I have mentioned before how friendships are quickly made and deepened on the Camino. One person that I have been “tracking” with is a man that I would consider a “character of Camino”. I have mentioned him several times already, as he has offered me snacks, food and company on numerous occasions. We run into each other every few days. He is an extraordinary man. I am quite certain he has asbergers, as he has a keen intellect, speaks at least 4 languages, sings beautifully and is at times blissfully unaware of social conventions, making him honest, open and joyful! His pack weighs 16 kg, a fact that he is quite proud of, while the rest of us are challenged to carry 10kg. He is the cantor at his monastery and carries song sheets and even a tuning fork. He is never without a beer, a Fanta and water, which adds another 1 kg, he proudly boasts. He has been known to sing aloud in the early morning, and given that he rises at 5:30 am, his lovely voice is not always appreciated. The other night, after we had spent some time singing together on a sheltered porch while the rain poured around us, he spontaneously offered to oil the feet of myself and another woman that had been singing with him. He ran up to his room and came down with a large tube of arnica oil. He took my feet in his hands and rubbed them, as we spoke about how Jesus had washed the feet of the disciples. When he finished, he kissed my blistered, callousled, but now perfumed foot. After he had oiled the feet of the other woman, she in turn massaged his feet and hands. It was a beautiful picture of love at its purest. Yes, men and women can be friends, giving and receiving love in all it’s beauty. Thank you Brother Sebastian. You are a beautiful man of God.
Ok, so it may be totally cliche, but today as I started walking, there was a proliferation of roses along the path and I did in fact stop to smell them- numerous times. As a fellow pilgrim passed by, I called out, “If you haven’t stopped to smelled the roses, you’re walking too fast!” He did in fact stop and sniff and that’s when I took his picture. He told me he was from Holland and had been waiting for 37 years to walk the Camino! I shared that, though I am Canadian born, it is Dutch blood that runs through my veins, as my parents immigrated to Canada from Friesland as children. I told him I walk the Camino like a Frisian workhorse, just keeping a slow and steady pace, whether it’s up hills or on the flat, but getting there in the end, job done! He told me he thought Frisian horses the most beautiful. I took it personally! I did a long walk today, the last part on my own over the mountain. We are in hill country now, and was reminded of the song, “I lift my eyes up, to the mountains, where does my help come from? My help comes from you, Maker of heaven, Creator of the earth. Oh how I need you Lord, you’re my only hope, you’re my only prayer. So I will wait for you to come and rescue me, come and give me life.”
The path seemed to stretch on forever, it was starting to rain and I was beginning to worry about where I would stay the night. As I looked down on the town from the decent, it didn’t look very inviting. However, as I made the last turn into town, red roses hung over a whitewashed wall and I felt assured that I would be ok. The day of the roses! The parochial (church) Alberge was the first one I came to and I saw a familiar face- a woman from Germany, about my age. Then, a young pilgrim welcomed me in and explained the hospitalier was at dinner, but was very kind and welcoming and that I should make myself at home. I was invited to join in on a pasta meal with my Bavarian monk friend, who has been so quick to offer hospitality and some liquid cheer when we meet each other. Such small but significant gestures gave the place a warm feeling and I felt like I was home, at least for the night. That feeling if home was augmented later with the shared gender washroom facilities. With very little space to put ones clothes when they shower, I was quickly trying to get dressed while no one was around. I was just pulling up my pants when the door opened and in walked a man. He made a hurried escape, and I gave an em-bare-assed apology for flashing him. As luck would have it, as I went back to my room, he was my bunk mate for the night! I joked, “Oh well, I guess we’re family now!” Feels like home.
Yesterday was a challenge emotionally and thanks to all of you who offered supportive words. As I mentioned, reaching the Cruz de Ferro (iron cross) can be a time of reconnection with what first brought us to the Camino and it has been that for me. I know I am here to do some introspective work in my own life, involving healing from past hurts, not an uncommon theme for many of us pilgrims. I spent yesterday crying my way up the mountain, and today crying my way down. Please don’t be alarmed by that. Tears are healing and I am at peace. It does make walking a little more treacherous though, as loose gravel on a downhill slope and clouded vision are not a great combination! Alas, I made it to my destination safe and sound. I took my time walking the trail, being deliberate about slowing down to think and meditate. I felt like I was strolling the Camino- “no deeds to do, no promises to keep” (Simon and Garfunkle anyone?) It’s amazing that when we slow down, that nature can speak to us, if we choose to listen. I saw the beauty of creation in a bug today- no ordinary bug was this, but a multi-coloured, iridescent shit beetle (not its actual name- but a good descriptor, none the less). As I took the time to wonder at the beauty of this little creature as it feasted on some horse offal along the trail, I was impressed with the amazing variation to be found on its tiny, shiny life. (you can see my reflection if you look close)I mean if God can put that much beauty into a bug that feasts on shit for a living, how much more precious are each one of us beautiful people to Him? Makes you think….
