Today my journey officially ended. After spending a rest day in a cat-like manner- laying in the sunshine in the various rooms of the house, reading a Camino-inspired novel written by the hostess at the retreat house in which I was staying- I gave a final push and trekked to my intended destination, Finisterra- “the end of the earth”. I’m glad I did. My journey feels complete. I have walked for 14 days, averaging 24.5km/day, for a total of 343km. I had only 2 blisters and some foot cramping, but otherwise I feel great physically. The Camino Portuguese was, for me, pretty much a solo trip. It was quite different from my first Camino which was more about fellowship and friendship- which was much more suited to my extroverted personality. However, this one was a very mindful journey- with time to appreciate the things often taken for granted- like toilet paper, toilet seats, warm showers, the luxury of a bath tub, bird songs, beautiful flowers, enchanted forests, ancient pathways, sunshine, the kindness of strangers, yellow arrows that marked the way, pilgrims you just met who greet you like family the next time you see them…
There are unseen mysteries along the way that make one wonder about the forces that draw us to certain places at a certain time. Just this evening, I had dinner with an older woman named Chris who I ate with on my first night on the Camino, met again when I arrived in Santiago and is now here at the same time and the same place at the end of my journey, though we have both taken different means and routes to get here. There was also a man at the guest house whom I had met for one night on my Camino two years ago. I still had a photo of him on my phone and was able to show it to him (he was wearing the same shirt coincidently!) Those who walk the Camino often feel drawn to return, but can’t always articulate the reasons why. Perhaps we are all searching for “God only knows”- beauty, love, connection, kindness? Or maybe as the sign at the “end of the earth” says, peace- that “peace may prevail upon the earth”. Thanks to those who have followed this blog for walking with me on this journey. I may still add a few reflections here and there- until next time the Camino draws me back- Ultreia and Buen Camino!
Ok, not going to lie- not sure about my geography here- it’s actually the Atlantic Ocean (but I took the lyrics from a Waterboys song- because I love their music 🎶).I am taking a rest day (hot bath, my own room, private bathroom) in Muxía, a little north of Finisterra, because I met a lovely couple from Australia, they knew the bus schedule and were heading here! That’s the way I roll- follow a pilgrim or follow an arrow- and see where it leads. I am also following the recommendation of a pilgrim I met early on in my journey, who suggested a post-Camino retreat at a place called The Little Fox House. It is run by a Canadian author /psychotherapist and pilgrim who has walked the Camino a number of times and who has set her roots down in Spain. Sounds like my kind of place! I plan to spend 3 nights there and then walk to Finisterra… or not!
Muxía is an ancient place, where first paganism and then Christianity has regarded as sacred. It is actually an area called “Costa da Morte”, the Coast of Death, due to the number of shipwrecks that have occurred in its vicinity. Perhaps it is a good place to mark the end of my Camino- a putting to death or letting go, of hurts and pain from the past, and making room for more love, beauty and gratitude. “Though weeping may remain for the night, in the morning there is joy” (Psalm 30:5- my mother’s favourite verse that marks her gravestone). Sorrow turned into joy… that is why I walk.
This Is the Sea
These things you keep
You’d better throw them away
You wanna turn your back
On your soulless days
Once you were tethered
And now you are free
Once you were tethered
Well now you are free
That was the river
This is the sea!
Now if you’re feelin’ weary
If you’ve been alone too long
Maybe you’ve been suffering from
A few too many
Plans that have gone wrong
And you’re trying to remember
How fine your life used to be
Running around banging your drum
Like it’s 1973
Well that was the river
This is the sea!
Now you say you’ve got trouble
You say you’ve got pain
You say’ve got nothing left to believe in
Nothing to hold on to
Nothing to trust
Nothing but chains
You’re scouring your conscience
Raking through your memories
Scouring your conscience
Raking through your memories
But that was the river
This is the sea yeah!
Now I can see you wavering
As you try to decide
You’ve got a war in your head
And it’s tearing you up inside
You’re trying to make sense
Of something that you just can’t see
Trying to make sense now
And you know you once held the key
But that was the river
And this is the sea!
Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah!
Now I hear there’s a train
It’s coming on down the line
It’s yours if you hurry
You’ve got still enough time
And you don’t need no ticket
And you don’t pay no fee
No you don’t need no ticket
You don’t pay no fee
Because that was the river
And this is the sea!
Behold the sea!
I left Santiago this morning to begin my walk to Finisterra, the ocean and the planned end point of my journey. Two interesting things happened. The first was when I stopped to take a break in an enchanted forest grove where trees covered in ivy draped their branches over a meandering stream. I deposited my knapsack on the picnic bench provided, but was drawn towards a large sitting rock next to the water. As I rested my weary feet and gazed into the water, there on the stream bed lay a small Canadian flag pin. It’s base was rusted, so it’s been there a while- but I marveled at the chance sighting and of course, was reminded of home. Thank you to the unseen forces for for the lovely message!
