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

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Ida y vuelta day 25

On the way up the mountain yesterday I passed someone coming down. A pilgrim on the return journey. There aren't many of them. They get to Santiago de compostela and then they head back to there set off point just like the pilgrims of old would do before the age of planes, trains and automobiles. They tend to look; very very tanned, sinewy, and either very serious or in a state of bliss with huge smiles beaming from there mouths and eyes. The guys have very long beards. They have the more traditional pilgrim stick with a gourd. To begin with I thought these people were completely nuts. Why would they go through all this pain and suffering? Now that I am enjoying the camino more and more each day, I can see exactly why they would return. And they don't look that happy for no reason. A friend was telling me about a female pilgrim on a bike who started in Leon and was really struggling up a hill on her first day. A beautiful couple on there way back home saw her, stopped, hugged her, offered to help her up the hill (which would mean them turning round and really going the extra mile - or 5!) and when she refused they gave her all the encouragement they could; 'go on! You can do it! You are doing so well! You'll get there!' if the road to Santiago teaches you something, the road back seems to teach people more.

It has been a blessing to be able to meet and travel most of this journey with Liz. She is gentle company. One of the joys of travelling with her is that we share a love (nearing obsession) of food. I've really enjoyed introducing food to her, watching her expression turn to sheer joy as she tastes something for the first time. So far I've introduced her to; nocilla, turron, horchata, pulpo a la gallega, empanada con atun. She has loved them all. It makes my eating experience all the more enjoyable being with someone who is also experiencing near nirvana with each mouthful.
We left Ponferrada late this morning. We nearly didn't make it there last night -toyed with the idea of staying in picture perfect Molinoseco but late in the day decided to do the extra 8km to stay on track. When we arrived we were slightly destroyed and waking up to swollen feet and aching joints and muscles combined with terrible signage in and out of the town meant we left later than intended. We did still manage to catch the full moon hanging high in the morning sky behind the Templar castle as we left Ponferrada.
We stopped off for lunch in a gorgeous restaurant in cacabelos which served huge portions of pulpo con cacuelas. It was exquisite. We were delirious with happiness. It did mean that the last 8km to villafranca were hard. I felt like I needed to rolling up the hill. I was so full I was waddling and my body didnt know whether to walk or digest; doing both and contending with the heat was too much. As I made my slow and heavy footed way to villafranca I passed people picking the grapes of the mountains and loading them into big baskets that were then loaded into trucks. This part of the camino seems to be the most fertile: grapes, figs, apples, crab apples, pears, pomegranates, all manner of berries, lemons, pumpkins, marrows, squash, potatoes, beans, courgettes, peppers, cabbage, lettuce... It is all grown here. The crooked old houses in the little villages and the perfect mansions in the bigger towns all proudly display window boxes and hanging baskets exploding with bright flowers (I now know where my mum's passion for a garden heaving with blooms comes from).
Tomorrow we return to the mountains that have surrounded us on all sides all day as we head towards Galicia where all our gastronomic wishes will be granted. We better go easy on the pulpo or we'll never get up the mountain tomorrow.

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Location:Ponferrada to villafranca

Monday, 12 September 2011

El cruz de ferro; day 24

Two days before I arrived in Sant Jean pied du port I went to see my friend and shaman, Natalie. We talked about the journey ahead and all the opportunities it held for me. Seemingly unrelated to my camino she gave me a small sculpture from Avebury, Wiltshire; representative of silbury hill's earth woman/goddess. When she gave it to me she told me three things. 1) it was for me to look after 2) I didn't need to bring it on the camino with me and 3) she'd like me to return it to her when the time was right.
Despite what I was told i felt compelled to bring it with me in my rucksack. I didn't know why but I did. I put it safely in the leather draw string bag that my husband made me for the camino.
When I started the camino I didnt know anything about the iron cross, 'cruz de ferro' which stands at the highest point along the camino. It is a very humble cross. It's base is made up of stones that previous pilgrims have left behind. It is perhaps the most significant part of the camino, bar the destination itself.
I found out along the way that pilgrims tend to carry a stone with them or some other symbolic object and they leave it at the cross to mark that which they would like to leave behind or that which they pray for in their life, or both.
As soon as I found out about this I thought about my little sculpture but dismissed it automatically as I had to return it to natalie. But as I got closer and closer to the cruz it felt more and more right for me to leave it there. I sent a tiptoeing email to Natalie a few days ago assuring her that if she really wanted it back I wouldn't leave it and that if I did leave it I would find a way of replacing it. Her response: "I am happy that you know what to leave there.Go right ahead with my blessing'. It's almost as if she knew about the cross all along.

I left foncebadon in a dark fog that threatened rain but as I ascended to the cruz de ferro the sun rose and painted the once dark mountains golden. they seemed to be radiating a pink aura that opened out into an impossibly blue sky. Above me a huge wispy cloud spread its wings wide open like some kind of angel blessing the day.
All the walk up to the cross I was silently readying myself. I was devastated when I got there to find that the pilgrims already there seemed to see it as simply a kodak moment. They were shouting at their friends; directing them on how to take the photograph. It didn't feel like a place of contemplation at all. What to do? I waited for a while, hoping the more boisterous pilgrims would leave but even more boisterous pilgrims arrived to replace them. I circled the rocky mound, went to the nearby hermitage, felt the sculpture in my hand, waited. And then I remembered life isn't about waiting for the perfect moment and my feet started taking me up the rocks to the wooden base of the cross. As soon as I got to the top the tears started flowing and miraculously there was silence. absolute pin dropping silence. I don't know how it happened.
I took my time. I gently lay my sculpture down amongst all the other hopes and dreams, heartaches and tragedies and I thought it is all of this that makes us human. It's our very essence. It's what sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom, maybe. To hope, to dream, to wish for... To long for... to miss, to love.
I left my dreams and wishes at the cross. I left them in God's hands. No more grasping. No more holding on with a clenched hand that can't receive anything. I left behind my being small my feeling so responsible for others and not feeling responsible for myself. I left it all behind. No longer will I grasp for that which I already am. It was hard to let it all go but it was time and I was ready. I descended the rocks, taking as much of their messages in as my soggy face would allow. Two cyclists shoved a camera in my hands as I reached the ground. Crashing unawares into the humble, gentle, sacredness of the site, they wanted a photo at the summit with their bike and trailer in some kind of victory pose. Like merchants in the temple they were missing it all.
The descent through this Templar world was hard and I felt drained and fragile like a snake that's just shed it's old skin. Soon the mountain's energy was rejuvenating my spirit and I marched on, down and down passing deserted villages, green fairy tale like forests smelling of pine, that were sure to be full of duendes. I stopped in at Molinoseco. Liz, who seems to jump into every river she finds went for a swim and emerged to join me for lunch. We toyed with the idea of staying put and not doing the extra 8k into Ponferrada but we continued. Accounting for the sharp inclines/declines we did about 35k today. I was feeling physically and emotionally exhausted as we crawled into a hotel opposite the magnificent Templar castle.
Tomorrow is a new day. I have less than 200km to go. I have walked 600km. In one week's time I'll be in Santiago. Me but different. Whatever your intentions, expectations, hopes and dreams (maybe even if it's just a sport) the camino gets to you, offers you a chance to grow, if you want to take it.
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Location:Foncebadon to ponferrada

