Sentier Notre-Dame, Kapatakan pilgrimage trail

Sentier Notre-Dame, Kapatakan

The Sentier Notre-Dame, Kapatakan pilgrimage trail is located in the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region of Quebec.

When friends inquired about the destination of my upcoming trip to Quebec, I replied, “The name of the place is so French that I don’t even want to TRY to pronounce it.” It seemed somehow glamorous to be headed to a place so exotic that I feared slaughtering the pronunciation of “Saguenay Lac Saint Jean” with my meager French, which I admit “c’est une catastrophe” (is a disaster.) The pronunciation of Lac Saint Jean is “pas de problem” since I mastered the pronunciation of Saint-Jean-Pied-du-Port after numerous Caminos that brought me through that French village near the foot of a pass “pied du port” in the Pyrenees Mountains. But the “Saguenay” had me tongue tied.

After I arrived at the Bagotville airport in north central Quebec, my new friend and local expert, Nancy Donnelly, pronounced it for me: “Say-gan-eh.” Not so difficult after all. The word is not French, but derived from a Native American word Saki-nip, which means “water that comes out” or “source of water.” [1]

I was visiting Quebec to research the food and culture, but because of my Camino experiences, I was particularly interested in learning more about Sentier Notre-Dame, Kapatakan called the “Petit Compostelle du Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean” or the “Small Camino de Santiago de Compostela of Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean.” Kapatakan, I learned, is a Native American word for “path.”

The 215 km (133.5 mile) pilgrimage trail weaves its way through spectacular north central Quebec from the Parc national du Fjord-du-Saguenay (Saguenay Fjord National Park) to L’Ermitage Saint-Antoine de Lac-Bouchette in lake country. In this fairly short distance, pilgrims find a variety of stunning landscapes. First passing over high granite cliff walls along the magnificent Saguenay Fjord and later following waterways to manicured urban river walks, hikers complete their journey in lush boreal forests that fringe serene lakes.

Notre-Dame-du-Saguenay

Statue of Notre-Dame-du-Saguenay on Cape Trinidad

The Statue Trail led me up and over granite cliffs to Notre-Dame-du-Saguenay, a nine-meter (30-foot) tall statue of the Virgin Mary that overlooks the Saguenay Fjord. The fjord’s sheer size makes it the only navigable fjord in North America. I hiked up stone steps, cedar staircases and glacier-polished bedrock to overlooks above the vertical cliffs to view the shimmering water below.

Spiritual adventurer Stacey Wittig on Statue Trail, Saguenay Fjord National Park

The enchanted pathway was lined with dark green spruce and white-barked birch, and I relished the quiet punctuated by the chirp of a woodpecker. The calming green environment on the first day of the pilgrimage is perfect for meditating and peeling off the cloak of stressful city life.

Sentier Notre-Dame, Kapatakan

Notre-Dame-du-Saguenay and the Statue Trail, where you start the pilgrimage is located in Saguenay Fjord National Park. In the nearby town of Rivière-Éternité, 17 km away, pilgrims can find accommodation in the dormitory or private rooms at Auberge du Presbytère at Rivière-Éternité, a municipal albergue in a renovated rectory. Here you may purchase a Pilgrim Guide that includes the Pilgrim Credential. Other accommodations, including camping, are available and listed on the website.  Tip: Procure your guide and credential at Auberge du Presbytère at Rivière-Éternité before you head off to the park, 1.5 km away, so you can get your credential stamped at the park’s information center.

La Baie, Quebec

Depending on your itinerary, the town of La Baie is probably where you will sleep on your third night. This picturesque town is a port for cruise ships coming from NYC or Boston. Because this area has so much to offer, passengers must choose from a wide variety of shore excursions including a walk in the National Park from which you’ve just come, ‘La Fabuleuse,’   an exhilarating, live cultural stage show, or a visit of the Fjord Museum, a fascinating, experiential attraction. [2] Of course, you don’t have to be a cruise passenger to see these delights. You might want to take the day off from walking to take in some of the local culture and natural splendors. Tip: I ate at La Grange aux Hiboux for a satisfying taste of the local French Canadian cuisine. Try the chomeur, a true Quebecoise staple of moist white cake laced with maple syrup. The proprietors also rent rooms with views of the bay.