Today was Mother’s Day and I was delighted to receive messages on my phone from my children when I reached my first cafe of the day. When I got up this morning, I didn’t realize today was the day I would reach the Cruz De Ferro, an iron cross at the top of a challenging mountain climb. Pilgrims often leave a token or stone from their home country and perhaps reconnect with the purpose of their journey. I brought a small pink granite rock that I had looked for as I trained on the country roads at home. I was looking for a smooth, pink stone to represent home, but when I finally found the right one several days before I left, it was heart shaped as well! Ironically, as I packed my knapsack this morning in the semi dark room, I took a last glance back at the area I had been and saw my stone lying there. How it got out of my coat pocket did not make sense. However, as the day progressed, I realized that Mother’s Day and reaching the cross would coincide and I took time to remember my own mother, whom I still miss intensely, although she has been gone from our lives over 3O years. Time does not diminish the love I still have for her and the beautiful person that she was. She loved people and I consider it a great compliment when people tell me I am like her. I think the relationships we have and the people we love take a little piece of our hearts that we never quite get back when they leave, especially when our farewells are forever. Our heart longs for wholeness that it will never obtain until reunited with our loved one, either in this life or the one beyond. I think that each farewell on the Camino is like that as well, although in six weeks feelings are intensified, as time is short and we know endings are part of each beginning. Those with whom we have connected take a piece of us with them, and the heart longs to reunite and be whole again. Fortunately, the heart’s capacity to love is perpetual and we keep on loving and opening ourselves to new experiences. However, each farewell reminds me of my forever farewells and comes with a certain sadness. It is the cost of being open to loving others, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I have reached the half way point in my journey and already I notice that thoughts and feelings are shifting. It is said that the first third of the Camino challenges the body, the second one’s mind and the last third, the spirit. My body is well. A cold that has been threatening is staying at bay, a sore tendon benefitted from some rest in Leon, and I am comfortable walking longer distances. However, I did a shorter day today, as the past two days we’ve been walking in rain and wet feet lead to blisters if one isn’t careful. I also chose to stay with a fellow pilgrim who is just getting back on her feet after some knee issues. That may sound altruistic, but I love her company and did not feel like being alone on a dull, rainy day. We sang songs together as we walked, to pass the miles. We are staying in a warm and inviting alberge, with a fireplace to warm us, walls decorated with pilgrim art and soft music playing in the background. Balm for my soul. We had a wonderful time reconnecting with friends in Leon but now several of our friends have gone on ahead, and we are unsure if there will be any more happy reunions amongst us, as obligations to schedules and returning back to our respective lives draws closer with each passing day. While there are still sunny days, mountains to climb, novel experiences and other pilgrims to meet along the way, I find myself already reflecting on the “good times” and relishing the memories of the friends who have touched my life for a brief moment in time. Walk on dear ones, missing your company. Buen Camino.
I have reached the half way point in my journey and already I notice that thoughts and feelings are shifting. It is said that the first third of the Camino challenges the body, the second one’s mind and the last third, the spirit. My body is well. A cold that has been threatening is staying at bay, a sore tendon benefitted from some rest in Leon, and I am comfortable walking longer distances. However, I did a shorter day today, as the past two days we’ve been walking in rain and wet feet lead to blisters if one isn’t careful. I also chose to stay with a fellow pilgrim who is just getting back on her feet after some knee issues. That may sound altruistic, but I love her company and did not feel like being alone on a dull, rainy day. We sang songs together as we walked, to pass the miles. We are staying in a warm and inviting alberge, with a fireplace to warm us and soft music playing in the background. Balm for my soul. We had a wonderful time reconnecting with friends in Leon but now several of our friends have gone on ahead, and we are unsure if there will be any more happy reunions amongst us, as obligations to schedules and returning back to our respective lives draws closer with each passing day. While there are still sunny days, novel experiences and other pilgrims to meet along the way ahead, I find myself already reflecting on the “good times” and relishing the memories of the friends who have touched my life for a brief moment in time. Walk on dear ones, missing your company. Buen Camino.