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Into the mountains; day 23

Ever since I introduced Liz to the concept of churros we've been on a mission to find them. Pedro advised us to go to the churreria sonrisa in astorga. When we got there last night it was closed but a sign on the door promised it opened every morning. We jumped out of bed hoping Sunday's weren't an exception and almost ran to the churreria. On finding it open at 7am and full of saturday night revellers I did a little jig of joy (much to the revellers inebriated amusement). A glass of fresh orange juice, a plate of freshly made churros and fresh thick hot chocolate is the ultimate way to start a pilgrims day and we felt it was totally justified fuel for todays climb into the mountains.
Leaving the city the sun was rising (yeah I know it does that every day but really it never ceases to blow my mind how beautiful and different it is every day) turning the clouds into a sea of red lava behind the cathedral.
It's starting to feel like I am getting close to home. The scenery is complete different again, the landscape is getting wild and the food is getting better. The mountains ahead of us look dark and ominous. I've purposely not done much reading about the camino but I couldn't help hear about how hard the climb was going to be. This made Liz and I feel apprehensive and what with the food getting so much better, the fact we passed so many towns and the 'need' for fuel to make it up the mountain; we were stopping every hour or so to fill our bellies. After a quick stop in a beautiful little church, Felix cafe in murias de rechivaldo was our second port of call for breakfast number two. Run by a spanish woman who has lived in 12 different countries, it had a taste of each to satisfy every stomachs desire. An hour later we were sitting at a bar in El ganso and I was eating empanada. An hour or so later I was sitting at a bar in rabanal del camino and I was eating calamaris, salad and chips. By this point we still hadn't even started the I incline! Eventually the ascent began firstly over foot comforting sandy paths and then onto slate stones. Through thick dark green bush and purple and pink heather. The clouds were grey and threatened rain. The wind was forceful and against us. the cool climb was refreshing and energising after the endless flatness of the mesita. It is absolutely breathtaking here. The smell of burning fire was in the air. We passed a shepherd and his two huge dogs all asleep by the side of the grazing flock. upwards I climbed delighting in the energy of the climb, the coolness of the temperature, the power of the wind and the wildness of the landscape. I was almost disappointed that the climb wasn't harder. Arriving at foncebadon, a few km from the cruz de ferro I could almost hear the Gallego bagpipes in the distance. We checked in to a great albergue hung our washing out for it to then get rained on, huddled in the warmth of the bar catching up with pilgrims we hadn't seen for days and discussing the swell of new pilgrims from astorga - some joining from another camino that starts in Madrid and many simply starting from that city. A young german girl, new to the camino asked me to pop her blisters for her because she didn't have the stomach for it. I set about bursting them with a needle and advising her on how to take care of them. She looked weary while I was still high from the walk. Who would have thought it that I could love walking up a mountain so much and be so much better able to do it than I was 23 days ago.
I think about the day ahead. The iron cross awaits me; a time to let go and let God. I think about how the camino will soon come to an end... What will I do without the daily 25 km hike? How will I be in the world? How is it I can feel so different and yet so much more myself than ever before? I don't know the answer to any of these questions but I'm more ready than ever to face the iron cross.

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Location:Astorga to foncebadon

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Hablemos el mismo idioma

So far I have met (in no particular order): French and Spanish (obviously), Irish, South African, Italian, English, Scottish, Welsh, German, Korean, Japanese, Hungarian, Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Russian, Australian, American, Argentianian, Brazilian, Equadorian, Chilean, Portuguese. A typical question in daily life is; 'what do you do?' (often asked so that you can be put into a box of some shape or form). On the camino that hardly seems relevant; a more likely question is 'where are you from' and that is simply asked to determine what kind of conversation can ensue. One using verbal language or one using hand gestures. Either way a conversation can be had. Often silence is enough because we share the camino in common. A knowing look says a hundred words. And the people who aren't walking but are part of the road, because they have an albergue or bar on the route or simply live in a village on the camino, also know something of it's ways. In fact I am finding that I want to be in silence more and more and that actions, expressions and hand gestures say far more than words. The camino sensitises you. Colours are brighter, smells are stronger, beauty is more beautiful, acts of compassion are even more touching. When I left the albergue This morning, Jesus, the owner, hugged me good bye and tenderly wished me a buen camino. With all my Spanish blunderings (I managed, somehow to ask him if he was married to his brother!) we had becoming friends for a few hours, laughed and shared stories and shared the love of the camino. I ventured out into the early morning, the fields tinted red by the rising sun to walk more than 30km in silence, in my own company with my own memories and wonderings and peace. My right brain hemisphere more and more active and my left hemisphere less and less (more in balance at last) With the trees, red earth, blue skies, crops of hops and singing birds for company. Inside and outside; all is good company.
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Location:Villar de mazarife - astorgas

Thursday, 8 September 2011

The habit of walking: day 21

We left Leon in darkness. I watched the golden sunrise over the city from a hill on the outskirts. In a few hours we were back in the countryside. Grasslands bleached White by the sun. Lizards, butterflies, crickets, red earth and not much else.
I was conscious that I have been walking for 21 days; the time it supposedly takes to break a habit or start a new habit. There's not much I've done for 21 consecutive days. Meditate, yoga, brush my teeth. There's no doubt that the camino has got under my skin. I want it to seep into every cell of my body. I want it be etched into my soul and become a part of me so that when I leave the physical road it still lives in my heart. I love life on the camino. It is so simple, so real. I hope that after 32 days of living the camino the camino continues to live me.

We arrived early into villa de mazarife and Liz bagged a room for us in the most trippy albergue yet. The walls were brightly painted and covered in quotes and psychedelic paintings from previous pilgrims. The wooden floors swelled under our feet so much I couldn't work out how they had laid them. A local man played Spanish guitar in the garden to no one in particular. The garden contained a wooden and yellow foam boat with a sheep's head as the mast, and a cave with plastic mushrooms and a plastic frog which croaked when you passed by. As well as being full of pilgrims it also seemed to be the local jaunt for the young men of the town: Maybe there is a nearby factory or farm because we were audience to a combination of muscly arms and pot bellies. They in turn were dazzled by Liz's long legs and blonde hair. I think the two young german guys we keep bumping into and who we now lovingly refer to as the stinky stoners would like it here. So far they have camped in the fields of the tiniest of tents, smoking non stop, drinking supermarkets dry of beer, and yet they still manage keep up with our walking.
Liz and I took advantage of the washing machine in the Albergue. For me this is the first time on the camino that I have used a machine rather than hand washed my clothes. It seemed like a huge luxury. All my clothes went in and after drying in the sun smelt of washing powder, just like the smell that lingers behind the throngs of cyclists who pass us by every day in matching multicoloured lycra. I go to sleep feeling all clean and new reading the "graffiti" on the walls of the bedroom:

The rose does bloom
for all it is true
yet her mysteries are known to only a few
will you wear her crown
of thorns and shed your
blood to be reborn?
and stand before the
temple door and say
"yes" I will walk the serpents way
or hold in your hand
a treasure unknown
to be cast aside
when the fragrance has gone
And will you take the path of truth
the 22 steps without any proof?
For it cannot be taught
by book or by scroll
but must be lived, fold by fold.

