Archive for January 2012

January 24, 2011 — An evening in a Benedictine Monastery Albergue   Leave a comment

We walked into Samos in early afternoon tired and ready for a nap. We only walked 10 km, so it was a brief trek. It was a beautiful walk in beauty and inspirational scenes. Cleber, the Brazilian walked with us for a bit but then passed us. He is staying at the albergue. When we arrive at the albergue next to the monastery, he is already there.

Along the way, we stopped for a bite in one of the small villages near a cow pasture. The birds came by and so did a huge fly, almost looked like a bumble bee. We ate the left over bread from last night and some cheese and gigs plus a bag of potato chips. We must be getting used to the stench of the cattle. The cows were waiting to be led to pasture.

After a rest, we went to a tour of the monastery. Benedictine nuns live here, too, but we don’t see them, just the monks. After the tour we went to see the 1000 year old tree that Quentin told us was a must. Currently only 12 monks live in the monastery and they were all at mass and sang. Their deep sonorous voices — beautiful voices–resonating in the cavernous space although the mass was in a small side chapel not in the main church. The monk at the monastery shop is older; the one who leads the tour is younger. A fire destroyed the monastery including the library. Now, the new one has over 300,000 volumes.Stories of San Benito. Santa Scholastiaca his sister wanted to talk all night he didn’t want to so she prayed for rain; God granted the miracle and they talked all night. In the morning when the storm cleared, she went back to her convent. When he opened the door, a white dove flew out so he knew she was dead.  He had the monks bring her body for burial in teh monastery. Among the precious relics, one finds a thorn from Christ’s crown of thorns. San Julian and Santa Batida are the martyrs of the monastery. Their bodies are here. She was not really martyred as he was killed. The stories abound. The characters are incredible! In the 60s the murals were painted by contemporary painters: Enrique Navarro and Celia Cortez. The guide points to a spot on the mural, draws our attention to a washing machine in the mural! We kill time until mass and after mass we walk to a restaurant for dinner with Cleber. Because we needed to be back by 10 pm and it was really close, the waiter gives us  a ride. We made it just in time! The albergue is freezing cold–I pile up blankets. The older Japanese man who is a retired economist is asleep already.  We are almost there so I know we are to begin the process of reflection. Time to focus on the lessons learned. My resilience. My discipline. My tenacity. The monastery has a beautiful organ, but it goes unplayed. I think of Ray Keck and how he would love to play it.  The 1000 year old cypress is majestic against the blue sky. It is a marker along the Camino although Samos is a bit of a detour.

1000 year old cypress

Samos. Where even the trash cans are in the shape of the viera, the scallop shell. The monastery of Samos, historical and blessed space. Where will it be when there are no more monks? Samos. I will not forget the freezing night I spent there, nor the magical mass shared with the pilgrims. The sound of the benedictine monks’ voices intoning the holy mass. I will not forget Samos.


Posted January 28, 2012 by normacantu in Uncategorized

January 23, 2011 Descent from the heights to Triacastela   Leave a comment

I begin the day walking with mild knee pain! I worry. I realize that my body is reminding me of what an ordeal this walk entails on the physical level and other ways too. We were at the bar having breakfast when Becky did reiki on the knee and it worked! the pain is gone. So we walk and feel the crunch of ice on the road beneath our boots; we walk along muddy path due to the ice melting, and along a rocky path even more slippery. 

