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Camino de Santiago, Camino Frances, Granon, pilgrimage, Spain, Tosantos

September 11th, Day 10: Granon to Tosantos – ‘The Camino Is Not About Being Alone’

Clouds parting just outside of Granon.

We leave Granon as a group and with renewed energy. The sky to the left is black and to the right, sunlight reflects on the mountains in the distance. Fields of sunflowers surround us on all sides.

Within minutes, the clouds begin to part. It’s as if someone somewhere is in control of them, winding them back and away to the west. The fields ahead now glow gold and the sky being unveiled is bright blue. Farmers are working in the fields below, planting new crops, but aside from them, it’s just us pilgrims and the sounds of our footsteps.

I have dropped back and have the path entirely to myself. I pass a few small, sleepy villages, and keep thinking I will stop for a coffee but can’t find an open cafe, despite it approaching mid-morning. Cats perch on windowsills and flowerboxes adorn every home.

I catch up with Tammy a couple of towns later and moments later we find Gill waiting for us atop a haybale. We stop for a coffee on the outskirts of town, but decide to keep walking to Tosantos before having lunch and calling it a day.

Ermita de Nuestra Señora de la Peña

I have to find an ATM, so Tammy and I make a detour. I make my withdrawal, but no money is dispensed. This detour turns into a debacle and we lose about an hour in town. I eventually get my money and luckily it’s a short and relatively easy walk to Tosantos, but when we arrive Gill is concerned as to how long it took us and whether or not we will get a bed at the donativo.

We fortunately get beds in the last room, settle in and make our way to the cafe across the street. Tosantos is the smallest village I’ve seen so far. It’s a blip on the map – There are a handful of houses, this one cafe and up in the hills above, an old church carved into the mountainside. We have been informed that we should attend Mass at the church before dinner.

We spend our afternoon at a table outside the cafe, soaking in the sunshine, and enjoying vino tinto and ham and cheese sandwiches. A few other pilgrims are nearby, and soon, Jacobo (the Italain) and his friend Clara (from the Canary Islands) join us.

The view from the hilltop church down to Tosantos.

We’ve arrived early enough that I take advantage of the daily stipulated siesta before Mass. Mass turns out to be more like a narrative on the history of the church, but it’s structure is impressive, and in the back pews, we’re showered with limestone dust crumbling off the ceiling.

We head back to the donativo and I help to prepare salads in the kitchen with a few French pilgrims. I pop over the street to buy some 3 Euro wine as a contribution and spend a little time writing before dinner.

Pilgrims helping to prepare dinner.

Dinner is a hearty lentil stew, enjoyed by about 25 pilgrims sitting at a long communal table. Afterwards, we head up to a small room on the second floor, and we all huddle in for prayer and reflection. Pilgrims are asked to take turns reading messages that have been written and left behind from previous pilgrims and the stories range from happy to sad. Some are about physical pain, some about emotional pain, and others are stories of happiness- of people letting go of things, overcoming hurdles, having personal revelations.

The pilgrim’s dinner at the donativo.

The man leading the activity, Jose,  reads a prayer, and the opening words are, “Do not be too proud and be alone.” It makes me reflect on my own Camino, which I set out to do alone. During the first few days, I was alone, but my Camino family was taking shape now and what I was learning about myself through my conversations with others and from hearing of their own trials and tribulations, was nothing short of profound.

Jose takes such pride in leading this lesson and he stresses that the Camino is not about being alone, but about the lessons we learn from other pilgrims. I am realizing how right he is. He ends our evening with a pilgrim’s blessing and asks that everyone hug him goodbye before leaving the following morning.

A few of us gather in the reception area afterwards for a nightcap. I find it hard to believe that ten days on the Camino have already passed. One phase, the initial phase, the one everyone calls the journey of the body is basically behind us. Blisters are healing, aches and pains are fading, and our bodies are now accustomed to the long distances we are walking. My pack no longer feel like a weight on my shoulders, it simply feels a part of me now.

We are only a few days away from the start of the Meseta- the section of the Camino people call the ‘journey of the spirit.’ I have no idea, here, on this tenth evening in Tosantos what lay ahead.

Azofra, Camino de Santiago, Camino Frances, Granon, pilgrimage, Spain

September 10th, Day 9: Azofra to Granon

Azofra

I wake up in the middle of the night in Azofra and look out the window. This is an old albergue and an even older village. I peek out the window, and the house where the old people sat earlier in the evening is visible from my bunk. My eyes are playing tricks on me, and it looks like a pilgrim is sitting there now. I squint, and realize it’s a hydrangea bush. Apparently, the after effects of all the vino tinto have not yet worn off. I fall back asleep.

