Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Buen camino: Day 32

Our last day on the road. I wanted to savour it all. Leaving in darkness. Walking through forests with only the moon and stars (and then the light of an iPhone) to guide us. Having to trust that the earth will be there under your next step. Feeling you are entering another world or dimension. Watching the sun rise over the eucalyptus forests. The mist. The smell. The colours. It is a truly beautiful day. A perfect day. All is perfect. But walking into the city of Santiago and it's cathedral ... It was surreal and surprisingly emotionless. Vlad and my family awaited me and it was great to share the moment with them and then attend the mass. But I had found myself in the journey not the destination and I had found God in the trees and forests, mountains and streams, in pilgrims faces and in real masses where something alchemical happens; not in the hectic cathedral where everyone seemed to be following the motions. How could I listen to God here, with all the commotion? It was a strangely public place to end such a personal journey. And yet it was quiet. I knew many of the people I had met along the way were there but I ended up in a completely different part of the church to them. I walked into Santiago alone. And I was good with that.

When I started this journey it was all about the destination. I had to get to Santiago at whatever cost. Then I fell in love with the journey and the destination was no longer important. In fact I never wanted the journey to end.

I spoke to Leona back home. She reminds me of Pepe's words: after you get to Santiago the camino isn't over: your real camino begins. It's hard to take it all in. Hard to come to terms with this new camino. The way isn't mapped out. There are no arrows guiding me. I'm not sure who my fellow pilgrims will be, what the terrain will be like.

After mass and a long lunch with family I am at a loss about what to do. I find myself wandering the streets of Santiago. I'm looking for arrows but there aren't any. I need to walk, to just be. The world of plans, needs, wants, expectations, fussing, preoccupations is overwhelming. I realise that my current state is at odds with the rest of the world. That I cannot be understood. That I need to find a way to keep the camino living within me while being in the confines of society.
Plans to go out, drink champagne, and party the night away collapse as do Liz and I who are exhausted. We say our good byes. Liz is leaving tomorrow for Milan. I've spent more concentrated time with Liz than I have with any other person in my adult life. I can't imagine not talking and walking with her, hearing her voice telling me her stories.
I look back to something I read on the walls of an albergue a few weeks ago (what feels like a lifetime ago)

1) primero piensas que el camino es un sueno - maravilloso y increible.
First you think that the camino is a dream - wonderful and incredible

2) Luego piensas que es como la vida condensada en pocos dias.
Then you think it is like life condensed into a few days.

3) Al fin descubres que es solo una ilusion, que no existe, ni en Los pueblos, ni en las sendas, ni en la gente, solo en tu mente.

In the end you discover that it is just an illusion. It doesn't exist in the towns or footpaths, nor in the people; only in your mind.

4) Por ello, si descubres que te hizo vibrar la primera vez - podras tener siempre el camino contigo.
And with this you discover for the first time, that which makes you vibrate - you can always have the camino within you.

Over a month walking the camino... To find it is already within me. This was the only way I could discover what I had within; come full circle. I wouldn't want to do it any other way.

Thank you camino for inspiring me
Thank you soul for patiently guiding me
Thank you body for carrying me
Thank you feet for not giving up on me
Thank you road for laying yourself down for me
Thank you sun for giving me light
Thank you sky for showing me the infinite
Thank you moon and stars for illuminating the way
Thank you darkness for making me trust
Thank you trees and forest for filling me with your wisdom and shading me
Thank you iron cross for lifting up all our hope and dreams and laying down all our losses and sorrows
Thank you mountains for energising me
Thank you earth for communing with me
Thank you breeze for cooling me
Thank you silence for making me listen
Thank you birds for filling my days with song
Thank you friends for sharing this with me and being my company
Thank you loved ones for allowing me to wander free and being there to return to.
Thank you
Thank you
Thank you

Buen camino.

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Location:Arco de pino - Santiago de compostela