L’Ermitage Saint-Antoine de Lac-Bouchette

L’Ermitage Saint-Antoine de Lac-Bouchette on Lake Ouiatchouan

L’Ermitage Saint-Antoine de Lac-Bouchette (St Anton Hermitage and Shrine) is a retreat center founded and managed by the Capuchin Franciscan religious order. The Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes is located on the sprawling campus and is the end point of the Sentier Notre-Dame, Kapatakan pilgrimage route. The Grotto of Lourdes and a scaled replica the Lourdes Massabielle Chapel enhance the wooded setting, truly an oasis of peace and calm.

Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes at L’Ermitage Saint-Antoine in Quebec

The natural environment is part of Franciscan spirituality, and so programming at the retreat center links spirituality to nature. Pilgrims can walk the footpaths surrounding the hermitage where words from St Francis’s The Canticle of the Creatures are posted to encourage private meditation on our Christian’s connection to nature. Tip: Reserve one or two extra nights at L’Ermitage Saint-Antoine de Lac-Bouchette which offers chalets (cabins,) private guest rooms and camping. You’ll be able to take part in the nature programs facilitated by Capuchin Brother Sylvain Richer, daily masses and other traditions that will help you process your pilgrimage.

The retreat center has its own bakery, restaurant where you can eat a communal dinner in a fraternal atmosphere and museum of the 110-year-old hermitage.

Tourtière (pie) of Lac-Saint-Jean

REFERENCES

[1] https://web.archive.org/web/20071025125908/http://www.histoirequebec.qc.ca/publicat/vol5num1/v5n1_6ri.htm

[2] Visit Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean https://www.saguenaylacsaintjean.ca/en/

Stacey Wittig is a spiritual adventurer and Camino author who blogs from her home near Flagstaff, Arizona. The Arizona travel writer was hosted on this trip to Quebec and although all her opinions are her own, she believes in full disclosure. Thank you #QuebecOriginal and Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean #saglac.

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Kindness of Strangers on Camino Primitivo

While walking along cow pastures and woody stands, I had not seen a soul for the past three hours. But I was accompanied by huge thunderclouds, hanging heavy with the rain that seemed destined to come. The low clouds refused to release, and I silently prayed for the showers that would dampen the oppressing heat and humidity that had been building all afternoon.

Combing the countryside on Camino Primitivo

I was walking the Camino Primitivo, an ancient pilgrimage path that connects Oviedo in Asturias to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. While trekking, I was also editing and updating a guide book for the route for a London publisher. I was not surprised how much the lists of restaurants and accommodations had changed since the last edition in 2011. With the growth of interest in walking the various Caminos that spider web through Europe, there was sure to be many changes and additions. But I was surprised by the amount of construction in the backwoods of northern Spain that was changing the actual route.

Course changes meant that I needed to document those route deviations in the guide book. I needed to stop, make notes and maybe retrace my steps to ensure accuracy. The frustrating search for San Salvador de Soutomerille, a small 9th C church, had me back-tracking through hot, farm fields. I finally decided that the ancient chapel must be on the alternative route that, although I was sure I had taken, I must not have followed. My 23-pound pack seemed twice as heavy as it did that morning when I left O Cadavo. I spent two extra hours and retraced three miles combing the remote countryside.

Alone in Northern Spain

That was the reason that by 4 pm I was walking alone. My pilgrim friends would have checked into Albergue Casa da Chanca, the place where we’d agreed to rest for the night, hours ago. I still slugged along under the sweaty heat of the pregnant clouds. I was climbing towards Lugo, which lies on a hill surrounded by three rivers. As I climbed, I got nearer and nearer to the clouds that were turning black. My prayers were about to be answered.

