Walking Through People’s Lives

A month ago today was Day 4 of our Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, one of my favorites. The monastery in Samos sits in a gorgeous valley. The cool misty weather together with the muted grays, tans and greens of the village and countryside, and the stunningly beautiful Benedictine monastery, show why the journey often is better than the destination.IMG_2644

We left Triacastela before daylight.  Other pilgrims were ahead of us and a few passed us on the uphill trek.  Chilly, a few drops of rain, a cool mountain day.  In the village at Samos we stopped at a warm and attractive bar for coffee, a shared tuna empanada and a quick restroom break. Then back outside for the short walk to the monastery entrance.IMG_2659

Samos is a fabulous place with beautiful cloisters and well-preserved buildings and worship spaces.  Founded in the sixth century, the Benedictine monastery today appears to survive only on its history.  Fewer than a dozen monks and novices live there. This huge sacred space has practically no humans around.IMG_2667

IMG_2681The Camino’s popularity, I think, stems from its geography, both human and physical. The Way crosses through scenery so beautiful you wonder if you can take it all in.  And it passes through people’s lives.  Pilgrims walk through cities, towns, villages, crossroads, farms, fields, gardens, orchards, highways, even alongside an airport, and churches, churches and more churches — it’s not just a walk in the woods. IMG_2469

IMG_2610IMG_2569The Appalachian Trail is between you and nature. The Camino de Santiago places you with people, animals, industry,  countryside, cities, office parks — even good times and bad — all curving around and on top of each other, squeezed together, men and women getting by — for better or worse. Just like life.

IMG_2579IMG_2982We finished the Camino on October 6.  Now, close to three weeks later, things are mostly put away. Loose ends are tied up.  But one reminder of the Camino de Santiago barely hangs on — my toenail is about to fall off.

It was a Buen Camino. Thank you, Debbie. Muchas gracias, Spain.

The Way

To every man there openeth a way, and ways, and a way,
And the high soul climbs the high way,
And the low soul gropes the low.
And in between, on the misty flats, the rest drift to and fro.
But to every man there openeth a high way and a low;
And every man decideth the way his soul shall go.

by John Oxenham (pen name of William Arthur Dunkerley). And with appreciation to Viola H. Woolfolk, former headmistress of St. Margaret’s School, who read this poem aloud in chapel at least once a year.)




Camino In Translation

It probably never ends.

Camino translates from Spanish as path or journey or road or course, but it also translates as way, which best describes my walk to Santiago — one segment of wherever life head — the way forward.

(Photo by Debbie)

I am glad we have done it, so glad to have had a good friend to put our project in motion and get us going.

We saw people every day who were on a mission, and we also saw many who were walking just to walk, to see if they could trek 100, 200, 500, 1,000 miles, with no other personal, emotional or spiritual baggage. There were many reasons people found themselves walking in Northern Spain.

(Friday morning, Oct. 7, about 8:15, full moon still visible, we arrived in Santiago about five hours later.)

Deep down, I think the pilgrimage strengthened my belief. The Bible says, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” That sums up my Camino pilgrimage. If that becomes my focus, it will have been worth it.

Back to basics. Stepping down from the pulpit, two things stand out now that it’s done.

1. Feet and Boots. If your feet aren’t happy, life is not good on a long-distance hike. From Day 2 or 3, things did not go well below my ankles. The boots I loved did not love the second toe of my right foot. Compeed didn’t help, re-lacing the boot was no good. Rather than risk long-term damage to the top of the toe and toenail, I switched to my old trail walking shoes. Which eased that problem, but led to five or six blisters by the time we got to Santiago. The worn-out shoes were just too run down for 80 miles of walking. They stayed in Santiago as my gift to St. James.

2. Spain. We love it. This is the most unexpected discovery. We saw a glorious country on foot, beautiful, at the harvest season, with people who are welcoming to pilgrims as they have been for 1,200 years. Buildings constructed centuries ago. Old churches, farms and fields, towns and villages. The Spain we saw endeared us to its landscapes, people and culture.

We are in Paris now, which is wonderful and bustling and multicultural and crowded and cosmopolitan and gray. Spain was sunshine.

We can’t wait to go back.

The Lost Photos of Spain

Sarria To Portomarin. The first one is the Camino path through Sarria, early morning.

Camino path crosses a train track, with a motorway overhead. X

These Camino markers were erected to let walkers know how much further they had to go before reaching Santiago. The brass kilometer markers on most of them have been vandalized, unfortunately, but the graffiti on this one was a message I was glad to see.

Two photos of grain storage structures. They are everywhere in Galicia. All are built about six feet off the ground. Some are ancient, others seem new. Still used for agricultural purposes in places. Some of them must be more decorative than agriculturally useful, but we did see a woman on a ladder, filling one with ears of dried corn.

First view of Portomarin.

Fingers crossed that these go through.

Octopus Coffee Stop and The Wall of Wisdom

Days 8 and 9:

Camino pilgrims enter Melide by crossing a beautiful bridge, and pass through a tiny and ancient suburb of stone buildings. Then a long uphill walk on a gravel path, where we met Juan. He has been walking for 49 days, from Alicante, near Valencia. Upon arrival at the Cathedral in Santiago, he will have walked 2,700 km — 1,670 miles. Mid-60s, Spanish but a German resident for several decades, he has completed several Camino pilgrimages. At his urging, at 10 am, we stopped at a corner cafe for a small plate of fresh-cooked octopus, the local delicacy. And a cafe cortado.

This is the octopus chef, not Juan.

What a great, if brief, meeting, with a long-distance pilgrim. Snack done, he headed out. Hope our paths cross in front of the Cathedral tomorrow.