In Fontfrias the cows come to welcome us! We keep walking and find a spot with a nice cement bench to rest and have a bite of our bread and cheese. An old woman with missing teeth and bright laughing green eyes comes walking down the street, greets us and offers to make us a bocadillo. We finally relent and say yes and she is off running to a nearby house to fix us the bocadillo. we go on and sit on the bench that is near her place. Moro, the woman’s dog approaches us and then started to fight with a neighbor’s dog, Rufo, the dog that had been lying in the middle of the road–reminds me of Oreo, the neighborhood dog in Laredo. Rufo had also come by to say hello but went back to lying in the street until Moro came up. We were eating when a younger woman, the daughter, came and opened a barn door so we could go in and get out of the wind. When I took my first bite, I must’ve done it “off” because my jaw hurt. We fed Luna, another dog, a piece of bread. The old woman whipped up some crepes for dessert! We asked how much, and she said lo que sea su voluntad. So we gave her 4 Euros each. the crepes were ice cold but sweet and tasty. We continued walking past small villages with the same dank smell–in some places stronger than others. This morning Becky told me a story about her dance teacher in Laredo. I am convinced I want the story for Champú, my novel. I need to interview her. I didn’t sleep well with all the snoring. The same peregrinos as last night are here: Quentin, Brazilian couple, Spanish woman, the men who were at the Valcarce albergue and a woman who passed us earlier in the day. We all eat at the Bar Fernandez; bocadillos was ll that was available. The afrolatina server with an attitude switched with the Brazilian.  Tomorrow we walk to Samos so I must rest. I massage my feet with Vicks Vaporub–at the Estella albergue, Alba told me that it was recommended for tired feet. Fernando who did the pedicure in Madrid had also recommended Vicks for tired feet!

Posted January 27, 2012 by normacantu in Uncategorized

January 22, 2011 O’Cebreiro!   Leave a comment

Arrived in O’Cebreiro around 6 p.m.; the pilgrim mass was at 6:30 at Iglesia Santa Maria Real, so we got the pilgrim blessing. Edita, the hospitalera–she was named after her swedish madrina–works for the Xunta at the albergue that costs 5 Euros as do all the state run albergues in Galicia.

Our walk although rough with very steep climb to over 1000 meters, walking through beautiful little hamlets along the winding river de Valcarce. We saw cows, chickens, many birds. We took the route that went through the “monte” the wild, and again we were glad we did. Along the way we stopped at a vegetarian restaurant, El Capricho de Josana, and had juice. they had a little yorkie that reminded me of Chacho; his name is Tomas. At another stop, in Faba, we ate fruit, nuts. Martha, Sandra and the baby Alba. NO FOTOS, read the sign. Ganesh, Shiva and others greeted pilgrims. We met several older folks; all warned us and urged us to walk along the highway. We didn’t. As we approached O’Cebreiro, tired and walking very slowly, we met a woman who was sprinting along with a huge load of firewood on her back–Que despacio, she exclaimed!  A sign in Faba urged to go by burro or horse to O’Cebreiro.

Once in O’Cebreiro, we talk to the monk at the church; we read about the legend that tells of the miracle. We marvel at the 12th century statue of Santa Maria Real and the chalice and paten of the miracle. Here’s the story. A poor peasant braves  a not unusual snowstorm, to attend mass at the church. As he is about to take communion, the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ; the priest who witnesses it all also claims that the statue inclines her head to witness the miracle.  In addition, I take photos of the burial place of Don Elias Valiña Sampedro who is credited with having thought of the yellow cross as a sign for pilgrims leading them to Santiago. Allegedly, he is also responsible for restoring many of the sections of the Camino and the chapels along the way, including the buildings in O’Cebreiro. Only four of us attended mass, and we kept our hats and parkas on because it was as cold inside the church as it was outdoors. Another story claims that Queen Isabella stopped her on her way to Santiago. There are claims that this is the oldest church along the Camino.

We shared our dinner with Quentin and the Korean women who are here. There are 12 altogether, including a Brazilian and some Saniards who just began the Camino in Ponferrada. Like life, the Camino begins at different places. Becky and I want privacy but with twelve of us, some of us quite noisy, too, it is not to be. Cell phones. Laughter. Talk. For dinner, Becky and I went looking to buy some veggies, but the only store in town is closed. The owner opened and sold us some potato chips. She gave us an onion and a potato from her own pantry!