I set my pack down under the sheltering arms of an oak, opened my pack and as I reached to put on my raincoat, the skies opened. Hunching down, I fit my rainfly around my backpack as the rain pelted down. I was getting hammered and as I stood up to survey my situation in the thunderstorm, I knew I’d have to stay in place under the tree on this lonely farm road for a while. I could see a barn at the intersection ahead of me, but it looked deserted and locked. I thought of my friends sheltering in the albergue. I was looking forward to reconnecting with them for dinner; this surely put a kibosh on that.

For some reason, I looked back up the tree-lined road where I’d just come. Maybe I heard something that caused me to look. But there, up the lane, were two Spanish people walking their dog. The country couple huddled under a big umbrella, which maybe seemed so large because they were so short of stature. The man held the umbrella in one hand and his wife’s shoulder in the other. As the rain pelted sideways from the wind, he pointed the umbrella towards the gusts and steered his wife to another oak on my side of the road. Their Golden Retriever crouched at their ankles.

Appeared out of nowhere

After an afternoon without seeing anyone, they seemed like angels to me. They appeared out of nowhere, and I thought, “They’re old folks, walking their dog. Their home MUST be close by.” I waved a hand of welcome, and the woman waved back. We stood under our prospective trees for what seemed like 20 minutes. I had no idea how far I was from Lugo, but it was already after 5 pm, and I was giving up hope on meeting my fellow pilgrims for dinner. I felt sad that after such a frustrating day, I would miss the compassionate companionship of fellow walkers.

When the storm finally let up, the villagers began walking. I waited, and we trod through the light rain together. We only smiled and laughed since none of us had a handle on the other’s verbal language. After about a mile, and the third country intersection, the wife pointed to the right and said, “Camino.”

Through the twilight drizzle

I said, “No, yo voy a su casa. You quiero un taxi.” “No, I go to your house. I want a taxi.” They both smiled and motioned onward. And we kept walking and walking. So much for my theory that old people take short dog walks. Another twenty minutes, I could see a line of row houses through the twilight drizzle. We must be reaching the outskirts of Lugo. “Esta es la casa de mi amigo,” she smiled. “Llamará un taxi para ti.” “This is my friend’s house; she’ll call a taxi for you.”

Muchas gracias,” I cried. The door opened, and the wife explained in rapid Spanish as I slid, dripping, into the entryway. I was happy to have the introduction because the friend spoke no English and I couldn’t understand her Spanish. She left me standing on the linoleum at the door to go upstairs to get her millennial son to call a cab.

Rescued by Camino Angels

She returned to ask me a question, which I couldn’t understand. After repeating it three times, she gave up and went back upstairs to retrieve a huge, thick cotton towel. Toalla! Towel! That’s the word I didn’t recognize. Then she asked me if I needed a shirt – I could understand the word camisa. No, the towel would do, I somehow explained. I felt bad about all the water on the floor that was dripping off of me, my raincoat and my pack. But I helped her mop it up. The kindly mother made her son come down to explain that the taxi would be here soon. His English was about as good as my Spanish.

The taxi arrived and whisked me to Albergue Casa da Chanca. The ride was only five minutes long, and I realized how close I was to town when the thunderstorm had broken loose. Rodrigo and Ximena, my pilgrim family from Mexico, welcomed me warmly. They laughed at my stories of misfortune and Camino angels, and I had fifteen minutes to unpack and dry off before we went back out into the rain for a late dinner. There, over octopus and white wine, I repeated my story of the kindness of strangers to Lazlo and Peter, our Hungarian friends.