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Location: Leon to Villar de Mazarife

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Humility:day 20

Last night's albergue was 3 months old. It was spotless. The beds were a normal size and the bunks werent brain damagingly close to each other. We were the first to use the warm cuddly blankets and there were only 10 people per room. After 30+ km in deliriously hot sun and about 8 hours of walking it was just what I needed. A shower that actually worked and produced hot water was a bonus. I slept like a log. Best sleep yet on the road.

Leon's albergue is a slightly different story. It's a benedictine monastery run by the nuns. It's donation based but frankly the sermon you are given when you get here about giving money, it really should be a fixed price. It sleeps 150. When Liz arrived and got a bed no one had told her that there was a woman section a man section and a married couples section. On the basis that we've all been mixed up in albergues for the last 20 days and it's not been a problem its hard to see the logic behind it. There are too many people working here and there efforts to be useful are counterproductive. If someone had explained the sleeping arrangements as soon as we got here we'd never had gone to the wrong section. But they were so busy telling us about the desperate need for donations and the recent death of a pilgrim due to dehydration that they didn't. An irksome conversation ensued. Some pilgrims left as soon a they saw the sardine like sleeping arrangements (but they'd already had the donation extracted from them after the massive guilt trip). Those who left included two women who walked about 40 km today. They were awoken by a fellow pilgrims fog horn of an alarm clock and thought it must be 'time to go' not realising she had set it for 4am. They'd already done 20km by 8.30am. So here we are sleeping in a woman's only section but male hospitaleros keep walking through! Meanwhile the men sleep in a section next to the couples. You know it makes sense. Perhaps the hardest thing to grasp is that a large percentage of pilgrims started today in Leon so they haven't actually done any walking yet.
Anyway I mustn't get too inflated about the fact that so few of us seem to have actually started from Sant Jean. A big dollop of humility is in order for me. The closer we get to Santiago the more newbies on the camino there will be. I have to remember I was a newbie at this only 20 days ago. I have to swallow my urge to giggle when a grown man has a freak out because he has a tiny little innie winnie blister on his toe and is demanding immediate medical attention (as much as i argue that men and women have more in common with each other than not, when it comes to stamina and pain thresholds we are worlds apart). When I get tires with the constant whinging and wining I have to remember that I can't possibly know what kind of pain someone else is in and I did mire than my fair share of complaining about my feet since I began walking and probably have a bit more whinging left in me still!
And I have to remember what the camino has taught me; there will alway be people 'ahead' of you and people 'behind' you. There are people who have walked for years rather than days. People in their 80s and in their pre teens. There are people walking who have survived terminal cancer and others who have done the road as a dying wish from a loved one.

We leave the strict patriarchal institution of the albergue and wander onto the streets of Leon trying to make the most of the few hours we have before the albergue closes at 9.30pm (my life on the camino is getting more and more monastic by the minute!) We look at the immense stained glass windows of the cathedral, glowing florescent in the late evening sun, the locals and the tourists sitting in coffee shops, smooching in bars and eating tapas, a crack head who is trying to get money out of people by pretending she is a pilgrim who was robbed and needs one euro from everyone to have enough to get home (she needs to work on the acting). We join with a bigger group of women to eat and talk and share our experiences. I'm a little overwhelmed by the larger group dynamic but I note that I keep meeting people who dance (the path I originally trained in and left behind many moons ago). It feels like something interesting maybe going on here. I haven't even voiced this when Elaine, one of the women who teaches a form of shamanic dance says... Maybe you're getting a message about dance... Keep listening and see where it takes you. Elaine also reminds me that the camino to Santiago de compostela is directly under the milky way (hence the name field of stars) and, for me, more exciting still is the day we plan to arrive in Santiago (the 20th) is the autumn equinox. That feels just right to me.

Location:Reliegos to Leon

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Silence is golden: day 18

A symphony of snoring, paranoia about the outbreak of bed bugs that has infiltrated some of the pilgrim albergues and painful hip, knee and ankle joints kept me awake most of the night. The bunk beds were so close together and creaky that every time I moved in the bottom bunk I hit the base of the top bunk where Liz was sleeping badly. At one point during the night my middle toe was so sore I woke up and hobbled to the communal toilets to try to burst a new blister using my iPhone for light. I gave up in the end and went back to bed hitting my head on the bunk just for good measure. Eventually I fell asleep but it felt like minutes later pilgrims were stirring, preparing for an early start pre-sunrise.

One of the slightly undignified aspects of being a pilgrim is the need to find coverage when nature calls. Nature calls quite a lot when you drink 4 litres of water a day just to stay rehydrated. Today nature called where there was no foliage to disappear into so I scurried round a corner hoping no cyclists would speed by. Seconds later the deed was done but I'd peed unceremoniously down my left trouser leg. While I'm trying to hide the evidence the two Irish guys from the group waltz round the turn looking all chirpy and un-splashed. I hide behind my rucksack, pretend to find something deep within it and thank god they hadn't turned up a few seconds earlier.

As a pilgrim you find yourself doing strange things; peeing in the open air, rejoicing at the sight of a moderately sized supermarket, talking obsessively about your feet and your foot wear, finding albergues with unisex bathrooms luxurious, weeping with joy at fluffy hotel towels and a bed that isn't the width of a kitkat.

Today I found myself walking with Jose Maria; a very sweet guy from Madrid who could talk the hind legs off a donkey. While it was interesting to hear about the history of the camino, practice my Spanish, discuss opera and contemplate the differences between different European cultures, by the time we got into town my ears were melting. Mean though it is, I kind of hoped Jose would stay at the municipal albergue and I could disappear off into the monastery that Liz had booked a room for us in. Jose had other ideas. I needed chaperoning. After an interesting conversation with the lady (sister?) at the door she realised I was not with Jose but with Liz who was already upstairs and therefore could be admitted. Jose decided he was going to stay there as well so while his details were being sorted I shot up the stairs to find Liz and our ever so welcome private room.
Company is very good on the road, no doubt about that. But I need to feel free to walk in silence when I feel like it; which is often. Some people are afraid of their own company and some people are too polite to tell others they need a bit of time out from the chit chat. These two types of people can end up together and that's when things get awkward.

There's a Spanish guy and a german guy on the road that don't speak a word of eachother's language, nor share any other language in common. They look like brothers. The only words they seem able to exchange are: Santiago, camino, sant Jean pied du port and cafe. They remind me of shrek and donkey. Shrek is always trying to lose donkey because he just wants to be on his own. In the end he's grateful for the company and the friendship. I think there's a lesson for me in there somewhere. Maybe I need to get a bit more comfortable talking and others need to get a bit more comfortable sharing silence. Perhaps a self enforced day of silence is called for? Perhaps I just need to surrender to the circumstances, (like the huge monastery bell clanging repeatedly every 15 minutes all through the night) go with the flow and prepare for my ears to be melted every day.