I try to forget and be in the present, but mis muertos are with me–tia Licha, Dad, Tino, so many others…I saw my aunt in the old woman who was buying fish off a furgoneta, a small van that goes from town to town selling goods. “Valgame Dios!” she exclaimed when she was told the cost of the fish. Then she rationalized, well, after all, they have to make a living. They have to make money or else they wouldn’t come around. I am amazed by the informal economy we find everywhere.

I dream. I am. I write. The light in me is. Each poem reflects a truth revealed along the Camino. Today’s  lesson: The higher you climb, the closer to heaven! The harder the path, the more you appreciate getting there. Martha told us that she walked the camino –it took 46 days because she took it slowly and meditated along the way. Then she didn’t want to leave Santiago! She felt called. Felt that she needed to serve as others had.

As I fall asleep, I listen to the couple giggling. Becky doing laundry. Someone is talking on the cell phone. Quentin is asleep. Naki is coughing. Tomorrow we will walk 13 miles!

Again, no photos tonight….I will update tomorrow and add them.

Posted January 27, 2012 by normacantu in Uncategorized

January 21, 2011 From Villafranca to La Portela de Valcarce   Leave a comment

I’ve been swamped with classes and getting back into the semester, so I have not kept up with this blog…a year ago today, we were walking from Samos where we stayed at the monastery; we had climbed to one of the highest peaks at O’Cebreiro, entered Galicia and . So, I will try to catch up, maybe write up two or three tonight and catch up with the rest tomorrow before I go to Laredo and get behind again! I am planning to present a talk at UTSA on February  8, 2012. I can’t upload photos tonight, but will update the post with photos later on.

So, a year ago, on the morning of the 21st of January, we had a hard time getting out of Villafranca del Bierzo. After eathing breakast with the other pilgrims at the albergue Casa Fenix, we sat and chatted with Jesús, who told us stories about his healing gift. How he, as a child, had learned the healing arts  from his maternal grandmother, Genoveva (my saint’s name–her day is my b’day Jan 3). His paternal grandfather Domingo and grandmother Margarita were tall and big. He was killed by a bull. He was chosen to take over the albergue, but he was reluctant. Jesus drove a truck for 40 years so he knows the country well. He also joined a monastery and was a Capuchin Monk! His family has always served the pilgrims along the Camino. He travelled from Santiago to Rome on bicycle. He met Pope John 23rd–he loved it! He is getting old but he won’t quit the albergue; he’s afraid it will be turned into a money making enterprise and lose the focus on the pilgrims and the service to the Camino. Hilario,his helper, listened quietly. The dogs, an older one named Como tu and 2 younger pups played around us as we said goodbye. We quickly got lost. We kept getting lost! finally we ended up in front of a funkylittle shop where I bought some cards about the Camino and Becky bought a pendulum. As we stood outside the shop, an older woman stopped and began talking to us in French. Her name? Teresa. She’s a local who told us she always advises the pilgrims not to take the rougher trek up through the hills, but to take the path that goes along the highway. Especially in winter. But, we had already decided we wanted to take the former–in the past everytime we walked along the highway we felt we were cheating somehow.

Because we were the first customers of the new year at the shop (she’d been closed for the holidays) the shopkeeper gave us a stick of incense. I still have it. We left and got lost again! The shopkeepet had explained that Villafranca is like a hole, according to the game of La Oca, and as eveyrone knows it is a parallel to the Camino, she says. According to the her: Ponferrada is the labyrinth,  Villafranca el pozo. No wonder!  We are almost at the end. I feel sad when she tells us so. There is so much to learn about the Camino. About the characters along the way. About ourselves. Jesus told us that “el rencor” causes injuries. I want to learn more about the physical and emotional ties.