Stacey “Vagabonding Lulu” Wittig, an Arizona travel writer based in Flagstaff, has written three books about the Camino de Santiago. To learn more, go to Amazon at http://bit.ly/CaminoBook

Spiritual Guide on the Camino in 2018

Albergue Santa María de Carbajal-Benedictinas CarbajalasHappy New Year! I’m looking forward to walking and writing about the Camino de Santiago in 2018. I was honored to see my Camino book, Spiritual and Walking Guide: León to Santiago in the book showcase at Albergue Santa María de Carbajal “Benedictinas Carbajalas” during their New Years dinner in León, Spain.

On Facebook, the Sisters posted “Cena de Nochevieja que nuestros Hospitales prepararon para los peregrinos que ayer pasaron el día y la noche en el Albergue del Monasterio.”

In English: “New Year’s Eve dinner that our Hospitaleros prepared for the pilgrims who yesterday spent the day and night in the Monastery Hostel.”

The Christian daily devotional is available for sale at the Benedictine monastery’s albergue in León, Spain. And on Amazon.com  Happy New Year!

Stacey Wittig is an Arizona travel writer based in Flagstaff, AZ. She writes about pilgrimage and Camino de Santiago.

Camino Book Review: The Great Westward Walk

The-Great-Walk-Westward-coverAntxon Gonzalez Gabarain, author

Book review by Stacey Wittig

I was propped up in bed next to my husband. Me with book in hand, he with computer games blinking on his tablet. I took a sharp breath in, a reaction to the sentence that I was reading.

“What? What?” he asked. I always hate it when he interrupts my reading with, “What are you reading?” or in this case, “What? What?” But this time I wanted to share what I read.

“Do you mind if I read a bit of this to you? Can you listen while you play Auralux?” I asked trying to sell him on allowing me to read the words that, to me, described the Camino pilgrimage experience so well. I had just cracked open the recently-released English version of The Great Westward Walk: From the Front Door to the End of the Earth by Antxon Gonzalez Gabarain. I was only in the introduction and already mesmerized.

‘The Great Westward Walk’ is a true story.

My husband listened while I read from the beginning of the introduction and ended at the sentence that had caused me to gasp in recognition:

“The Walk to the End of the World” is a true story. It celebrates the fundamentally irrational nature of pilgrimage, as it plays out against the banal rationality of our times.

Yes, the dichotomy of pilgrimage in these times when rationalism is often valued over spirituality struck a chord with me. I finished reading out loud the introduction, written by Izaskun Gonzalez Gabarain, and then resumed my silent reading. Another gasp. Another “What? What?” and I began reading the Prologue written by another of the author’s friends to my husband. This time without hubby’s permission.

He told me he was dying.

He was finishing the book using a special computerized device that allowed him to type by tracing the movement and blinking of his eyes. A terrible, consuming disease had taken away use of his hands, arms and legs…Antxon was running out of time.

Finishing this book was his final desire, he said, his last wish.

Three days after completing the manuscript, the writer died

The writer completed the manuscript, a captivating memoir of his Camino journey from the doorstep of his home in Zumaia, in the Basque Country, to Santiago, three days before ALS took his life at age 41.

Gabarain lives on in this Camino book

Yet Gabarain lives on in this book that gives me insight into his Basque ponderings and connections with his countrymen that I, as a foreigner, could never have. His words, almost poetic at times, roll back the curtain on slices of Spanish life that I would not otherwise have known. His insight and description are probably reasons that the Spanish version is a best-seller in Spain.

Three cheers to Rebekah Scott, American Pilgrims on Camino (APOC) member and speaker at the 2017 APOC gathering in Atlanta, for her fine work of translating this amazing Camino narrative.

Available on Amazon in print or Kindle at http://amzn.to/2twub8R

This review originally appeared in the September 2017 edition of La Concha, the quarterly publication of American Pilgrims on the Camino.

The Pace of a 83-Year-Old Man

Today I walk the pace of an 83-year-old man. I’ve watched him 50 yards ahead of me for the past hour or so. When he goes up a hill in the distance, I can see that I’m not catching up. Later when I am on a rise looking down, I see him below me.