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Location:calzadilla de la cueza to Sahagun

Monday, 5 September 2011

Happiness is within; day 17

Today was the day we were warned about. 30km and the last 10 or so of pure nothing; a road, no shade, no trees, no views, no stops, no water fountains that are so ubiquitous on the camino. I was nervous about today so I decided to confront my fear head on. I woke up early, got ready at lightening speed (I tend to suffer from potter-itis) and hit that road like my backside was on fire (actually it has been but that's another story). No time to take the daily photo of the sunrise kissing the village we left, just me, my rucksack, my sticks and my ever trusty feet taking me forward. I walked 11km by about 9.15am. I felt alive, energised, inspired- my walking mojo had returned and I was burning up the road, leaving a trail of german men behind me.
These little legs of mine
They're gonna help me fly!
Stopped in Carrion de Los Condes for refuelling - a cafe con leche and a madelena. Liz and I raided the tiny supermarket for pan, tomate, jamon, queso de Castilla (I asked for manchego and the assistant gave me stink eye - not in castilla SeƱorita!) a bit of olive oil, juicy nectarines, Nuts, more madelenas, a tonne of water and nocilla. Nocilla is the Spanish equivalent of nutella but half White and half brown and possibly my favourite food in the whole world. Seeing that Liz is a chocoholic like me I wanted her to try it. We distributed our groceries between us and agreed to push on until 1pm and then stop for a picnic. I don't think Liz thought I would take it that literally but I felt compelled to push on at full speed until dead on 1 where I set up camp by the dusty roadside and waited for Liz. We feasted on our picnic like it was food from heaven. It was absolutely delicious. Liz loved the nocilla and is now worried she has a new chocolate addiction. A small red cross van was the only vehicle on this desolate pilgrims-only roman road. They stopped next to us to check we were ok. We were ecstatic as we were mid feast! When we started up again and felt our feet were on fire and being smashed by little hammers all over again, we kept looking back wistfully at the road to see if we could get a lift with them but they never returned. The last hour and a half was even more barren and we couldn't see the destination village, the road just stretched on for infinity like that mirror illusion that just keeps repeating itself to infinity. We had gone through our water and were starting to get a little nervous. Then out of nowhere the road dipped down and we saw the town shimmering in the heat. As we neared I started to whoop with joy and wave my sticks around. We almost ran to the hosteleria who stood there waiting to welcome us in looking like he'd seen these sort of antics thousand times before. We slumped at the entrance drinking iced drinks from the machine and groaning with relief and happiness. In the garden of this humble albergue was a gorgeous little swimming pool and we were soon cooling off in that without a care in the world.
Today was a good reminder that happiness can spring from within. One of the hardest days on the road I found the most enjoyable. As we hit the half way mark today (400km) I remembered exactly why I was doing this. Freedom, simplicity, communion with god, nature, others, the odd swimming pool at the end of the desert. As hard as it is, as good it is also. It's is better to live one day fully alive than a thousand half dead.
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Location:Villamentero to calzadilla de la cueza

Sunday, 4 September 2011

The good the bad and the ugly: day 16

I'm reminded of a quote by Blake; "He who binds to himself a joy doth the winged life destroy but he who kisses life as it flies lives in eternity's sunrise." The camino teaches you to take the rough with the smooth, the good with the bad. Some people have really experienced this in the extreme. Janna and Nils a young couple from Germany caught (and captured on camera) a rare glimpse of pure white horses running free and nuzzling each other as they ascended through the clouds of sant Jean pied du port. The next day their camera, with all those beautiful photos, extra memory cards, cash and a sentimental hand me down purse from Janna's grandmother were all stolen. Janna is very philosophical about it now. She says 'the camino gives and the camino takes'.
Some days are good and some days are bad. That is life. No point fighting the bad days. They have to be embraced also.

We walked through sunrise, crops, hamlets, endlessly straight roads with nothing to see, tree lined rivers. It was a slow, hard day for me. But it was punctuated by an amazing breakfast in a cooky albergue in fromista, a specially prepared lunch just after poblacion, and A late but blessed arrival at the albergue in villamentero, with it's teepees, hammocks and vegetable patch which you could freely take from for your dinner. On the wall someone had left this note:

Si vas mas lento, vas mas lejos.
Si vas por atras, vas adelante.
Si no buscas, encontras.
Lo que es arriba, es abajo.
Donde estas la oscuridad,
Se pone la luz. :)

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Location:Itero de la vega to villamentero

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Is the big man upstairs laughing at us; day 15

A tough day in the desert of fields. Pain. Tiredness. Monotony. Doubt. Distrust. Today was a world away from the first week on the camino.
A lot of people skip this part because it is too hard. With no distraction the monkey mind runs riot. It isn't beautiful, but this isn't a holiday, this is a pilgrimage and what would be the point of just doing the pretty bits? I might as well be lying on a beach in Hawaii sipping mojitos. Now there's a thought.
Last night when I talked about the camino with Pedro he said it's a calling. 'es una llamada'. I don't think I've ever been called to do anything in life except the camino. Today I wish I had been called to be a beach bum, a librarian, a florist anything but a crazy pilgrim. Maybe I need to listen a bit more to what the big man upstairs has to say to me while I'm on the road. Maybe the big man upstairs is laughing at all us crazy pilgrims torturing ourselves when we could be watching a movie at home, eating popcorn with our feet up.

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Location:San Bol to itero de la vega

Friday, 2 September 2011

40 days in the desert. Day 14

I tore myself from Burgos the first place on the road I wished I was able to stay awhile longer at. I've enjoyed the constant moving on the novelty of a new place every day. But this pilgrim city with it's magnificence, atmosphere, and joining of at least two caminos sucked me in. And of course I didn't want to say good bye to Leona who was staying behind and returning home. I didn't want the new chapter of the camino to begin just yet when I was getting so comfortable with the chapter I was in. I got up late, procrastinated and then eventually headed out of Burgos with it's rushing rivers, freshly cut lawns, tree-lined streets and countless sculptures paying homage to the pilgrim. Stefanie, who was also leaving the camino in Burgos sat in a coffee shop along the way saying good bye to all the pilgrims who had become her family for the last two weeks. We talked and got tearful and I continued along the way. It was as if every person and place I have ever left I said good bye to today. I wept for all of them. I wept for the end of the chapter in the camino. My heart ached and felt raw. It was good to cry, healing to release it all but sad to say good bye.

Entering into the new chapter and the mesita I met the devil in many guises. I persuaded a fellow pilgrim to come back on the camino and not hitch a ride only to become the focus of his anger and bitterness. He questioned and contorted everything I said, rubished and negated all the trust and light I felt growing in me. But I was having none of it and let him go on his way. A couple of other pilgrims tried to persuade me to get bus, a mad man started spouting rubbish at me, a vulture circled above our heads and the desert like monotony of the mesita shimmered ahead of us. It was like time had stopped. The day seemed to stretch out for an eternity. It was a relief then to meet a like minded Catalan who walked with me for the last 5 km. We shared our thoughts about life and the camino and how it was beginning to get under our skin. He let me walk on the easier path, kept making me drink water and took care of me. An angel in disguise. At San Bol we parted ways I went to the albergue and he continued to the next village. The ache in my heart returned as I realised this was the way of the camino; to meet beautiful people, share a little time together and part.

