrong. They talked to the police and the police said that everything was fine. However everything was not fine. We were later to learn that the night before a local woman was jogging and had been murdered. We also learned that a German man of middle age had collapsed by the wayside and had lain for three days without anybody noticing him on this same stretch. He was quite dead. His money and passport were intact. His family had sent the police out looking for him. The police had at first thought the two events were connected and then later decided they were not. It was only later that I was able to connect the dots by word of mouth and then through reading the articles from the paper through the Camino Forum. There are so many graves along the Camino. It isn't as though one becomes inured to death with this as a constant reminder but a lot of people die on this walk with their families returning with memorials. People leave mementos, stones, photographs of their lost ones on these markers. Oblivious to these sad events we approached Pamplona.

Entering the old town of Pamplona across the Puente Magdalena was dramatic with the gleaming rounded towers of the cathedral. I was immediately drawn to the antiquity of the place, it being over 2,000 years old. Juxtaposed to this and before I was to leave I would see rifles and hear gun fire as the wish for independence from Spain was voiced in this part of the country in addition to the present day unrest in Catalonia. 

Pamplona is where Hemingway lived and wrote The Sun Also Rises in 1925. He was later to become disgusted that he had put this charming place on the map as visitors began to flock wanting to see the running of the bulls. The charm continues to be evident though and I visited Cafe Iruna where he ate and held court gathering material for his famous novel. The Gran Hotel La Perla is kitty korner on the Plaza del Castillo and one can still stay in the room where he wrote with the room still very much the way it was when he lived in it. 

October 25, 2017

Blessing In Zubiri

By Maryanna Gabriel

 "....for all those who walk to God with me. "
 - A Course In Miracles


  With it all going quite splendidly Cathy and I wended our way to Burguete. Villagers wished us Buen Camino and we smiled back. We were charmed by the window boxes and flowers, the wood stoops and doorways and of course the pervasive stone work. Burguete is famous because Ernest Hemingway lived here and wrote The Sun Also Rises, drawn in part, by the river where he could fish for trout. As we headed over the bridge out of town we were overjoyed to run into our Swedish friend. He gave us lessons on how to walk with our poles and so we tramped happily through the woods sharing snacks as he smoked his pipe. I asked him how he learned English for his vocabulary was quite sophisticated. He said it was from watching movies. I loved this part of the walk and as we chatted it seemed to me the village took care with the trails. I feel comfortable in trees and it was an area with pine which is always good for the soul. As we were headed to different destinations, our paths parted. It was to be the beginning of the magic that is the Camino where friendships are formed and then you say goodbye wondering if you are ever to see the person again and then you do.

    I had a night in a town called Zubiri that had grown up over a river and I shared dinner with friends. We spoke long and deeply about spiritual matters helped in part by the wonderful Spanish Rioja. Something unusual happenedI sensed it before it came. It was like a rushing movement from the deep. The man I was sitting beside asked our permission to pray. He was an enormous Norwegian with a big smile and kindly face who was an engineer and artist, probably in his sixties. Our assent brought a rush of sonorous sound that tumbled and rolled, a deep thrum of rumbling, that seemed ancient and long forgotten. It went on and on under the stars in the night. It was unlike any language I had ever heard, Latin but not Latin, Hebrew but not Hebrew, Spanish but not Spanish, the words were musical and the intent benevolent. It uplifted the heart and I was filled with the wonder of it. I thought of heaven and felt imbued with peace. That night I floated in a blessed state feeling lulled by the roaring river and the snores of fellow hostelers. Eventually I slept.

    In the morning I was still processing what had happened the night before. I was headed to a nunnery. It was on a first come, first serve basis so I felt some urgency in getting there. The heat of the day was coming on and as I felt for my hat I realized it had slipped off of my head. Gone. My heart sank. Well, there was no going back I decided. Press on. After not feeling entirely sure where I was and wondering why people didn't put up signs announcing which town one was in I came upon the nunnery quite by accident. Suddenly a man appeared asking if someone had lost a hat! Wow. It was mine. That was nice. Hatless in the heat is not good. The Camino provides. And so it goes. Grace was definitely afoot.   


