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

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Camino Book Review: Inspired Journeys

Bouldrey-Inspired-Journeys-cInspired Journeys: Travel Writers in Search of the Muse

Brian Bouldrey, Editor

Book Review by Stacey Wittig

Inspired Journeys is a diverse collection of essays by real travelers who move the reader through both time and place. Much of travel writing is simply about place or what to do once you arrive. But as we pilgrims know, often the real stories lie within the journey rather than the destination. Editor Brian Bouldrey, a Santiago pilgrim himself, understands this well and has compiled seventeen stories of pilgrimage to places as divergent as Varanasi, India; Ross Island, Antarctica; El Centro, California, and Santiago, Spain. These tales are told by American writers and mirror both their inward and outward journeys, a theme that the editor describes as “telling the way within.”

The name Brian Bouldrey may be familiar to many American Pilgrims on Camino (APOC) members as he was the lauded keynote speaker at the APOC 2016 conference. The 2016 annual gathering was themed “Telling the Way Within,” and included a pre-conference travel writing workshop presented by the editor/writer who teaches creative writing at Northwestern University.

Bouldrey admits that he casts a wide net around his definition of pilgrimage by including stories of both spiritual and secular pilgrimages. While introducing us to the stories he explains that each author addresses what pilgrimage is and that he orders the anthology to give the definitions “encouragement, space and incrementally growing meaning.”

While some writers share journeys to religious shrines as in Sharman Apt Russell’s “Buen Camino” and Russell Scott Valentino’s “An Accidental Pilgrimage,” others move along Laura Ingalls Wilder’s prairie (Kimberly Meyer) or the Grimms’ fairy-tale road (Raphael Kadushin.) Though some stories read like raw, black-and-white documentary film footage of the writer’s experiences, others like my favorite essay “The Terriblest Poet” (Brian Bouldrey), and Kadushin’s “Driving the Fairy Tale Road” feel like they were shot for the big screen in panoramic Technicolor.

After reading these essays that are not just about place, but also about the inward journey and outward movement of getting to that place, you’re sure to find several that will move you as well. The engaging, 280-page book is available on Amazon at www.amazon.com .

Brian Bouldrey has written eight books, including Honorable Bandit: A Walk Across Corsica, and edited six anthologies, including Traveling Souls: Contemporary Pilgrimage Stories.

Stacey Wittig is author of three books including Spiritual and Walking Guide: Lourdes to San Jean Pied de Port, a guide for both the inward and outward journey.

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

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.

Spiritual & Walking Guide featured in AmigosNAZ magazine

Amigos-NAZ-Camino-Guide-devotionalSpiritual and Walking Guide is featured in the publication AmigosNAZ. The article declares that people setting out on The Way of St. James, or El Camino de Santiago now have a book, which guides them along the pathways of their heart during the pilgrimage. The pilgrimage route  in northern Spain was made famous by the Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez movie “The Way.”

AmigosNAZ is a print and online media source that provides information about and for the vibrant and diverse cultures in Northern Arizona.

Seekers may order the book, Spiritual and Walking Guide: Leon to Santiago, online at by clicking the link below:
Spiritual and Walking Guide: Leon to Santiago on El Camino (Spiritual and Walking Guides) (Volume 1)

Spiritual & Walking Guide showcased in American Pilgrims publication

The American Pilgrims on the Camino (APOC) recently published an excerpt from “Spiritual and Walking Guide: Leon to Santiago on El Camino” in their summer newsletter. American Pilgrims on the Camino,  a non-profit organization whose objective Spiritual-Guide-Stacey-Wittig-APOC-newsletter_American-Pilgrims-on-Caminois to facilitate communication within the community of North American pilgrims, has over 22 local chapter and reaches 1000s of readers.

“The excerpt is from Day 14 of the daily devotional that helps pilgrims follow the pathways of their hearts while trekking the ancient pilgrimage route,” explained author Stacey Wittig about the Camino guide. “I am truly blessed by the editors of La Concha who included this meditation entitled ‘Walking in the Good Way’ which is based on Jeremiah 6:16-19.”

The daily Camino devotional complete with questions  for reflection may be viewed at: Spiritual-Guide-Stacey-Wittig-APOC-newsletter_1407. El Camino de Santiago in Spain is a popular trekking route for North Americans since the movie The Way, starring Martin Sheen and produced by his son Emilio Estevez.

The daily scriptures for The Way and walking guide may be purchased in hard copy or Kindle at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/061598939X/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=061598939X&linkCode=as2&tag=vagablulu-20&linkId=4EHVPWSYKRXTROTZ

Book Trailer: Spiritual & Walking guidebook for Camino

In only 1 minute, 49 seconds you’ll learn all about the book entitled “Spiritual Walking Guide: León to Santiago on El Camino” by Stacey Wittig. The guidebook is available in paperback from Amazon.com and other retail outlets, and is available for Kindle and other devices at www.amazon.com/author/staceywittig.