The next sign I saw was pilgrim graffiti that said “Find Your Limits”. Today I reached mine. Like the scene in the movie Forest Gump, where one day, for no apparent reason, Forest stops his cross country run- I too have decided to stop walking. I need a rest and the blister on my heel is a pain. There is a readily available bus to Finisterra in the morning, so I am planning to take it. I’ve got nothing to prove by walking any further, and if the mood hits, there is a quaint seaside village called Muxía, north of Finisterra, that is within walking distance. So, those are my signs for now. I will let you know where the spirit moves me in the next few days. Sending love to Canada and my Camino friends abroad.
Arrived today in Santiago! It was a cool and sunny day, which made it perfect for hiking the final 25k into the heart of Santiago where the pilgrims converge in the large public square in front of the Cathedral. It has been a largely solo trip- plenty of time to reflect and soak up the beauty of creation all around me. One of the songs that has played in my head throughout this journey has been by
Chris de Burgh, called Where Peaceful Waters Flow. It pretty well sums up my journey through the beautiful counties of Portugal and Spain, with their ancient pathways, cathedrals and flowing forest streams- a small taste of paradise in this frantic world. I will let the words of this modern troubadour, which resonate so well with my journey, speak their message to the world.
Where Peaceful Waters Flow
Restless hearts, it has been a long time,
Out here on the journey, for a glimpse of paradise,
It’s getting hard to find a place to go,
Where peaceful waters flow;
I took a walk past the old Saxon well,
Down by the cathedral, I heard the chapel bell,
And joined the people singing for a way to go,
Where peaceful waters flow;
And if you don’t know by now, you never will,
Only love can find the door,
If you could see it now, it’s in your hands,
Only love can reach the shore, to heaven.
One of the experts of the grieving process, a woman who is credited with compassionate care for the dying and instigating the palliative care and hospice movements in North America, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, is quoted as saying, “Dying is a human process, in the same way that being born is a normal and all -human process”.
Today I am reminded of both sides of this human process- birth and death. I celebrate (in my absence) the birth of our lovely first-born daughter Karen. She brings laughter, love and uncanny organizational skills to our whole family and I am so happy she has found a life partner who brings out her best, shares her passions for travel, sports and play, and will add some English blood into the gene pool! We are excited to welcome both Tom and the new fur baby (🐶) into our family!
On a sad note, yesterday I was informed that a fellow pilgrim from my first Camino, Brother Sebastian, a man that I wrote about in my first blog as a true “character of the Camino” has died. Brother Sebastian exemplified a “joie de vivre” which was infectious. He was quick to share his food, drink and songs with others along the way. He carried the extra weight of a tuning fork and song books in his pack, always prepared to sing with others, as he was a cantor at the monastery where he spent 33 years of his life. Two years ago, I attended mass at the cathedral in Santiago with Brother Sebastian and I received such pleasure watching his excitement as we pressed in close to where the giant incense burner, the Botafumeiro, was swung from the rafters of the grandiose cathedral ceiling. Tomorrow I will again be in Santiago and I will attend the pilgrim mass ,this time in memory of my friend, Brother Sebastian. I will remember how he embodied the spirit of the Camino and will forever think of him as Saint Sebastian. I look forward to singing with him again one day when I too reach my final destination and go home.
There is a lot of talk about “mindfulness” these days- the idea of living in the present moment in a non-judgemental way- just being open and accepting to every new experience as it comes along. I have been trying to practice this idea as I walk, as each day brings new experiences that in turn offer choices about how I can react. Last night I indulged in the luxury of my own room and got a late start. At times, I ended up amongst tour groups of pilgrims that all start and stop and move at the same pace. While each person walks their own Camino in their own way, I missed the quiet and solitude that I’ve grown accustomed to over the past week. At times I felt like a lemming, simply following behind a group of chittering others, all heading for an unknown and as yet, unseen destination. I felt sorry for the poor older woman who was serving at the wayside cafe when one of said tour groups descended upon her en masse. I had arrived just moments before and had ordered my bogadillo (ham and cheese baguette) and Coca Cola. It took quite some time for her to serve everyone and she bypassed me with my sandwich in her flustered state. One does learn patience at these times. I made sure I tipped her well for her efforts and took my sandwich outdoors to make room for the others. Just as I was exiting with my long awaited lunch, a man passed me in the doorway, and as luck would have it, at that very moment, sneezed directly onto my lunch! I had to laugh- and I ate it anyway. I figure with every hostel I sleep in and every public restroom- what’s a little germs amongst pilgrims? If only letting go of other things- like the expectations we have of others or how people should treat each other, could be as easy to let go of. I’m still working on those things. There are a few things I hope to symbolically “let go” of when I reach the ocean at Finisterra. Perhaps that is why we pilgrims are all making our way there- driven by some unseen force for some unknown purpose- like lemmings. (P.S. It has been proven to be a myth that lemmings throw themselves off cliffs and die- they are instinctively drawn to migrate towards water- Personally, I’m not planning any cliff diving- rest assured! )
Today was a Psalm 23 walk- the most beautiful parts alongside the “still waters” of a meandering forest stream. There are more pilgrims on the trail now as Santiago is within 100km, which is the minimum one must walk to gain a credential (official certificate of Camino completion). There were actually two possible routes to take today, which converged at a crossroads where both paths were indicated as the “official route”. A lovely gentleman selling his wears along the way recommended I take the river route, as opposed to the shorter roadway, as it was shaded and more beautiful. I am glad I heeded his advice and also passed it on to several pilgrims who were questioning which path to take. If only life could be so simple when we are faced with “cross road” type decisions. Do we heed the advice given, take our own path, or maybe find a third way?