October 24, 2017


By Maryanna Gabriel

"Oh the things you can find if you don't stay behind!"
-Dr. Seuss

   The descent took a lot of care but it went well. The poles were helpful. This was an ancient path filled with historic reminders of the ages that people have made the trek. We passed the stele that meant we were in Spain. Ole.

   I wasn't born yesterday and I am not stupid. A quarter of a million pilgrims annually walking to a town that had had less than a hundred beds in the hostel at peak season? A hostel that is on a first come first serve basis? Oi, the odds of getting a bed! It was clear to me at the outset that being a midnight birthday baby I could take advantage of treating myself once more and I did. I had a reservation. I wasn't in competition. I could relax. Cathy had made the same choice. We were humming along, feeling calm, and walking in an ancient Beech forest that seemed alive with all kinds of interesting energy. A man came towards us speaking Portuguese. He was agitated. He had lost his son. The more we didn't understand the more he spoke to us in his language as if that would clear things up. Not knowing what to do I offered him water. Further along another man came looking for the first man also very agitated and also speaking Portuguese. When we came to the bottom of the descent the aforementioned son was waiting for the people looking for him. They were from South America and as we were trying to tell him his people were up the mount they all suddenly reappeared and we witnessed their joyful reunion. We humans are such busy creatures. 

   Roncesvalles has a long and famous history involving kings and whatnot and that is all very well but really all we wanted was to get to our room and shower. The hotel was stunning. We were in a renovated monastery that was a combination of ultra modern and historic. Opera played through the hallways and the restaurant looked promising. My room was superb. I would say that here at home a room like this would be eight times the price. Dinner was really appreciated. I chose squid. It was beautifully tender. The waiter brought us Basque Cake for dessert. I was grateful to be able to share this experience with Cathy. It was to be the last really good meal in quite awhile.

   When we later met up with a Swede who we knew from Orisson he told us that he had arrived late to the Roncesvalles alburgue (hostel) and that he was placed in the basement. He said it was like a prison. He hated it. Another woman said she was early and she got a bed on the top floor and thought it really nice. Regardless, I was glad for how I had sorted this out for myself and while adventure is all very well so is survival, getting a good sleep and eating nourishing food. Many people struggled over what we had achieved fairly well over the past twenty four hours. This was the one section I was truly worried about and it was mission accomplished. I felt better about what was to come and ready for the days ahead. I was enjoying this. It was all feeling quite promising. 

October 23, 2017

Over The Pyrenees

By Maryanna Gabriel

“So be sure when you step, step with care and great tact. 
And remember that life’s a Great Balancing Act. 
And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and ¾ percent guaranteed)." 
Kid, you’ll move mountains.” 
– Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

   It had all been such fun. It was a beautiful day. The views were breathtaking and panoramic. We climbed above sweeping valleys. Never will I forget such a walk. There were hundreds of us. It was uncanny. Why were we doing this? It seemed we were answering a call collectively. We had come from all over the world without entire clarity as to why, only knowing that we must as though we were a long lost tribe. We were surrounded by the sound of chimes. Each sheep around us was wearing a bell. Their backs were painted. Was it delineating ownership? Someone suggested it was to indicate pregnancy. Trucks passed with sullen farmers sporting French berets patrolling the road and their flocks, dogs at their side.

   A woman passed me who had slept on the lower bunk below me. She was carrying her walking poles like rifles. "I am saving the poles for when I need them," she said to my inquiring look. Huh? She was going to Burguette which was an insane distance. Now that I think of it I remembered she had a military background and she was marching like a soldier which I am wondering really meant she was feeling a need to be brave. All around me were people speaking languages from all over the world. Most were passing me. I didn't care. I was enjoying this famous place. At the top there was a statue of the Virgin Mary where people were gathered. Around her were strange concrete shelters. I wondered if they were from the second world war. It would seem a place to position oneself with guns. 