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

And now... The end is near... Day 31

Staying up late, sleeping sardine like in a snory, smelly albergue all contributed to a sleepy morning. We left early and were lucky enough to hook up with George and Michael who had torches for a pre-sunrise walk through some rocky forests. While stopping for breakfast I made plans to meet with Vlad for lunch. He had arrived in Santiago last night and finally being in the same country but 50km apart was too excruciating. Somehow between sending the texts to arrange meeting up and actually meeting up Liz and I entered a time warp. It's like our fresh orange juice was spiked or something. We slowed down, stopped at the most inane things, 'wow check out these beetles', 'wow smell this wild mint' had to keep stopping for food and coffee. It was like an out of the body experience. Eventually about 5 km from where I planned to meet Vlad I pulled myself together and suddenly became turbo-peregrino; speeding to my destination. Initially It was strange seeing Vlad after so long apart. I could see he was trying to get his head around the pilgrim scene - with throngs of them at the coffee shop. I started getting in my head a bit. Maybe it wasn't such a good idea for me to do such a life changing thing without him. We talked and he got to know Liz and then he took both our ruck sacks in his hire car and let us fly our way through the next 12 km. I ended up walking with a Hungarian guy who we'd met with a few times along the camino. We had assumed he had come with the girl we always saw him with. They looked very much together and in love. It turns out they met along the camino during the first week and had been together up until a couple of days ago. They had decided to part company for the end because they had to walk their own camino. To ms this was madness. An idea based on a thought, based on a should do. It made me think about the mad idea I'd just had about how I 'should have' done the camino with Vlad. I walked back to the hotel he was staying in quick time and found him mid-siesta. It was good to be together again. We ate together the three of us and talked and enjoyed and drank a little wine and liz and I felt a mixture of feelings about our last day together. Vlad was going to walk it with me but decided, and I agreed, that he would meet me in santiago. I needed to finish my pilgrimage my way.
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Monday, 19 September 2011

So close and yet 30

With a lot of kilometres to cover today we started off early. We left Gonzar in pitch black and struggled to find the arrows. We walked through forests that were still sleeping, not a single bird chirping. I felt energised by the surprise visit from my family last night and excited that we were 3 days away.
While walking in the darkness we came across Julia the Italian girl who started only a few days ago and was completely shell shocked when we met her. Julia was struggling with blisters. She had used the old needle, iodine and thread technique but had gone over board with the iodine and had tied knots in the thread. It looked very uncomfortable. I'd given her all the advise I could about blisters but she was doing it her way, and fair enough. We had passed her a few times when she was really suffering but then Miraculously she had managed to get ahead of us in Portomarin, had met some fellow Italians and visited the chemist so we figured she was out of the shock and doing well. Why she would leave so early in the morning, by herself and without a torch made me wonder. She was trying to tell us something about light in Italian. I figured she wanted a torch or something. It turned out she had lost her walking stick in the darkness. Losing your way in the darkness I can understand... But your walking stick? How is that possible? Eventually she found it and we went on our way. Later that day Reniere told us he didnt think she would finish the camino. 'Don't be ridiculous' I said.'of course she will finish the camino'. Reniere replied, well yesterday she tried to hitch a lift and 2 minutes after she got in the car, it broke down. That is unlucky, when you can't even get a lift successfully.
When the sun rose we found ourselves in a different kind of forest than previous days. Eucalyptus and pine have taken the place of oak and chestnut. Autumn is beginning and leaves are falling. Today's long hike felt like it would never end. Our initial excitement of only having 3 days left turned into a realisation that just over 75km in three days was still a lot to do and that we were by no means over. Perhaps because of no rest days, we are really exhausted now and old aches and pains have reemerged. In this state
Of near exhaustion I'm noticing how serious I've become in the last few days.. So serious, quiet, personalityless. Not the best of company for sure.
And today I'm struggling to engage my brain also. I wonder how Liz puts up with my space cadet company. We ended the day in a well known pulperia in Melide with George and Michael. I listened to their many stories; including some recent pilgrim deaths and george's own near death experience. We tutted over the 'tour-igrinos' who have now started arriving by the coach load, on a mission to get their stamps for the compostela but not really walking that far, or at all. They are missing it all I feel. We returned to our stinky albergue to a chorus of snoring and tried to keep our spirits up now we are so near and yet so far.

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Location:Gonzar to Melide

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Reunion; day 29

With just 4 days to go, kilometres in the double figures for the first time, and many more pilgrims on the road, the excitement is palpable. Celebration is so close we've already begun. Pilgrims are staying up later and later and getting louder and louder. Calls and emails with 'mi familia gallega' has multiplied. My parents arrived in Galicia yesterday. They regularly come here to visit family and this time they planned the trip to coincide with my arrival in Santiago. My husband arrives tomorrow night in Santiago. I'm starting to go a little crazy at the thought of seeing everyone again.

After sharing 3 freshly baked pain au chocolats for breakfast and drinking enough coffee to swim in (or fuel a rocket launch) Liz and I left the gorgeous new albergue in Barbadelo and continued the hilly walk through small farming hamlets that were covered in cow pat and ever more ancient forests. I was followed by a robin redbreast for a while in one such forest. I wondered what magic awaited me. There's always magic on the camino. You can never know what form it will take though.
We stopped off in a few little coffee shops. We met and talked with familiar faces. Liz wasn't feeling well. We stopped in Portomarin. I refuelled and Liz tried to get her energy back. Liz was clearly suffering and you need everything you have for a 25+km walk a tummy upset is not good news at all. Arrows misled us and made us walk more than we had to, into places that didn't seem to want our custom anyway. We decided to continue to Gonzar, a hamlet that had two albergues, a church and not much else.