Finally, by 11:30 a.m. we were on our way. We stopped to eat a bite and rested on a rocky ledge. The view was beautiful with butterflies for company. The piece of cheese and bread fed our bodies; the view and the ley lines fed our souls! We went on climbing on a very rough Camino. At one point I remembered my neighbor in San Antonio, as I often did when the Camino was really steep. He had told me that he would help me with the mochila, the backpack, if I remembered him. And it seemed to work!  We encountered an area where some pilgrims had painted stones  with bright colors. We saw a sign as we climbed that read, “Camino solo para buenos caminantes.”  It really was a rough road! We walked in brilliant sunlight. But we were in high spirits. Plus, we had a glorious sun, after days of walking in fog. The angels were watching over us! It was cold, but not unbearably so. In fact, for the first time, I removed my parka because I was hot, sweating under the hot sun! Two pilgrims passed us–a man and a woman–as we left Villafranca. We stopped at Pradela to have a juice at a bar; two Japanese women passed us. We kept on to Trabadelo. Everyone had warned us about the Camino through “el monte” but we found it marvelous to walk up in the wild.

We arrived in La Portela de Valcarce and stopped at the albergue that has private rooms with bathroom for 8 Euros. I was so needing to wash my hair! The hot water and good heating was such a luxury! We felt decadent and braced ourselves for the next day’s trek up to O’Cebreiro; we will leave Castilla y Leon and enter the provincia de Galicia!

Posted January 26, 2012 by normacantu in Uncategorized

January 20, 2011 onward to Villafranca del Bierzo   2 comments

It is Elsa’s birthday and I called before going in to my meeting this morning. I also missed her b’day a year ago, but a year ago, I dedicated the walk to her and I KNEW it meant something.

When we walked out of the Albergue, Miguel said goodbye to us–he actually allowed us to leave a little later than the official date. He was ready with broom and mop to start cleaning up and getting ready for the pilgrims who would arrive later in the afternoon.

Ermita de la Virgen de la Encina

He got teary eyed saying goodbye, remembered that he did his training in Grañon–we had shared with him that we spent New Year’s there–and urged us to stop at the chapel, la ermita, to see the Virgen de la Encina. We stopped to visit the ermita de la Virgen de la Encina–the candle holder Miguel had made had been set up by the Korean women earlier that morning. We did. The small chapel felt peaceful and we spent about 10 mintues just sitting there meditating. I prayed for Elsa, “tuned in” to folks back home and felt good. In my mind’s eye, I saw the full moon from last night. I had attempted to take a photo because it was so glorious, but my camera didn’t cooperate. In my mind, though, I saw it rise yellow and gigantic over the Gulf Coast, in Port Aransas. I yearned to be there. This year, I WAS there, doing the Reiki Training and enjoying walks on the beach. The yellow moon rising slowly over the water. A year ago, Becky and I continued exploring Ponferrada and tried to visit the Castillo de los Templarios. Becky had not been able to do so before because it was being prepared to be a museum. In 2011, it was now a museum with a medieval books exhibit. BUT, it was closed until 11 a.m. It was a little after 9, so we decided to continue walking; we would visit the old Castle believed to have been a Templar site, sometime in the future.

Campostilla outside of Ponferrada

Walking along the Camino we came upon another chapel. La Virgen de CAmpostilla.

Walking by Columbrianos we observed stork nests next to the church.

Stork nest next to the church

We stopped at Camponaraya for lunch. We had not bought any food so we stopped at a restaurant. El Reloj turned out to have great food; I had the day’s special: grilled fish and a great cauliflower drenched in a bechamel sauce, yummy! 


Restaurant in Camponaraya

The restaurant was full of locals, obviously this was a favorite spot with regulars coming in for lunch. As we walked  on, we saw another pilgrim ahead of us, but we lost him/her. 

At Cacabelos, another small town along the Camino, we decided we were  too tired and could not make it up the hill before dark, and that a bus would be the best way to go. Waiting for the bus allowed us to observe the old residents who were out for their evening walk. Everyone who passed by recognized us as pilgrims and wished us “buen camino!” We waited for 30 minutes until our bus got there. After a ten minute ride, we were in Villafranca del Bierzo. Walking to the albergue El Ave Fenix, Becky fell. It was not serious, and we joked about it, but the two older women who were walking by thought it was more serious.

