¡Buen Camino!

Dear Friends,
It has taken three tries and nine years, but as of July 2012, I have finally walked the entire Way of Compostela from my former home in Leuven/Louvain, Belgium, to Santiago de Composela!
My first pilgrimage experience from the French frontier with Spain to Santiago itself took place in 2003. You can read the details of this first walk along the famous Camino across Spain in my book, To The Field of Stars: A Pilgrim's Journey to Santiago de Compostela, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (2008). (You can order it from the publisher, from Amazon.com, or from your local bookseller).
In the summer and early fall of 2007, I walked from Belgium most of the way across France, with the hope of at least making it to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port near the Spanish border, where I began the first pilgrimage. I didn't quite make it. A bad case of plantar fasciitis took me down in the Bordeaux village of Sainte-Ferme. I continued on to Santiago by train and bus, but the "defeat of my feet" and those last 175 miles or so that were left undone, gnawed at me over the ensuing five years. Happily, I was finally able to wrap up this grand pilgrimage with a third walk from Sainte-Ferme to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port this past summer (2012). It was a joy to have completed all 2,370 kilometers between Leuven and Santiago.
My adventures and misadventures, my thoughts and prayers of both the 2007 and 2012 pilgrimages have been shared in this blog. I will leave the blog and its archives open for some time to come; if you want to read bits and pieces of it, feel free, but remember that the beginning is at the bottom and the end is at the top.
My contact e-mail remains the same: kacodd@gmail.com; I am always happy to receive mail!
As the pilgrims in Spain greet one another, so I greet you, my reader: "Buen Camino!"
And as the people of France greet their pilgrims along the "Chemin", I also wish to you: "Courage!"

Grace and peace to you all!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Au revoir, Belgique!

Oignies-en-Thierache. My five-and-a-half-hour walk today carried me to the very cusp of the French frontier, but not quite. Crossing into la belle France will come early tomorrow. Belgium, true to its reputation, fairly drenched me late into today’s hike, almost as if it wanted to treat me to its famous rain showers one last time before I leave her damp soil. The kind lady who hosted Herman and me in her chambre d’hôte provided us a fine breakfast … Not so petit as petit déjeuners go. She told us she knows the priest in Oignies, our destination for today, and even tried to call him for me so that I would have a place to lodge tonight (Herman planned to camp out).
I set off down the highway to Treignes, just a couple of kilometers away, and picked up the GR 654 there. It led me through some fields of hay and grass and the usual gang of mildly interested but altogether mute cows, then through increasingly heavy Ardennes forest, deep green, damp, beautifully quiet. I passed through a couple more of these villages with seemingly so little in them except grey stone houses, barns, and more cows on the outskirts. I was then led by the increasingly rough and undeveloped trail alongside a small creek rambling through a valley with steep rises on either side. Occasionally the path disappeared altogether as the creek overran it, and I had to jump, crawl, and carefully pick my way to the next GR mark. It was so damp down there that, even before the rain, I was already soaked with dew and sweat.
After a while, I connected myself to my iPod (the first time I’ve used it while walking thus far… I have just been too occupied with my own thoughts) and listened to some hymns by a fellow named Fernando Ortega and then the Anonymous Four. Before long, in the utter loneliness and quiet of the forest, I was singing along out loud; there was no one around, so no need to feel embarrassed, and it was great fun. After a while, the rain began to fall very lightly, but with each leaf above my head acting as a sort of mini-drum, the sound was too resonant to pass up, so I put away the iPod to enjoy this pure music from nature herself. Little of the rain was getting through the blanket of leaves above my head, but enough to indicate that I should pause, drop my pack, and pull out my Gore-tex rain jacket. Shortly thereafter, it began to pour, and in the last three kilometers or so I was drenched and tired.
By the time I got to Oignies, I must have looked like a drowned rat. With hopes of finding lodging quickly, I asked an old fellow at work in his garage where the abbé lived, and he informed me that he is presently away on vacation. Oh great! Just then Herman, also very wet, arrived on the scene; so we went to the post office to ask about a place to hang our wet hats and rest our weary bodies. The lady at the window had no good news for us: there were a couple of very expensive gîtes at the other end of town, but the local gas station might have a place, so we trundled down there but found the place closed up tighter than a drum. Back up the hill to the center, Herman saying that he was going to go another seven kilometers to the next village but have a coffee first. We spotted a restaurant and took a look: all cloth table coverings and fancy decorations, not the kind of place likely to be amenable to soaked pilgrims just out of a day tramping through the woods. However, there was a sign on the door that said the place was also a three-star hotel. I looked at the price list posted near the door: 50€ for one, 67€ for two. Herman found that too much and again planned to go on further. I wasn’t going any further (my knee was beginning to ache… enough is enough for one wet day), so I went in to ask for a room, sopping wet. The lady took me next door and led me upstairs to a small but clean and modest double room. The price listed was 45€ for one and only 54€ for two, so I dropped my bag and rushed outside in hopes of catching Herman before he left town. He was right at the corner, still getting rained on, so I hollered for him to come back, and he agreed to share the room. The warm shower and change into dry clothes, not to mention a soft bed to nap on, make this place worth every eurocent it is taking out of my coin purse. Even more so now that a heavy rain has begun to fall again OUTSIDE! Tomorrow I will cross into France after only nine kilometers and then continue on to the medieval city of Rocroi. Au revoir, Belgique! May at least a little sun shine in the morning.