My family had conspired, managed to piece together a few conversations and my blog to figure out where I was. Liz and I were sitting in the courtyard when all of a sudden I spotted a familiar face peaking round the door. I sprung to my feet, could hardly believe my eyes as my mum then my dad then my cousin and her husband one by one came through the albergue doors. It was unbelievable. Group hugs, kisses, introductions to Liz who was welling up at the sight of it all; what a surprise and what a reunion. We spent the evening together. Talking, eating, enjoying. It was so wonderful to be able to be with my family and with Liz and on the camino. It was like two worlds meeting. And I felt honoured to have these people around me, in my life, caring for me, loving me, being who they are; all truly special. What a blessing. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Mum, Dad, Monica, Luis, Liz.
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Location:Barbadelo - Gonzar

Friday, 16 September 2011

A true pilgrim; day 28

Last night when we were staying in the albergue Aitzgenea in triacastela a man arrived with that look in his eyes. I often say you can tell the pilgrims who walk both to and from Santiago de compostela because they have one of three looks; 1) a serious/deeply contemplative form of enlightenment look 2) a blissful/innocent full of love form of enlightenment look 3) a crazy look. They are usually one of the first two. This man was dark from the sun and skinny from lack of food. He had black eyes that were as deep as the forests we were walking in. And he had the look of pure innocence and bliss about him. Like he understood something most of us did not and hadnt been tainted by the ways of the world. He was beautiful. As soon as I saw him I knew he was a 'go and come back' pilgrim. When the host of the albergue saw him, she greeted him like he was her long lost son. She asked him how was Santiago. I wondered whether he had done the camino more than once. Was this the second time he had stayed at the albergue or were there many times? Was he permanently on the camino? He said very little and yet his silence said so much.
In the morning Liz found him busy in the kitchen frying what looked like dough balls in oil. He was making a whole pan full of them. We agreed this was somewhat incongruous with his underfed appearance. As all of us shuffled into the front room of the albergue he arrived, bearing a huge plate of his just-made pastries for us. He wanted to feed us. He made them for us. He knew he would never see any of us again, we were going in the opposite direction, we'd never be able to return the favour, and yet he did it because he was overflowing with love. This is what it's all about. This is the real magic that the camino reveals.
This act stayed with me for the whole day. Humbled me. Broke my heart. Makes me cry as I write this now. Here I am getting ansie with the pilgrims that are just here for the last 100km, who want to stay up all night and stop us from sleeping. And in one simple, quiet action I was shown what it is to be a person of love. And it's a beautiful thing. A quiet, gentle, unassuming thing. But deeply deeply powerful.

We continued the climb up to Sarria today. Walked past small farming villages brimming with cows, sheep, horses, dogs and hens. We were in the mists of Galicia. The trees rained on us as we passed and the bushes and cobwebs sparkled with dew. We ate almejas and pulpo for lunch and talked about the navajas and percebes we want to try. We walked through forests so ancient the trees seemed otherworldly. Huge, beautiful all knowing trees that had seen hundreds of thousands of pilgrims. We stayed in a beautiful new albergue in Barbadelo and dined with reniere and Julia. A conversation in a mixture of English/Spanish/Dutch/italian had us in hysterics. The place is completely buzzing with pilgrims now. We bumped into old friends we wondered if we'd ever see again including father and son: George and Michael. We are just over 100km away now. 4 more days. It feels strange. In some ways sad but celebratory as well. It has taken me most of the camino to 'get it' and now that I have it's nearly over. Is that all part of this very carefully planned camino?
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Location:Triacastela - Barbadelo

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Just when you think it's over: day 27