Arriving in the albergue, we find  the two Korean women and Quentin have already settled in. Jesús the hospitalero greeted us.

Jesús Jato at Albergue Ave Fenix

Interior of Casa AVe Fenix

He, Hilario and another helper, take care of the pilgrims…and the dogs of course. They cooked a huge pot of soup, generously preparing a part of it without meat for Becky.  Sitting in front of the fire, I write in my journal and listen to Jesus Jato tell his story of how the albergue goes back many generations in his family. He is in his 70s and won’t walk or ride a bike on the Camino anymore. At one time he did bicycled  all the way to Rome too.  Got permission from the Pope! He talks of how the winter is much slower and that the summer is insane with the numbers of pilgrims seeking lodging. The albergue burnt to the ground and he tells the story with a bit of sadness, suspects it was arson. But it came back to life, hence the name, Ave Fenix. It rose from the ashes. Articles from magazines, newspapers and such are taped to the wall; we read about the albergue, about Jesus, about the healing, and of course, about his devotion to the Camino. It is indeed a healing space. But, it is very cold and we have to walk outside to go to the bathroom. Hot water in the showers! A message rings loud and clear: The Camino is not about tourism; it is about meditation and interior reflection.

I am in DC awaiting a snowstorm. I don’t know if I will get out tomorrow as scheduled. I trust the Universe to lead me where I need to be. Already many car accidents and flights cancelled. Yeswterday, my newest grandnephew was born, Alberto Herrera, welcome to this world! I receive you with good wishes and blessings for a happy path full of lessons learned easily and effortlessly.

MEDITATION FOCUS: Gifts are everywhere. Today I received many gifts that taught me that what happened a year ago reflects the gifts of life. I expect that tomorrow, the roads will be cleared; I will take a cab to Dulles, and I will get home on schedule.

Posted January 20, 2012 by normacantu in Uncategorized

January 19, 2011 in Ponferrada con Miguel el hospitalero   Leave a comment

In Ponferrada, we stay in Albergue San Nicolas behind the church. Miguel, the volunteer hospitalero, greeted us and stamped our credenciales; he gave us a shell each, a simple shell the size of a hand with the red Cross of Santiago on it and strung on red yarn.

Miguel, hospitalero in Ponferrada with Norma

Later in the evening, he is sitting at a table in the dining room as he works on these shells, stringing them on red yarn and painting the Cross of St. James with a red marker; he also makes candleholders with the shells–para la Virgen, he says referring to the chapel on the grounds with the image of our Lady. Miguel has a physical disability just the same limp left arm as Chus in Astorga.

Miguel likes to play music at the albergue and he plays the Monjes from the Monastery in Silos singing Stairway to Heaven. I am not sure I like the instrumental arrangement. I prefer the original version.

Two women who are our roommates

When he takes us to our room, we find the two Korean women from Astorga also staying in the same room. Quentin, the Belgium pilgrim we have encountered time and again, is also here; in fact, he has been for since the day before visiting the Castle and the museums–they are free on Wednesdays.

Quentin in the dining room

He tells us he stayed at El Manjarin with Tomas and the other 3 who live there without running water or electricity. He said that they held a Templar Mass and that he thought it was special. but he also called it “crazy.” 

Becky and I walked to a shopping area of town to buy groceries–excellent pears, del Bierzo, and yogurt and juice for tomorrow’s breakfast. We also went into a stationery shop and I bought a small Hello Kitty notebook.  

Our walk during the day was perfect, no rain, no wind, no fog! We walked by Riego de Ambros a quaint village where we met a grey kitty who reminded me of Tito back home.

grey slate rocky path


After several kilometers walking through rocky and muddy climb, we arrived in Molinaseca, where we had lunch at Casa Ramón. When we walked into Molinaseca along Calle Real, Becky went to buy batteries in a shop at #27 and asked if there was a good vegetarian restaurant.