32-DAY-TWENTY-EIGHT Navarrenx to Aroue (4)

He  stays the same size. If he were getting smaller, I would know he’s pulling away. If he were getting larger that would indicate that I was walking faster than him.

32-DAY-TWENTY-EIGHT Navarrenx to Aroue (12)

This man and I have met up three or four times over the past 10 days to exchange greetings and some pleasantries. We follow the ancient pilgrimage route of the Via Podensis from Le Puy, France, towards the west and Santiago, Spain. Via Podensis is just one of hundreds of paths that form a spider’s web throughout Europe, Scandinavia and the Middle East that connects the three most popular pilgrim destinations of the Middle Ages: Jerusalem, Rome and Santiago. Today people like the man ahead of me continue to follow these ancient routes.

14-DAY TEN Conques to Livinhac le-Haut (6)

Le Trois: Stacey, Joseph and Michel

Earlier this morning, the 83-year-old man recognized me and my two traveling companions.
“Ah, Le Trois — the three are still together,” he said in French and smiled approvingly. We all know each others’ countries of origin — me, USA; Michel, France; Joseph, Belgium; and the 83-year-old man, Switzerland.  This man from Geneva is an intriguing loner, so we haven’t wanted to get too close too fast. He has ducked out of every conversation so far without leaving his name behind. Indeed, in one meeting when asked where he planned to sleep for the night, he answered before disappearing,  “A kilometer away from nowhere.” In other words, off the beaten path of the popular pilgrim sleeping spots.

photo of Jean-Francois, the 83-year-old man

Jean-Francois, the 83-year-old man

But today we finally exchange names. Jean-Francois is fit and trim, dressed in ultra-modern, lightweight backpacking attire and equipment. He carries a smile along with a tall wooden hiking pole intricately carved with the names and corresponding years of each Camino he’s walked. Jerusalem in 2014. Lourdes in 2015. Arles and other pilgrimages routes across Europe dated with the carver’s flourish. The 83-year-old man has walked over 60,000 kilometers in the past decade or so.

And so now, I am still not catching up. Interestingly,  Jean-Francois typically appears at a crossroads or a church. The next time I see him, he’s standing at a crossroad to warn us not to go in the wrong direction. He comes along side of me and we walk for awhile together. He does not speak much English, and I do not speak much French, but we talk in simple words and communicate well. I tell him that I, too walked Lourdes in 2015 and Arles in 2008.

When he looks down at my hiking boots matching the rhythm of his and says, “Vous marchez bien!” or “You walk well, ” I feel like I have been honored with the best compliment. For today I am proud to walk the pace of an 83-year-old man.

Stacey “Vagabonding Lulu” Wittig is a spiritual travel writer based near Flagstaff and Sedona, Arizona. This article first appeared in Pinewood News in May 2016. She wrote from the road that month while traveling Les Chemin de St Jacques – Via Podiensis – in France.

Une table sur la route: Saugues, France

Joseph.Jacob.crop.800Correspondance de la voie le 30 avril 2016. Le Puy du Velay (Via Podiensis) à Santiago. Réimprimé à partir de Pinewood News.

Aujourd’hui, j’ai vu une belle jeune femme italienne de rire à la météo avec des flocons de neige qui s’accrochent à la sombre des cils. Les flocons sont grandes et diminue lentement jusqu’à ce que le vent intermittent enfonça rapidement dans nos visages. C’est le dernier jour du mois d’avril près Le Puy, en France, et je ne m’attendais pas à ce que la neige.

Chaque fois que j’ai amené gants légers à la France ou l’Espagne à marcher un des anciens chemins de pèlerinage connu meilleur au US comme le Camino de Santiago, je n’ai pas besoin d’eux, alors j’ai laissé derrière eux. Aujourd’hui, j’aurais aimé avoir une paire. Je me disaient que je ne pouvais vraiment pas obtenir des gelures en 20F-degré météo, mais elle n’est toujours pas aider mon engourdissement des doigts.