Day 8, Wednesday was good. Loved visiting an ancient church in Lobreiro.

We’ve seen stand-alone stone crosses throughout the walk — signposts for Camino pilgrims in centuries past.

Here is a crucifix style I’ve never seen, displayed inside another church along the way.

Today, Thursday, is our next-to-last section of the Camino, about 17 miles. Such lovely weather, interesting landscapes, and neat people.

And this also today.Think on that tonight.

Tomorrow about 13 miles of walking and we’ll be at the Cathedral in the center of Santiago, a city of more than 100,000 people. Spain and The Way have been a marvelous experience.

(Hotel wifi seems shaky. Hope this goes through)

Walking and Walking. Sarria to Portomarin.

Photos. The Camino is almost overwhelming. Physically demanding. From Sarria on, the roads and paths are full of people. Starting in Sarria, completing the last 100 km. entitles a pilgrim to a certificate of completion from the Cathedral. It’s almost a single-file parade, starting before dawn. The path is often paved, often rocky.

Camino Days

Pilgrims on the Way.

The couple under the La Portela sign are from Elon.

Leaving Portomarin, below. This was just a small part of the parade of pilgrims that morning.

Our daily schedule goes like this: Up at 5:30 or 6. Dress, finish assembling items for backpack and pockets, including water bottles, Kleenex, ibuprofen, fruit, snacks, sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, pilgrim’s credential, cash, passport, maps, hand sanitizer, etc., etc. Hope hand laundry has dried, pack in suitcase. Treat feet with Compeed, socks, give shoes a good lacing. Swallow an ibuprofen. Luggage downstairs, breakfast, quick trip to restroom, and out the door.

Walk, walk, walk, and talk — with each other, and short and long conversations with others on the path. Stop mid-morning, cafe cortado for me, water for Debbie. Lunch, preferably heavy on protein. Walk, adjust pack, wonder how much further. Maybe an afternoon quick stop. Hope to arrive early to mid-afternoon. Then thankfully drop pack, off with shoes and socks, check phone, rest, shower, wash clothes, go find wine. Eventually, supper. Then bed.

Personal rant: Europe, where are your washcloths?

Chesterfield, you’re known around the world. Still smoked in Spain:

One of my favorite statues:

Good night from O Coto, small hamlet, nice stop.

From Triacastela Onward

People jump into the Camino de Santiago somewhere on the European continent. Pilgrims start wherever they want. We’ve loved talking with Andrea, who began the Camino in May from her home in Munich. The Way runs right outside her front door, she said.

There probably are more Americans than any other nationality walking the Camino, but Australians may outnumber us. Lots of Aussie accents.

Today I talked with a woman from Taiwan. She is walking the Camino slowly, at her own pace. I like that.

EVERYONE talks about blisters, shin splints, painful toes. The group of four call blisters “burabujas,” Spanish for bubbles.

Choose your slang: “Vitamin I” or “Camino Candy” — the pilgrims’ word for ibuprofen. The other crucial item in a pilgrim’s backpack is Compeed, for blisters, the best treatment ever.

Photos from Saturday, from Triacastela to Sarria.

Step By Step: Days Three, Four and Five

Day Three, Friday, was hard, hard, hard. 21 miles up and over two mountains. The first part of the day was about 6 miles, much of it uphill, to a quaint hamlet.  Then 3 hours later, ascended a higher peak. At the end, we had walked 21 miles, ending the segment in Triacastela.

Day Four’s walk also started in darkness — a misty hike to Samos, home of a Benedictine Monastery established in the 6th century. It’s beyond beautiful, yet today, only eight monks and two novices live in this vast religious palace. Hard to square the two. 

Then 3.5 hours of walking to Sarria, big town, prospering with the pilgrim trade. Most pilgrims start their pilgrimage there. It’s the last municipality before the last 100 km. into Santiago. A pilgrim can receive a certificate of completion only if he or she has walked at least the final 100 km. to Santiago. We are surrounded by pilgrims now.  Many languages, very cool. (Today’s thought: Did Jesus ever imagine this many people from all around the world would be walking for hundreds of miles on a spiritual journey? Could he conceive that his band of followers would turn into this?) I think that in 2017 the Cathedral in Santiago will issue more than 200,000 pilgrims’ certificates — maybe a lot more.

Hotels were Casa David in Triacastela, Hotel Alfonso IX in Sarria, and Pousada Portomarin tonight in the town of the same name.

Today, Sunday, was 16 miles, and another strenuous climb. The Way was so full of people, never any stretches of time alone. Friendly people, crowded cafes and bars. It’s an amazing experience.

I’m exhausted, I know you would like photos, but Internet in Northern Spain is SPOTTY.

Small world department: Met two sisters today, Virginia residents, who are cousins of Jack Hazel, a Sewanee classmate. That, too, was an amazing coincidence. All very cool.

We’ve met people along The Way from France, Australia, Canada, Croatia, Germany, Slovakia, Ireland, Germany,* Mexico, Asia — South Korea, I’m assuming, and plenty from the US.

*One German woman started her pilgrimage from that country.  Now that’s a long walk.

Will try to post some photos tomorrow. I can barely stay awake.

Long Day, Long Trek

It was an arduous 21-mile hike today on Day 4 of our Camino de Santiago pilgrimage.  We walked from Las Herrerias to Triacastela, uphill mostly for the first three hours, pretty steep.  More uphill later in the day, then flat along a mountain ridge, stunning scenery the entire time.  Steep downhill the last few hours. 

We are in Spain’s Galicia region now.

Just too tired to say more.  See you tomorrow.