Found my coffee shop, found some pilgrims! Thought this tasty little guy symbolizes my rest day quite well. Boston cream donut man- breakfast of champions!
Yesterday I arrived in Leon, a larger city that marks the halfway point of my journey. I decided to walk 37 km in one go, as I had read that the last stage of the journey out of the Meseta and into Leon is along highways and through industrial zones, and getting there quickly would give me an extra night and days rest. At times I was waking alongside a busy highway (rather dangerous), followed by a stretch that was more protected but would be the equivalent of walking into Toronto along the 401. However, once I reached the city centre, with its historic catherdral, numerous sidewalk cafes and public squares, I was able to take in the beauty of the place. After the silence and rural nature of the Meseta, as well as the simplicity of walking through each day, it is a bit of a jolt to be reminded of the hustle and bustle of regular life. Of course, I found myself directionally challenged trying to find my accommodations for the night, as google maps only works when connected to wifi, but that’s another story… I am taking a few days to rest here in Leon. I have already reunited with one friend who is recouperating from a knee injury and another friend who is continuing on his way today. Plans are underway to sit in a coffee shop, watching the world go by, give my feet and legs a break, and do a little exploring of the city.
“Buen Camino” is a common greeting on the way. As you pass by an oncoming Spanish person you often greet them with an “hola”(hello), and they will wish you a “Buen Camino” in turn, meaning, “a good way or journey.” They are also the words that pilgrims use as they pass each other on the trail. For me, it has come to symbolize both a friendly greeting as well as a farewell. As I begin my journey each day, I don’t know who I will meet on the trail, who I will walk with for a moment or several days, who I am walking away from that I may not see again. I wonder if there will be a familiar face or faces at the next place I stop for the evening, or whether the strangers I meet will become friends, as others who have become friends for a time are left behind. One hopes that our paths will cross again, but wishing each other Buen Camino is a little like saying , “God be with you until we meet again”, though we don’t know when that will be. Today I met unfamiliar people along the path, potential “little while” friends to pass the time with on the way. One interesting man I met today is a Muslim from Zanzibar, whose Jewish friend walked the Camino several years ago and encouraged him to do it as well. Tonight, I have been invited to a communal meal prepared by an enthusiastic Italian motorcyclist who has crossed my path for several days but with whom I cannot converse, as he speaks no English and I speak no Italian, but who has invited my entire room (people he has only just met) to enjoy his feast of spaghetti Napolian! One never knows what tomorrow will bring, but it is wonderful to enjoy the people that walk into your life for a reason, or just a moment.
Today the weather, threatening rain, encouraged a quick 25 km walk through landscape that felt a lot like home. I have entered the area known as the Meseta, where the trail runs through agricultural area and is known for its monotony. The trail was mostly flat and straight along a two lane highway, with various crops planted as far as the eye could see. I enjoyed the walk, as there was a sense of familiarity as I “rambled” along the country road. There were other reminders of home as well- an irrigation system running in a field, fresh plowed fields, a farmer digging around the edge, a willow tree at the side of a lane, like the one in our front yard, and even a tractor trailer emblazoned with my sister’s name Teresa (not that I’ve seen that before- just the name reminded me of her! Don’t take that the wrong way Teresa!) The photo I posted is a sign showing the distance, 6 km, to my “home” for the evening, as well as the distance to my journey’s destination, Santiago, at 463 km. You might see just a hint of desperation in my face, as the clouds were threatening and the last 5 km of the day is always a bit of a trudge, when the end seems close, but feels so far. A few nights ago, we stayed at a small alberge where we were invited to participate in evening prayers. Each person read a prayer, in their own language, of a pilgrim that had previously stayed the night at this place. The words that I read have stayed in my mind, as they are a metaphor not just for the journey I am on with my fellow pilgrims, but for life as well. It said, “In the end, we are all just walking each other home”. To my family and friends both in Canada and on the Camino, thanks for walking with me on this journey home!