 Eventually we came to an enterprising Frenchman working out of his truck who was selling hard boiled eggs, homemade cheese, bananas and drinks. I felt the need to augment my dry sandwich from the hostel and Cathy and I sat together eating our lunch. We were way above the tree line. We were both looking forward to the hotel that awaited us in Roncesvalles. Cathy's knee was bothering her. We knew the descent was coming and that it was rocky and treacherous. I had read accounts of people taking ten hours doing the descent. We were going to do it together.

October 22, 2017

Birthday To Remember

By Maryanna Gabriel

“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”  
– Dr. Seuss, Happy Birthday to You!

   It was my birthday officially and I knew I could take my time before departing. I happily checked my email and received the well wishes of family and friends. Staring at my day pack I realized I had forgotten to pack my underwear and that my big water bottle had gone with the transport company. Moreover I had also forgotten to pack my emergency food and I had cans of tuna. Sigh. So much for Mountaineer Maryanna. With my underwear and tuna firmly in place for my big day it seemed only fitting that I go into the church and light a candle. It was calming to sit in the silence. I relaxed into the wood bench and sent up a quiet prayer for the safe keeping of my loved ones as well as for myself. I felt and expressed gratitude for being able to experience this pilgrimage. 

   Fortified with rest, croissants, prayer, my underwear and tuna fish, I set out. There was nobody to mark my exit from Saint Jean Pied de Port. I stared at the sign demarcating the heading towards Roncesvalles which was in Spain with the famous yellow arrows that were to be a lifeline. I slowly ascended. The humidity assailed me. I smelled mint and honeysuckle. Valleys deepened, as I experimented with my poles and walked past cows with bells around their necks. I talked to them. "It is my birthday today," I said. They seemed rather unmoved by this information. "Parlez vous, anglais?" Of course, these were French cows. They chewed wordlessly. Fine. Don't answer. I was surprised the trek was a road. I somehow thought this would be less civilized. 

   There were few people about. I sipped from a small bottle of water, I had so little. Oi.
I was only going 8 km. I was looking forward to a reservation at Orisson, a French hostel, so I knew I would be alright. I was tired though. My feet felt like concrete blocks. The weather report had told me the humidity was at 65 percent. It was a struggle with the gradient. I have never been good with humidity. Maybe it is my Irish and Scottish ancestry. I caught up with two American women. They were also struggling with the heat. We joked about dead pilgrims until it became apparent there really were dead pilgrims everywhere and this was not really a joking matter. Grave sites marked this walk. Many graves. I didn't yet understand this was to be an underlying signature of the journey. Sweat poured off of me. I finished my water. I thought that if this was an actual sauna I would have gotten out ten minutes ago. Flopping down on the ground we all took photos of each other and one woman kindly gave me some water. That helped. It was like gas in the tank and I picked up speed. It was a most welcome moment when we finally arrived in Orisson. 

   There were more than 28 of us which was the published accommodation number. People were pretty excited. I was in a room with eight other women. I had the top bunk. We introduced ourselves, country first. We urged each other to eat, that the lack of appetite from fatigue needed to be countered. I was concentrating on keeping my feet up when dinner was called. My face an unaccustomed pink, I joined the pilgrims in the dining room for chicken, stewed vegetables and baguette. One of the women who I had climbed with, Cathy, was at my table and I found out more about her. She made me laugh. Stories were shared. There was a lot of hub hub in the room as the wine was poured. After cake we clapped our appreciation for the cook. His wife asked us to go around the room and share our reasons for walking. When it came to my turn I announced it was my birthday. Immediately everybody sang Happy Birthday to me. That was an extraordinary moment. It was a unique birthday and my heart was very full. 

   We trudged off to bed. You would think we would be exhausted. That night none of us slept except for the two young German girls who snored. The morning was a disappointing dried out baguette with butter and jam and we drank our coffee from bowls. The friendships that were being forged were quick and deep and we said our goodbyes. My new friend Cathy had asked to walk with me and I waited for her in the early morning light struck by the extraordinary views. This time I was better prepared. I had a lot of water, a sandwich - my underwear and tuna fish were being transported with my pack. The light slowly grew in the sky and Cathy told me that the gradient of what was ahead would not be as severe as the day before. We set out.