Carniceria 27 Real

The owner of the carnicería directed us to Casa Ramón where they could cook whatever we wanted; everything is fresh, he said. As we were eating, the owner and the wine delivery man chatted and then who should appear but the butcher, he is son of the owner of Casa Ramón! We had a good laugh when he greeted us and asked if we liked our meal. Indeed it was a great meal: I had acelgas (spinach) and stuffed chicken and for dessert a pastel de castañas, a delicious cheesecake drenched in a home-made syrup.

As we walked, during the day, Becky picked up a rock that “called” to her. I have resisted because of the weight. I love the many kinds of rocks and feel that they do speak to me with such different kinds of energies. The slate we walked on today, the quartz of yesterday, the plain round red rocks all around. Each with energy and properties.  

Falling asleep in Ponferrada, I have the sense that the rocks do indeed speak to me. The connection between the Milky Way and the Ley Lines exists through those of us walking on the Camino as intermediaries, or interlocutors, translators for the message. We are all part of a grand network.

Posted January 19, 2012 by normacantu in Uncategorized

January 18, 2011 to Casa Rural Trucha Arco Iris   Leave a comment

After breakfast at the Meson in Rabanal we are off to El Acebo. Jose joins us as we walk and stop at various spots along the way: Foncebadon, El Manjarin and other small towns. Foncebadon was in ruins but it is coming back. It is where Coehlo met the wild dogs; we only met some wild men–they practice tantric traditions and teach yoga. The altar over the fireplace made me uncomfortable. The kitchen dishcloths were hung to dry! The two men–the owner and another man–talked about moving to these towns that were abandoned and reviving them.

Altar at Foncebadon

 We arrived at El Majarin.  Becky had a message for Tomas from Luigi; Tomas is the hospitalero in El Manjarin , but he was a disappointment. There were 8 people there around the table eating garlic soup with bread. Jorge who was arguing with Tommy offered us a ride to the next town and they all warned us that there were no open albergues in El Acebo. We chose not to stay there–the place had a strange vibe. the cats, Linda and Perla welcomed us; the dogs barked and were chained up because they are dangerous, or so we were told. The German women at the El Manjarin were eating their soup with chopsticks We declined Jorge’s offer and took off. In about an hour, he passed us on the highway, for the Camino follows the deserted highway that is in dire need of resurfacing. He honked and waved.
We walked into El Acebo and found the albergue closed. No one was at the Casa Rural, but we met Ma Jose and Carlos walking outside and they invited us in. Jaime, the owner walked in later; he’d been out walking with his dogs.  The place was closed for the winter, but he prepared one of the bedrooms that was not being remodeled. He prepared a delicious vegetarian dinner. Ma Jose and Carlos left back to Ponferrada. They used to live in El Acebo but moved to Galicia and opened a pizzeria, so this is the off season and they came back to visit.

Inside Casa Rural Trucha Arco Iris

El Acebo is actually a bush with tiny red seeds, like Christmas holly. Jaime tells us stories of how he walked the Camino and loved this place so he left his life in Barcelona, bought this house and opened the Casa Rural.  The cost was 25 Euros for the room and meals–not bad, really!

Jose on a swing before we got to El Manjarin

Albergue Arco Iris
Becky wearing her poncho and swinging….

Along the way, we found a tree with a swing. So, Jose, Becky and I took turns swinging. It was glorious to feel the wind against my face, the mist never lifted, but it didn’t dampen our spirits and we loved our talking as we walked. Jose tells us about how he wants to live on the Camino reading Tarot for pilgrims. He plans to return in a few months in April.

MEDITATION FOCUS:  The ego is a dangerous thing. I must remember to be aware. The Camino teaches me how not to be as much as how to be. I try not to judge, cada cabeza es un mundo! Try to be in the present. Try to stay centered. Try to think warm as the cold wind blows. I like the idea of settling on the Camino opening a Casa Rural and sheltering pilgrims.

Posted January 18, 2012 by normacantu in Uncategorized