I wake up feeling more rested than expected. The high of our 37km day and the fun from the previous night prevents any kind of hangover from setting in. We head back to Bar Seville for breakfast, and feel like we literally just closed the place down. Pico’s colleague is working and gets us grande cafe con leches and croissants. We leave Azofra around 9 a.m.

Vineyards outside of Azofra.

It’s a pretty walk out of town, but we’re quickly parallel to a main highway and spend the majority of the morning next to it. Gill and Ramon walk ahead and before lunch Tammy, Lynne and I walk separately for a bit, but the five of us reconvene for lunch in Santo Domingo. We meet a man from Paris, who is on his way back from Santiago. His walking partner is a donkey that sits patiently nearby while he finishes his lunch. He tells us of the bond he has formed with this animal on his long journey to and from Santiago.

A church in the main square of Santa Domingo.
Santa Domingo

The others push on after lunch and I hang back to take a few photographs in town. It is hot and dry when I leave, but the wind is picking up and in the distance, the skies are black and threatening. I have another 7 km to go to Granon. I head out of town and catch up with Tammy. In the distance, Gill is waiting for us.

The three of us head out of town, and Tammy drops behind. Gill and I are walking along and see graffiti on the side of the way. Someone has written, “Why are you walking?” We don’t get into the specifics of why we are both walking the Camino – I don’t think I can even articulate at this point in time why I’ve been drawn to do this. I wonder if Gill will share his reasons with me, but we talk around it, unconsciously, but we both note how there are a lot of people walking with the hopes of some kind of epiphany along the way, or once they reach Santiago.

Heavy skies en route to Granon
‘Why are you walking?’

We discuss life. I share my past four years of adventure with Gill and my decisions to leave New York, pick up and travel the world and how fulfilled I have been by these choices. Gill tells me of his travels in his early 20s, his days of basking for money throughout Europe and his eventual choices to settle down. I feel like I’ve met a kindred spirit twenty years my senior.

Gill tells me I need a framework moving forward, that I can’t just travel for the rest of my life. It’s not reality, he says. This, coming from a fellow traveler, surprises me. “Sure I can,” I say, getting defensive, and stating that my reality won’t be the status quo of conforming to society’s expectations, and being chained to a desk job. We compromise and decide there’s a balance between those two. But something stirs. And I’m starting to feel flat.

Tammy arrives twenty minutes later and I can tell she feels as rough as I do. Our long day yesterday, today’s walk, fatigue, physical pain and a hangover have all caught up with us. We check into the donativo in town and it turns cool and cloudy.

Tanya from Germany is volunteering here and her energy is bright and warm. I want to make an effort to put on a happy face when I meet her and match her disposition, but my energy is zero. She welcomes me in nonetheless, and does not seem to judge. A past pilgrim herself, she knows the highs and lows of days on the Camino.

We set up our sleep sheets on the floor in the church below and I manage to get the last shower. Literally, as I’m rinsing off, the shower nozzle runs dry. It’s not until later that evening that it comes back on and I’m so thankful, as there was no shower in the albergue last night after 37km in 85 degree heat.

The sleeping area in the donativo.

We attend Mass before dinner. The church is gray, dark and cool, and pilgrims shuffle in to sit in two rows of pews. The short service is entirely in Spanish and includes a pilgrim’s blessing. At the end, people file out, and I sit, lean forward to the edge of the pew, and put my head on the back of the pew in front of me. Tears prick my eyes. tears of fatigue, physical pain and heavy conversations, but the tears go as quickly as they came.

We head to dinner in the kitchen above the church. There’s a large group of maybe 30 people or more – a combination of new and old faces. I am enjoying the concept of the donativo. The accommodation is based on a donation basis. Pilgrims are provided with a place to sleep, dinner, usually some type of service (church related or something led by the volunteers), and breakfast. I sense more of a spiritual camaraderie in the donativo, compared to the other albergues I have stayed in along the way so far.

I sit across from Martina, a beautiful older woman from Sweden, who is doing her second Camino. She tells me how her first Camino was full of tears, that she cried everyday, but this one has been her fun Camino, and that she is laughing everyday instead.

We finish dinner and Tanya explains how we will all help to clean up. She places two big bowls of washing up and rinsing water on the table, and everything is systematically handed down the table, washed, rinsed and dried.

The group heads out for vino tinto, and I crawl into my sleep sheet and cover myself with a heavy wool blanket. My body, brain and spirit need rest tonight.