I am quite puzzled by “Spanish time.” As I arrived into the city of Pontevedra, my home for the night, around 2pm, the streets were crowded with people. An hour later- it was like a ghost town. When I went out for dinner, around 8pm when the restaurants start serving, it was mixed- some streets alive with people, other places completely empty. I had a whole bar to myself, and then the restaurant where I ate dinner. Both were great places that should be packed with people. I get a little bit of FOMO going on- “fear of missing out”. I couldn’t even find any pilgrims to hang with as the city is quite spread out. Oh well, I like my own company well enough and tomorrow is another day.
Not going to lie, today’s walk was more about just reaching my destination than enjoying the journey. I decided to combine two shorter stages into one, as the original stage took me through an industrial area and ended in a modern town that I was more interested in passing through than visiting. However, the mileage was high (34.5km, closer to 40 with altitude changes) and I am hunkered down for the night at 9:15 p.m. I’m not the only one, but it’s still light outside, so sleep may be a challenge. Today was a little more reality based- walking through modern towns where people live and work- the populated areas verses the rural and forest routes that harken to ancient times. I sometimes lose myself in daydreams and whimsy in those areas- but not today. Today was more of a trek, and the greatest challenge was when the next washroom facility would appear. Unfortunately, the Spanish Beer, Estrella, is very good, but seems to pass quite quickly through the system. I felt like a dog marking territory all day long, which, as the ladies know, is not an easy endeavour in the great outdoors. I’m not saying I peed my pants, I’m just saying I might have gotten a little on me. Too much information? Men don’t know how good they’ve got it. I’m quite certain that several pilgrims and locals were treated to a lovely view of my behind today, though I tried to be discreet. Oh well, that’s Camino. It is less than 100km to Santiago now and I hope to be there in 4 more days. I appreciate all of you who are following along and commenting. I think of you along the way and carry you with me. Cheers 🍻
Given that I did a long walk yesterday, I decided to walk only for the morning today and take a Sabbath rest for the remainder of the day. I am in a lovely medieval town in the Galicia region of Spain called Tui and have already enjoyed the seafood offerings that this region is known for. I was able to find a quiet corridor behind the cathedral where I sat and soaked up some heat units like a solar panel. For some strange reason, as I walked into the cathedral, I was told it was closed- even though others were being let in, and the doors have been closed since. Very odd that the main cathedral in town closes its doors on a Sunday! It also looked like it charged money to go in- so that would have kept me out anyway. Reminds me of that guy who got really angry about the money changers working the church circuit… Anyway, I have enjoyed “dwelling in the shadow of the shelter and finding rest (Ps. 91).” It is 7p.m. and I will head out shortly for find some dinner and hopefully some company. Most restaurants don’t open until 8pm here, so I have had to adjust my eating habits to suit. Went into a candy store to get some snacks for the trail and found these. Only available in Spain I think 🤔
So today I channeled my inner mountain goat and climbed the mountain you see in the background of this photo. The greatest challenge is doing it with a back pack, but I made without incident and actually pushed past my planned stopping point to arrive at a beautifully refurbished traditional stone farmhouse that will offer a communal meal later tonight. The scenery on my last day here in Portugal was lovely- mountain springs and waterfalls, sheep grazing on the hillside (I discovered that Portugués sheep say “maa”, not “baa”- thought you should know). I walked on Roman roads and well worn paths where time and constant travel have left steep walls on both sides of the path. This Camino is much more about solitude than the other, which was about fellowship. It is good, and I enjoy the time to think, or not to think. Sometimes I just sing songs in my head, sometimes out loud. Strange, when I came to a cafe that had a television on , the same song that was in my head was showing as a video. Sort of like a “déjà vu” experience. Does that only happen to me? Tomorrow I will enter Spain and will have about 140km left to Santiago, and then about 90km to Finisterre.