When I arrived at the oasis in the desert that is the San Bol albergue I was ready to break down. I was greeted by the tenderest of hospitaleros. They offered me fruit, let me rest and take a moment to absorb the sheer beauty around me. A little stone building with a round trulli like dining room housing a round table, a small forest of tall trees covered in orange moss, a river. All this in the middle if the desert. A cuban husband and wife ran this miniature albergue over-flowing with peace and gentleness in the middle of nowhere. Angels in the desert. Liz and I and a couple of other pilgrims (german and korean) sat together to eat an exquisite dinner of paella, salad and natilla. After dinner the electricity was cut off and We all sat outside to watch the sun set, lit candles to close out the day and bid adieu to this day of goodbyes, angels and devils.

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Location:Burgos to San Bol

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Enter the shadow; day 13

We left Ages at 8.30 am, the latest I've left anywhere so far. The first few hours of the walk took in fields of golden sunflowers, yellow and green hills, rocky climbs, a humble church and recently laid stone circles. But the closer we got to the city the more unnatural the surface we walked on became. The hardness and heat of the endless tarmac was a killer for my feet. The scenery turned industrial and I started to feel weary. Even the camino can't be all peace and light and as we got closer to the mesquita (which we hit tomorrow) renowned for bringing out the worst in people due to it's monotony, things were starting to get under my skin. I was annoyed about some people's competitiveness (mainly the guys in the group); 'I've walked 30+ km every day', 'my bag weighs 17kilos' what utter nonsense. I was also getting annoyed by some of the relentless whinging.
Is this because I am a competitive whinger myself?

Burgos is a magnificent city, worth the torturous Tarmac walk into it today. We mustered up the energy to visit the cathedral, wander the streets and have a farewell meal with Leona who leaves tomorrow. We went to Estrella Galicia and I had pulpo a la gallega for the first time since I got to Spain. I ate too much and rolled back to the hotel exhausted anxious and sad about my friends departure. Maybe it's time to confront the shadow in the mesquita tomorrow.
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Location:Ages to Burgos

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

In praise of slow: day 12

This morning Pepe woke us up at 6.25 by blasting an epic orchestral spanish march into our room via a loudspeaker. I was so deep in sleep it took a while for me to realise that it wasn't the apocalypse it was just time to get up. A sign on our door said breakfast was served at 6.45 and Pepe was clearly uncomfortable that we were still pottering in our room at 6.50. He all but shoved us out the front door as soon as we finished breakfast; insisting we put our shoes on outside and passing out sticks to us as we hobbled on our way. As much as we all bonded over dinner last night nothing was disturbing his regimental timetable.

Time is different on the camino. A day is like a week or more in the 'real' world. Each day feels very long but fully lived. Each day I feel younger but as if I have been living for many more years.

A romance has blossomed between two people in our group. They met yesterday, had there first lovers tif today and I half expect them to be married tomorrow and with child the day after. I'm getting a little high on the loving feeling between them just by being in their presence.

Today we met with some familiar faces from other parts of the camino, people who we thought had gone on ahead or we'd left behind. It was like meeting your family again. We are in such a group consciousness here we hardly need to speak to each other anymore. We know exactly how the other is feeling. Its so beautiful to be able to share in this experience together. it's more real than everyday reality. It's impossible not to feel 100% alive. Maybe that is why people keep returning and do it again and again. To feel alive. Fully alive. Living in totality and squeezing every last drop out of every single moment. Each moment becoming timeless.

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Location:Epinosa del camino to Ages

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Good company; day 11

People do the camino for many reasons. Some to remember who they are, some to forget. Some do it to clear their mind, others to listen to God. Some use the time to think about how they want to change their life, make decisions, go in a new direction.

A lot of pilgrims say it is important to have very specific intentions, this keeps you resolute when the road gets tough. Others say to be intention-less; that the road will show you whatever it is you need to see and what lessons you need to learn. Either way, one thing is for sure, the people you meet on the camino and the time you spend with them is magical. Often when you walk with a fellow pilgrim you don't knowhow long you will be walking with them for or even if you will ever see them again. These encounters are simply a sharing of two cups over-flowing. No expectations. No favours in the favour bank. No tit for tat. No trying to achieve anything or get something out of it.

Today I walked in silence for 4 golden hours with Stefanie. We caught up with a crazy south Korean guy who is learning Spanish through song. So far he's learnt la cucaracha and sings it at the top of his voice wherever he goes. In the afternoon I lunched with Leona and Pedro in Belorado and we walked together to the one horse town of Epinosa del camino where Liz had booked us into and was awaiting us. We laughed and joked along the way.

We stayed in an albergue exclusively for pilgrims run by Pepe. Pepe and Pedro have done the camino many times before and had lots of stories to share with us. Pepe initially did the camino because he wanted to find love. After he finished the camino he found love but when he decided to give up his job as a carpenter and set up the Albergue on the road he lost her. He's been providing food and shelter to about 900 pilgrims a year for the last 5 years. This sweet, white-bearded, gentle man from cataluna had one piece of advice for us; don't do the camino quickly. It's not a race. Take your time and take everything into you feel along the way into your heart. It's not something we can follow entirely. We have work to return to; planes to catch. It's all relative though. Some people have set the goal of walking 40k on some days to make up the time. Others want to test themselves physically and do 30+k a day. To me that's madness and seems to lead to injury. Theres one story going round of a pilgrim who turned up late one night in Pamplona. He looked deranged when he arrived at the refugio. He couldn't speak or move And just kept blinking madly. Eventually they got it out of him that he had walked all the way from sant Jean; 67k in one go!

We reckon Pepe is a templar knight but is being humble about it. He has red templar crosses, antiques and memorabilia everywhere. Pepe has one other piece of advice to give me before we all go to bed; people think that when they get to Santiago de compostela it is the end of the camino; but it is just the beginning of another camino. As I walk this path which apparently runs over a major ley line and certainly that has been walked by thousands of pilgrims before me I recognise that what makes all caminos so joyful is the chance to share it with the people you meet along the way.

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Location:Grunon - Epinosa del camino

Monday, 29 August 2011

Candlelit prayers; day 10

Our journey took us to a parochial refugio in grunon that was part of the huge church. Run by volunteers and surviving solely on donations it is an exceptional place. The donations box is always left open. Pilgrims can put in or take out if they are in need. This is a place to stay, share in a homemade dinner and breakfast and feel part of a very special community.

40 of us shared a wonderful dinner together tonight after a short mass. At 10 pm we had the opportunity to take a secret passage to the top of the church and share in candlelit prayers led by the refugios' volunteers. It is beautiful and the people's generosity is humbling.

We are sleeping on mattresses in the attic of the church. A small window above my head opens out to the night sky filled with stars, the church steeple and a huge stork's nest at the top of the steeple. The gentle selfless people who run this refugio make this place feel like home. It's a very special place. After walking dusty roads in the sweltering heat it is a very welcome refuge.

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Location:Azafra - grunon

Sunday, 28 August 2011

An open heart; day 9

I'm beginning to really love the time leading up to sunrise. The yoga I do calls this time amrit vela; sweet nectar time. I've enjoyed dawns before but when you are walking through it and out in the countryside it is spectacular. Every Dawn is different. Every day the canvass being painted around us changes. Sometimes very dramatically. Watching the canvass is like watching your feelings on the road; they also change all the time. Yesterday I was really angry when I got to Logrono because I got lost and ended up circling the city a few times. I could feel the heat building up inside of my body until it reached my head. How could I miss the sign? Why isn't it better signposted. Why do i find mysel walking more than i have to? Ten minutes later I was sitting in a bar drinking freshly squeezed orange juice looking out at the sign for the camino without a care in the world. An hour later I was disappointed I had so far still to go. An hour after that I was euphoric I had arrived. Life is a constant state of flux.