Last night i received news from back home of changes. Work I was anticipating to arrive back to has dried up. I try to make peace with it... See it as an opportunity in disguise. But I wake feeling anxious, fearful. With so little time left on the camino I started to feel like it was already over. My mind had returned to the day to day life and struggle. While a part of me is ready to finish, the camino has taught me that you never know what is round the corner. Difficulties can turn into blessings and there is no such thing as an end really... Just a change. I've also learned that you can't force anything. Yes you can have plans and intentions but things will happen when and how they are meant to. There is a natural arising of energy, friendships, feelings.
I start walking. The morning brings another difficult climb. My mind starts to meddle in things. Maybe I need a rest day... Maybe I don't finish it this year. I can't believe that my mind thinks that I would let it sabotage me with so little to go.
I decide it's time to listen to a dialogue I had with my shaman before leaving for the camino. I plug in my earphones and allow myself to be completely absorbed in what I'm listening to. I'm surprised about how much i have forgotten about what we discussed but I'm also pleasantly surprised about how many things we discussed seem to have naturally emerged through the camino. I'm also shocked at how different the experience of walking is when I'm listening to a recording at the same time. On the one hand the walking really helps to embed the dialogue in me. On the other I become unconscious of walking, not present to it or what is going on around me. I finish listening to the recording as I enter an ancient forest. Wise old trees greet me, their roots entwined together. Two old ladies offer filloas for a donation as we walk by. An old man with piercing blue eyes walks alongside his best friend a beautiful german shepherd. It's such a different world here. Unlike the Spain most people imagine. We get to our destination early find a little albergue then go back out to eat callos Gallego.
For the first time on the camino I have a proper siesta. I wake up feeling completely refreshed. Like a new person. I walk out into the town wondering where my feet are going to take me. I have absolutely no idea. I arrive at the local church: parrochial de Santiago peregrino de triacastela. It's 7.00pm and the pilgrims mass is about to start. I figure that if my feet have taken me here to arrive at this time I might as well go in and attend the mass.
At first I think the priest is loud, bossy, patriarchal. I then think he is mad. I think about stratergies to extract myself from the building surreptitiously. then I finally get it. He is a spiritual maverick. Progressive. He is alive. He has his own mind. He totally gets it. He is what every priest should be. He sets about determining the nationalities of all the pilgrims and arming us with papers on the camino as a spiritual experience in our own language. He jokes with us. He warns us this mass is not about just listening we are going to have to participate fully. This involves me standing at the front representing the English speaking community with four other key language representatives and regularly being asked to the pulpit to read.
He reminds us:
Our spiritual life is stifled by habitual behaviour
We need to enjoy life (Christians always seem too miserable to him)
Jesus wasn't a theologian but he knew more than most of them
We have to accept and love all people whatever their beliefs
The camino is a journey within to find your true self

Wow! This guy was blowing my mind. He had thrown out the rule book and was doing a mass like I had never experienced before. It was so special. We all held hands. When it came to shaking hands as a sign of peace he insisted we hug each other. He gave me the biggest hug ever. Lifted me up off my feet. I just couldn't believe what was happening.
Just when I thought the camino was ending - new life was being breathed into it. I'll never forget this church, father Augusto and this incredible mass.
what a blessing.
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Location:El Cebreiro to Triacastela

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Climb every mountain: day 26

We left Villafranca guided and bathed by the light of the near-full moon. Last night I'd slept in a room with about 20 other pilgrims most of whom were Spanish cyclists who had watched the football over a few beers in the evening. One of them snored so loud it was like mount Krakatoa was erupting. Within 5 minutes walk of the albergue Liz and I were ascending some old stone steps when three cyclists came up behind us. The first misjudged the height of the step and ground to a halt. The bike fell on it's side in slow motion with him still on it. Still grogy from the beer, his two comrades then crashed into the back of him also in slow motion. We all fell about laughing. What a start to the day!
We ascended into Galicia. For miles and miles we walked alongside a river that gurgled soothingly and took the edge off the heat. We came across some pilgrims we haven't seen since the first few days. We walked past a shepherd and shepherdess guiding their beautiful cattle there different ways. In the heat of the afternoon sun we began the 10km sharp incline to Do Cebreiro our first Galician village yet. Within 2 hours of arriving, as if to remind us we were in a different region, the heavens opened and drenched the green mountains below. We were already in shelter of the albergue by then. We had hooked up with a Dutch guy called Reniere who had started in Leon and was full of the energy and enthusiasm of a newbie. Full of mischief and good humour he walked one step with his long legs to my three.
The energy of the camino has got lighter, less contemplative and more social as we get closer to our destination. Ego has crept back in. Some south Africans shower praise and awe on us as we tell them we've walked 650km already - I flush with pride. an American shakes my hand as I tell him I've been walking every day from Sant Jean - I glow. A young german guy I beat up the
mountain (yeah there is a part of me that is competitive, I really put some welly into that climb) complements my fitness level - I almost felt my head double in size. ahhh not so humble now that I've finally got the hang of this walking business am I.'Need to watch that. More pulpo tonight to end a joyous climb into my spiritual homeland. Galicia te quiero!

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Location:Villafranca to Do Cebreiro