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Aujourd’hui, j’ai également vu des centaines de jaune jonquilles décorant un tapis d’herbe à travers laquelle un petit cours d’eau méandrique coulait. Je n’avais jamais vu des jonquilles, appelé jonquils ici en France, à l’état sauvage avant et le contraste entre le jaune et le vert m’a arrêté dans mes pistes. C’était avant que la neige a commencé à tomber sur les Chemins de St Jacques.

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Plus tard, après la chute de neige est tombée pendant un certain temps, j’ai vu quatre hommes dans la forêt, parler et rire debout à côté d’une porte dans notre voie. Il semble un bon endroit pour arrêter et parler aux pèlerins qui étaient en situation de rattrapage avec nous par derrière, ce qui avec un autre champ de jonquils en vue, cette fois avec leurs visages gai rejetée vers un lit de neige. De toute évidence, cette place a inspiré d’autres avant nous, parce qu’à travers une autrement wordless griffonné signe de rendement à proximité étaient les mots, “I love lyfe.”

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“Mi vous aimeriez une banane?” Pierre offerts à chacun des trois autres hommes et moi. C’était un gros bouquet de très awefully long les bananes — trop pour un homme d’être transportant dans son sac à dos. “S’il vous plaît, avoir une banane “, il a offert de nouveau après chacun d’entre nous a poliment refusé.

“Eh bien, si nous pouvons vous aider, ” Joseph, le belge ont ri. Chaque pèlerin a pris une et à l’unisson pelés leurs bananes et pris une bouchée.
“J’ai de prendre une photo de ce “, J’ai dit de prendre ma caméra. Ils ont tous hammed it up pour moi et j’ai pensé, ” quelle belle et salubre Camino m’être fait ici de la famille en France. Si je devais prendre cette photo en Espagne, les gars serait levée leurs bières, pas leurs bananes.”

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Plus tard au déjeuner, Joseph m’a montré un en bois, shell sculpté à la main de la taille d’un petit escargot. La coquille, le symbole de St James, qui s’est tenue une histoire spéciale pour Joseph. “Hier, c’était chaud et je voulais quelque chose à boire, et j’ai vu un signe que suit ‘Nene.” Après la marche du signe, j’ai vu un homme dont les vêtements étaient tellement sale. Il avait besoin d’une coupe de cheveux. Normalement je ne donnerais pas arrêter et parler à un tel homme. Mais je voulais quelque chose à boire. ”

” Il s’est assis à une table sur la route. Sur la même table qu’il avait une bouteille de vin rouge, verre à moitié saoul, pain, fromage, il a également recueilli des pièces de machine, vieux bidons d’huile, de bidons d’essence et Rusty outils. La table était sombre et sale et derrière elle, il s’assit dans un fauteuil roulant.”

“Mais le gars a été tellement heureux que dans quelques instants, nous échangions au sujet de nos familles et de vie. J’ai passé 20 minutes avec l’homme. Il m’a dit qu’il avait un travail pour installer le câble électrique élevé partout dans le monde. Mais ensuite, il a eu un accident et ont chuté.

Il revint ici, chez ses parents dans ce petit village. Il m’a dit que c’est son bon plaisir et sa vie pour rester et inviter les pèlerins pour quelque chose à boire et parler avec eux durant leur pèlerinage.”
“Il m’a donné ce shell “, a déclaré Joseph le doigté avec amour. Je lui ai demandé : ” Combien voulez-vous?” “Non, c’est un cadeau”, l’homme dit. Il a été mon premier inhabituelles passe sur le camino.”

“Quand j’ai finalement s’éloigna, à moins de 200 verges de quitter sa place j’avais les larmes aux yeux. “Joseph, ne vous comprenez maintenant pourquoi vous marchez Compostelle?” J’ai entendu. Ce gars m’a ouvert les yeux. Je me demandais pourquoi j’étais sur cette voie. Elle (la raison) pour l’échange avec d’autres EST. Je ne suis pas seule marche le Camino pour moi, mais également pour la communauté que je trouve ici. Je fais partie de ce que fait cette le bonheur de l’homme et il est partie de la mienne.”