The kindness of the people you meet on the road is melting my heart. Yesterday I got talking to a local who did the camino four years ago. He had to stop before he reached Santiago because of tendinitis. He gave me loads of advice about what to do to treat my feet and where to stay. As I was leaving he asked me if I needed anything if so he would drive to where I was staying and drop it off. Countless people wish you well along the way, "buen camino", offer you directions when you're looking lost and share their own camino stories. Today a german guy I was walking with called Dete, taught me how to hold my walking sticks in such a way that my upper body took pressure and weight from my legs and feet. Leona was given a lift by a Spanish couple who saw her struggling to find a taxi (she's finally giving her feet a rest). People are amazing. They naturally want to share; advice, stories, experiences, their breakfast. I think this is what is meant by communion. It didn't seem this way for me sometimes in London. But maybe this journey is teaching me to meet people with an open, trusting heart. In doing so an open trusting heart tends to reflect back at you. The previous night I had been suspicious of Dete because he was cheeky... Even our opinions of another can change in the blink of an eye if you're not holding on to your preconceptions.

In the evening, over dinner, the topic of conversation with fellow pilgrims got serious, deep, a little heavy. Are we responsible for other people's happiness? Do we have to harden our hearts to live in this 'dog eat dog' world? A big debate raged and I sat on the periphery. A few years ago I would have been in the thick of it expressing my opinions with force. I'm not so into trying to change people's minds these days. I'm not so sure you can. I believe I can change my own though. I believe I'm responsible for my own happiness. I'm learning how others' happiness is not my responsibility. I'm learning to walk and live that on the camino. I'm learning to grow up finally.

I've covered 199.6km. Taking into account getting lost I think I'm safely over the 200km mark actually. 1/4 of the way through. Just a beginner at all this really. A beginner trying to keep an open heart.

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Location:Navarrete to Azofra

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Wild woman: day 8

I am travelling with two wild, free, independent, fearless, women. They fill their lives to the brim. It's an honour to know them and walk with them.

None of us know what the camino holds for us. Best laid plans can go awry but equally we find ourselves exceeding our own expectations, going beyond, rising to challenges we thought were insurmountable.

It is impossible to do something like this and not learn something about yourself, others, the world. We are learning something every day. Experience is the great teacher; the only teacher.

As in life each and every one of us has our own personal camino through which we learn our own personal lessons. Today I learnt to listen to myself more. To trust myself more. To judge others and myself less. And sitting in a bar in Logrono and later settling down to sleep in a decadent hotel bed in lazarete (after the previous night's prison-like refugio) I remembered how beautiful music is. I love the hypnotic walking mantra 'crunch-crunch-crunch-crunch' the sand and stones beneath my feet but after 6 or so hours of that music is e even more sweet: even if it's keeping you awake at night.

Tomorrow sees the return of the ruck sack after 3 days walking without it. This snail is ready to put its shell back on. And this wild woman is ready for another day of 'walking things out'.

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Location:Viana - Navarete

Friday, 26 August 2011

Live your dream; day 7

Last night we stayed in an albergue with the sweetest vibe. All over the walls pilgrims had written motos and painted camino scenes. It was so chilled. We slept in the attic with it's rustic ceiling under the thick wooden beams. There were only five of us up there and after Liz woke the snorer up by lightly kicking his foot he made a concerted effort to keep schtum. The silence, the mattress and the chance to spend an hour treating my feet made all the difference. So... my feet. Well they aren't good but they aren't bad in the scheme of things. I have two blisters on each heel and two on the side of the ball, the size of chocolate minstrels but not as appetising. The are bulbous and were packed with fluid. I was hesitant to pop them as they were covered in compeed (a pilgrim essential). It's like another layer of plastic skin, preventative in theory. Once you have it on, you leave it on, and it doesn't come off. If you blister underneath it I think you have two options... Rip the compeed off, along with the offending blister (not for me), or push needle through compeed and skin, make a little hole and drain. I did the later and prayed. By morning my four main blisters had gone down dramatically and the rest of my feet were swollen. But I had the best walk of my camino so far. Yes, I now have a blister on a blister but my feet overall are feeling the best yet and I no longer feel like someone has taken a hammer to every bone in them. Yes. I am now obsessed with feet and chemists in a way that only a fellow pilgrim can understand. We talk about our feet the way football fanatics talk about the last game.

The foot contains 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments and 19 muscles; all of which were screaming in agony over the last six days. 1/4 of all the bones in the human body are in your feet. These poor sods didnt ask to carry me the last 180km in just 7 days but they have. As i now know more than ever when these bones are out of alignment, so is the rest of the body. You try to compensate and you put your knee or your hip out.

One last thing about feet and them I promise to go easy on the foot situation: Leona was advised by her sporty brothers that one way to treat blisters was to cut the skin off and then superglue it back on again. This is what footballers do apparently!!!

OK, now I've got all of that out of my system.

Today's walk was amazing! Now that most of the pain has gone I could really enjoy the walk today. The storm clouds were brewing and we were rained on in the morning which gave Liz, Leona and I the opportunity to have a long chat in a quiet bar. We have laughed so much since we started this camino. I don't actually know how Leona has been able to with her feet but it is a testament to her spirit. It seems to be the best way to deal with suffering.

The rain changed the colours of the scenery dramatically. Dark purple skies, emerald green trees contrasting against yellow fields and towns of eulithic limestone. It was beautiful. The rain was purifying and changed everyone's energy. I drank in the colours, the smells, the feel of the rain on my skin. All was more intense today.

This camino is so real. It makes you realise that god is in the stones, in the sky, in the fields and in turn all of that is a part of you and me. It is so simple, down to earth so mundane so unpretentious.

Today Leona met a mother and her 14 year old son on the last day of their camino. She told me he looked like a man today. She asked him what he had learned on the camino and he replied; how to talk to people. Magical.

I write this as I sit on the floor of our auberge with Spanish and Germans milling around us about to sleep in tri-tiered bunk beds. Outside the stunning viana with it's open, vibrant, laid-back atmosphere, magnificent buildings and numerous portals. As I read on the Walls of the last albergue:
No suenes tu vida, vive tu sueno.

This road is making me so real

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Location:Los Arcos - Viana

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Love and fear: day 6

Jacotrans are gods. They transported our ruck sacks from la estella to Los arcos for 7 euros. Having no rucksacks was like being given little wings on our heels; not big enough to fly but just enough to fight gravity. It really helped to take the weight and attention away from the heat and onto the stunning surroundings. Yellow fields, dark green trees, orange and ocre sunflowers; it's all very van gogh looking around here. Truly beautiful countryside dotted with giant haystacks, olive groves, vineyards, raspberry bushes, aromatic fennel, pyramid hills and huge golden churches. Liz who we've been walking with for the last few days has given Leona and I a scallop shell necklace which was so touching and motivating to continue. It is so wonderful to listen to Liz's stories about her time on a vippasana retreat, her work and her travels.
In the parching Heat of the mid day sun I came across Za. She poured cooling water over my head. She is an amazing American lady who in her sixty's has decided to travel around the world with her husband; initially by boat and now in a van. She is planning to walk the camino and then maybe continue on to turkey. We talked about the road, religion, spirituality, life, death and dying. She reminded me that all the negative things that people do are always rooted in fear, and all the positive things that people do, are Always rooted in love. It's a good question to ask yourself before you do anything. Am I doing this out of fear or out of love? My feelings About giving up on the road are Always rooted in fear. My feelings of continuing are always rooted in love. I felt so honoured to have some time with wise Za.