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A Table on the Road: Saugues, France

Joseph.Jacob.crop.800Correspondence from the Way on April 30, 2016. Le Puy du Velay (Via Podiensis) to Santiago. Reprinted from Pinewood News.

Today I saw a beautiful young Italian woman laughing at the weather with snowflakes clinging to her dark eyelashes. The flakes were large and falling slowly until the intermittent wind drove them fast into our faces. It’s the last day of April near Le Puy, France, and I didn’t expect snow.

Everytime I’ve brought lightweight gloves to France or Spain to walk one of the ancient pilgrimage routes known best in the US as the Camino de Santiago, I haven’t needed them, so I left them behind. Today I would have loved to have a pair. I kept  telling myself that I really couldn’t get frostbite in 20F-degree weather, but it still didn’t help my numbing fingers.

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Today I also saw hundreds of yellow daffodils decorating a carpet of grass through which a small, meandering stream flowed. I’d never seen daffodils, called jonquils here in France, in the wild before and the contrast  between the yellow and the green stopped me in my tracks. That was before the snow started on Les Chemins de St Jacques.

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Later, after the falling snow subsided for awhile, I saw four men in the forest standing, talking and laughing next to a gate in our pathway. It seemed a good spot to stop and talk to the pilgrims who were catching up with us from behind, what with another field of jonquils within sight, this time with their cheery faces turned down towards a bed of snow. Evidently this place had inspired others before us, because scrawled across an otherwise wordless yield sign nearby were the words, “I love mi lyfe.”

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“Would you like a banana?” Pierre offered to each of the other three men and me. It was an awefully big bunch of very long bananas — too much for one man to be carrying in his backpack. “Please, have a banana,” he offered again after each of us had politely declined.

“Well, if we can help you out,” Joseph, the Belgian laughed. Each pilgrim took one and in unison peeled their bananas and took a bite.
“I have to take a picture of this,” I said taking my camera out. They all hammed it up for me and I thought, “What a beautiful and healthful Camino family I have found here in France. If I were taking this photo in Spain, the guys would be lifting their beers, not their bananas.”

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Later at lunch, Joseph showed me a wooden, hand-carved shell the size of a small snail. The scallop shell, the symbol of St James, held a special story for Joseph. “Yesterday, it was hot and I wanted something to drink, and I saw a sign that read ‘NENE.’ After walking to the sign, I saw a man whose clothes were so dirty. He needed a haircut. Normally I would not stop and speak to such a man. But I wanted something to drink.”

“He sat at a table on the road. On the same table that he had a red wine bottle, glass half drunk, bread, cheese, he also collected machine parts, old oil cans, petrol cans and rusty tools. The table was dark and dirty and behind it, he sat in a wheelchair.”

“But the guy was so happy that in a few moments we were exchanging about our families and lives. I spent 20 minutes with the man. He told me that he had a job to install high electric cable all over the world. But then he had an accident and fell.

So he came back here, to his parents’ house in this small village. He told me that it is his pleasure and his life to stay and invite pilgrims for something to drink and talk to them during their pilgrimage.”
“He gave me this shell,” Joseph said fingering it lovingly. I asked him, ‘How much do you want?’ ‘No, it is a gift,’ the man said. It was my first unordinary happening on the Camino.”

“When I finally walked away, within 200 yards of leaving his place I had tears in my eyes. ‘Joseph, do you now understand why you are walking Compostela?’ I heard. This guy opened my eyes. I was wondering why I was on this way. It (the reason) is for exchanging with others. I’m not only walking the Camino for myself but for the community that I find here. I am part of what is making this man’s happiness and he is part of mine.”

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