This road has got me into feeling and out of thinking. Into my body and out of my head. I feel so close and loved and loving towards my husband, parents, friends. I feel so blessed to be meeting with the people along the road, they are like family.

I'm glad the fear didn't hold me back and I followed my irrational, illogical, all wise, all intuitive heart and started this camino. What a privilege it is to walk with these people, to be able to connect with nature, to be stripped down to the essentials, to feel the pull of the road and all those who have walked before you, drawing you forward when you want to give up. Love is stronger than fear.

Location:La estella to Los arcos

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

When 2.3 km really means +5 km day 5

Today was meant to be the shortest walk so far but for many it was the hardest physically. This was not helped by the misleading sign at the end of the hike which said 2.3 km to go when really it was 5 km. Leona, Liz and I have decided to give ourselves a treat tomorrow and send our bags on. We've also stocked up at the pharmacy (you've got to wonder when a town the size of la estella has 12 chemists... How much business the pilgrims are bringing in) so we are hoping for a better day tomorrow. Frankly today was purgatory until I got to the refugio and slept for an hour. Sleep is so healing.... Zzzz zzzz

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Location:Puente de la reina - la estella

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

It's starting to get surreal: day 4

I thought we were leaving the madness behind when we left Pamplona- a city where they race bulls through the narrow cobbled streets for fun- but we are all starting to get a bit delirious with the heat, the task ahead, the pain. Today a girl who is having problems with her feet decided to strap sanitary towels to the soles of her new sandals because they were no less lacerating than the boots that she left behind in Pamplona. An Italian guy who began the pilgrimage earmarked as the group eye candy has, after injuring his knee on day one, destroyed his feet on day two and giving himself grade 1 sunburn (becausa heya I ama italiano I no needa di suncream!) is now walking round with a massive eye patch after scratching his eye with something during the night. It should be noted he also plans to do the whole pilgrimage in 20 days (it's a push at 32) to get back for a wedding... At this rate he'll be lucky if he's alive! Leona's feet are freaking me out now. She has no skin left on the ball of her left foot. I watch her thread an iodine soaked needle and and string through them and I feel light headed. My feet are starting to blister too but only slightly due to new shoes but my toes are singing with relief that they are no longer being sardined into the boots. If I had blisters like hers I'd be in a&e.
Tonight we met Michael, who did the whole camino last year and is doing it again this year with his father, George, of 70 odd. They are walking to raise money for prostrate cancer, which George survived. Michael lost 6 toenails last time he did it and he is happy if he only loses 4 this time. His argument is there is no celebration without sacrifice. I can't argue with him. On some level I feel 100 times more alive after a day of torturous walking.

Leona reckons we all have to have some kind of cross to bare. Pilgrim veterans say the first two weeks are physical torture and the second are emotional. Death or cake? Mmm I think I'll have death please!

We all have to have something driving us to keep going. I'm just not sure we know exactly what that is sometimes.

Today I did 25km in six hours including inclines and declines. A few of the competitive types in the group got a little irked that slow coach Tania got to the next stage before them. Tortoise and hare baby!
Whatever the speed or the cross we are carrying, one thing I would say is I feel protected... Blessed?? Like the big man upstairs is looking after us all. In my time of need someone is always their on the today when I was thinking about eating the 'blueberries' that I found by the side of the sunflower fields. A Spanish couple arrived at the scene just in time to tell me they were potentially something a little more sinister. So the walking wounded brigade continue tomorrow, god willing to the next stage. I'm going to continue to chant and pray my way through the pain, heat and tiredness. It definitely worked for me this time.

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Location:Pamplona to puerta de la reina

Monday, 22 August 2011

Somos locos perdidos: day 3

Today was a day for getting lost. It happened an hour in at about 7 am. I was walking with Kati, a german girl and we missed a sign. It was a blessing in disguise because it meant we joined up with a bigger group and I got to meet Marianne and Jim a couple from the Rockies who were great company. It did mean we walked an extra half an hour and that means a lot in a 7hour walk. I noticed little of the camino today. I was busy talking, listening or focusing on getting to Pamplona so that I could dump my oppressive boots and buy trainers that would let my toes live. I've started to notice that most of the walkers are women. The men tend to be on bike or horse. The horse riders look like cowboys and sound like they smoke 80 marlboro reds a day. I've had two big realisations since I've been on the camino. 1) you are always alone and you are never alone. It is both simultaneously. I felt that right through to my bones. 2) whenever I do anything at someone else's pace; it doesn't work for me. I have to go at my pace; on the road and in life. Similarly listening to others advice when it conflicts with what I feel is fatal; the boots are a painful reminder of that.

Nearing Pamplona I got chatting to an Octogenarian local who decided to walk the last 30 minutes with me. He cried as we said good bye and asked me to pray for him. He's done the road many times himself and seemed to relish the excuse ti walk a part of it again. Unfortunately, when he ushered me across the Magdalena bridge he sent me in the wrong direction to the albergue Jesus y Maria and I wasted another 30 minutes finding it in the soaring heat of the city. When Leona came to find me I saw her blisters had grown to the size of a small country. They are actually shocking. When other pilgrims see them you see the colour drain from there faces. The refugio is great. It's amazing how grateful you become for the little things in life on this journey: somewhere to rest your head, the shade of a tree, a cool breeze, food, sleep and shelter. We bought Asics a size bigger than normal to accommodate our swollen feet and headed to a pinchos bar (Michelin starred and heaving with a ceiling of pata negra no less). This walk is making us both emotional. We ate, drank, cried and laughed in turns, hobbled back to the refugio and called it a day. The sound of people russling in there ruck sacks, whispering and climbing up ladders to the top bunk are becoming familiar now and strangely comforting and more and more things are becoming superfluous. Tomorrow we'll see how the feet are and decide from there.

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Location:Zubiri to Pamplona

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Along came the blisters

It was a hard day today but I managed to keep to a good pace only a couple of hours behind Leona. In the morning the group i was in was jumped on by a group of young revellers who were still out partying as we set off. They were in good spirits and got us off to a good start. I spent the rest of the morning walking with a lovely couple john and teresa from Austria who retired last year and decided to take the opportunity to do the camino as soon as possible. I really admired that. John, was complaining about a stone in his shoe so when we stopped by a river he took his shoe off and produced a stone a size of a hazelnut. I was horrified and for ages he kept up the ruse until eventually he fessed up to the joke and produced the real offender: not much bigger than a grain of sand. By the end of today there was some serious blister action going on. Worst of all from Leona. The whole of the ball of both feet turned into giant blisters that popped on the way down. People are suffering but everyone is good humoured about there aches and pains and supportive of each other. A lovely south African woman, Liz produced some magic Chinese remedy to spray onto my bruised little toes in the hour of my need bless her. The day ended with another pilgrims dinner, this time including pimentones rellenas for me. This refugio is nowhere near as pristine as the last one and it's top bunk again tonight but I think I'll really sleep no matter how hard people snore.
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Location:Roncevalle to Zubiri

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Baptism of fire day 1

Nervously leaving sant jean pied du port in darkness we stopped off at the church to say a little prayer, through the spanish gate and on upwards. After a euphoric 3 hour trek uphill with me feeling giddy with bliss we decided to continue from orrison to - 25 km in total mainly uphill with a steep decline to end. I can only really describe it like a baptism of fire for me. It was tough and I was slow but the scenery was breath-taking. We ascended through mists of confusion, over lush green mountain tops. We were followed by butterflies of transformation, passed dewy spiders' webs and descended through silent endless forest. Sometimes I talked to the animals and insects along the way, sometimes they answered me back like the horse that stood in my way and suggested an easier incline. I could almost feel my heart melting as i breathed in the nature all around me. And of course there were some wonderful people along the way. The French guy who runs a little tuck shop at the French / Spanish border in the middle of the pyrennes. 50 cents for a boiled egg (I swear that was the best egg of my life!) He lives in his tuck shop van for three months a year racking up a daily tally of pilgrim nationalities on the side of it (100 today alone). When I was all but spent on yet another sharp incline I found a biscuit wrapped in a see through bag and taped to a pilgrim post with a post it note saying love from Leona! Turns out it was from a Dutch couple that were walking up ahead and had got talking to Leona and left the biscuit for me. A biscuit has never made me cry before but that one did. I eventually reached roncevalles a few hours behind Leona. we went to the mass for the pilgrims with a blessing said in at least 9 languages. Had a pilgrims dinner and then hit the sack in the beautiful new and totally spotless refugios. Yes the snoring pilgrim reputation is true. This is one stamp in my pilgrims passport that was very well earned. here's hoping my very sad toes miraculously recover over night.

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Friday, 19 August 2011

Here we are

Today we arrived at St Jean pied de port via bus from biarritz (flying over the beautiful coast line it was tempting to stay) to Bayonne and then SNCF from Bayonne to SJPP. Stunning scenery from train window: lush green hills, azure skies and foamy rushing rivers. We managed to get spectacularly lost (my fault) on arrival (yes, i know, already) trying to find the pilgrims passport office and on finding it a lengthy conversation in 3 languages ensued. We've already met a bundle of pilgrims, men on bikes, women on foot, mainly Irish. Staying in the most gorgeous hotel of destiny; Itzalpea. Gold walls, oak beds lots of beautiful little touches. It will be a bit more simple from here on in. Had a generous pilgrims supper with the lovely Pat, Myra and Mary: super Irish ladies. This town has exceeded my expectations in it's gorgeousness. Its nice to be far away from the london rush hour, the baggage checks at Stansted airport, the yellow plastic fuselage of Ryan air planes. My soul has been thirsty for this for a long time. Looking forward to starting the road tomorrow.
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Location:St Jean pied de port

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Taking it slow...

Yesterday I walked from home, SE19 to Charring Cross. I did the 7.5miles in 2.5hours. Walking through London is a completely different experience to traveling through it on a bus/tube/train/motorbike/taxi. You get more of a sense of how its made up of a patchwork of vibrant and culturally diverse towns and communities. The energy, sounds, pace and smells change as you move from one street to the next.

There's something about walking that helps me work things out, or should I say 'walk things out'. I was talking about this with the lovely Antoinette and Robert this week. They've recently set up yoga sweet yoga at Harmony Harbour (where I'm currently teaching kundalini yoga) and its one of those precious corners of London where you can find a copy of Positive News. This quarter's issue contains an article by Adam Weymouth, a young man who walked through 12 countries, from the village of Whiteparish, near Salisbury, to Istanbul. That's 5000km and it took him 8 months. It makes the Camino seem like a shlep to the corner store for a pint of milk.

Adam refers to an idea from Rebecca Solnit's book, Wanderlust. Our minds work at 3 miles per hour - the speed we walk at - so our increasing obsession with speed is fracturing our minds and our connection to each other and the land. That rings true to me. Since reading In Praise of Slow by Carl Honore about 4 years ago I've struggled to justify the relentless pace of city life in the 21st century. It will be interesting to see what slowing down on the road does to my perspective.

While I welcome the chance to slow down and take stock I'm also daunted by the enormity of the pending journey. If I start to feel anxious I think about Adam Weymouth's 5000km hike, or Satish Kumar's 8000 mile peace walk and it gives me a sense of perspective. Or I think of the (much faster paced) marathon monks of Japan who cover 80km a day for 100 days. They hardly sleep, eat or stop to catch their breath and they do it all in agonizingly uncomfortable footwear.  How lucky I am to be able to take it slow, get some perspective and get back in touch with the land and the trees in the company of a good friend while wearing boots that were made for walking.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

the unprepared pilgrim

So that's it. It's been decided. The one way flight is booked. Leona and I meet in Biarritz on 19th August and on 20th August we start the 778km pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela from Saint Jean Pied de Port.

Yeah... let me write that again... 778km. So we might do that in two goes (two weeks this year and two weeks next year). In fact that's what Leona has decided to do. But I'm going to see how it goes. If I get into the swing of things I might keep going and do the whole enchilada in one go.

I've wanted to do this since my late teens. I attribute this partly to my heritage; I'm half Spanish- half Gallega to be precise and the pilgrimage of course ends in Galicia. I remember visiting the Catedral de Santiago de Compostela  as a child, hearing my mother talk about the pilgrims wistfully, telling me how we all have to do the journey at least once in our lifetime and watching the giant botafumeiro swing over the entire congregation. The smell of incense was overwhelming.  

Later Paulo Coelho's contemporary take of the journey reignited my interest. Then my working life began and I found it hard to take 4 weeks off. I reckon a big dollop of fear was holding me back too. Four years ago I prepped and planned to do it after managing to convince my then employer that taking my holiday leave all in one go wasn't such a bad idea. For various reasons that never materialised. 

Two years ago I met Leona on a kundalini yoga retreat in the south of France and while we were making the sharp decline from the foggy top of Montsegur talking about the cathars , and realising that we were both 11:11ers we also got talking about the road to Santiago and decided there and then that we were going to do it together one day. And so we are. 

Since then, we've done a fair bit of walking together (including Glastonbury) and separately (I went back to that region of France this year with my husband and we scaled Bugarach (albeit a bit too early to be saved).  But don't let that fool you into thinking that we're (or at least I'm) prepared this time round. Have I walked for hours and hours, day after day with a heavy load on my back? No. Have we meticulously planned the journey, where we're going to stay, eat, or take rests? No. Do I know what walking boots I'm going to use; the new light ones, or the old heavy but trusty ones? No. I am prepared enough to know that I'm very unprepared. And this was confirmed this weekend by the guy who sold me my light walking boots. When I told him what they were for and when I was going he chuckled, gave me one of those withering looks and said 'well, you're only ever going to be that unprepared once'. 
Well, unprepared I am. Magnificently so.