Final Reflections

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From Ed:

Marc and I purposely decided to wait for a sufficient amount of time to pass before attempting to share a final post with our personal reflections on our experience of El Camino de Santiago de Compostela (The Way of St. James) to close out the blog of our Camino journey. This has proven, at least to me, to have been an unforeseen and fortuitously wise choice. I say this because upon my return my attempt to reflect on and give voice to my Camino experience has occurred simultaneously with several painful events that have and still are taking place in the church of my faith tradition and the politics of the country which I called home but which no longer feel like they are. The specifics of these events and the accompanying emotions that surfaced in me needn’t be spelled out here and not because they are inconsequential. Quite the opposite in fact. They have tested what I believe, and for the record still do, the Camino was for me- a solitary prayerful journey going deep into my heart and soul where I believe God makes his home in me. It was a deep and abiding re-affirmation of my spiritual life, practice, core beliefs and being. Thus, I owe my Camino pilgrimage a debt of gratitude for this gift and reminder of who I am where I am.

On its surface the Camino was many things. Instead of being the single pilgrimage I set out on and believed it would be, in the daily and sometimes surprising routines of pilgrim life a realization emerged that there were in fact many journeys, many pilgrimages all happening simultaneously. There was the communal journey, the random bringing together of all those who came from all over the world to hike the same Camino path at the same time Marc and I were, the personal journeys of all these peregrinos (pilgrims), the joint journey Marc and I were making together as spouses and finally the individual and very personal journey unique to Marc and to me as well. There was a palpable sense of community, an interplay of all these journeys, an impact made upon self and other in subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways. If I were to use an analogy I would liken what the Camino gives, shapes, confronts and sometimes takes away from you to the process of rock tumbling if you are in any way familiar with this craft and process. You put rocks of different shapes, sizes, colors, textures, some rough, some smoother into a barrel tumbler, turn it on so that the rocks all bump into and rub up against one another and after the process is complete and you take the rocks out each has been transformed into a new, smooth but different and unique thing of beauty. Immersed in the tumble of Camino life one never knew what one would bump into or rub up against- joy, suffering, beauty, anger, frustration, depression, peace, chaos, pain, your past, your present, the unknowns of your future, your inevitable death. You just never knew.

It would be too difficult and quite impossible for me to sift through every event, emotion, physical landscape, thing, person or experience to convey to you how deeply I was affected and forever changed by my Camino pilgrimage and continue to be. I did some journaling on the Camino and while words hardly seem adequate to the task they are all I have to try and convey a tiny glimpse into my Camino Way. So, I’ll close with just one journal entry and leave it at that.

Day 29, Tuesday, October 3rd, 2016

In silence
your voice
before a single word
ever forms upon my lip
or thought in me
dares to arise
you beckon
come
come.
Embraced upon my arrival
nakedness
my only honest raiment
sweet
sweet
I wait
I wait
we’ve danced this dance before.
Finally
as only the heart can know
or hear
in the tiniest
whisper of a breeze
you are with me
oh love
that gave me name and life.
I bow to rest in you.

From Marc:

Ed and I decided ahead of time to go to Spain with no expectations or pre conceived ideas of what should happen.  We went with the idea that we would simply be open to whatever each day would bring and let the Camino be the Camino rather than trying to make the Camino fit into what we wanted it to be.

For me this trip was more than I had expected or hoped for. Spiritually it was a very intense daily meditation practice, a long walking meditation where I was aware of every step and where my mind was free to reflect on whatever thoughts arose. And arise they did. Some thoughts were pleasant and uplifting as we climbed high into the Pyrenees or walking through amazing medieval villages that have barely changed in hundreds of years and were just overwhelmed with the beauty all around us. Some thoughts were purely neutral as we walked across wheatfields and through eucalyptus forests and chestnut groves with no particular thoughts occupying my mind. And some thoughts were penetrating and difficult as there was plenty of time to look back over my life and see patterns of behavior that I was not always proud of but also those good things that had formed me into the person that I have become. I think the biggest truth that I came away with was the need for each of us to be aware of the needs of those around us and offer whatever help we can.

Life becomes very simple – everything you need is being carried on your back. And you begin to realize that there is so very little that you need to be truly happy.

 

Santiago Day 2

This will be a short post with just a couple pictures. We started the day with an early morning trip to the post office where the clerk wrapped and packaged our walking poles, Swiss army knife and Leatherman tool to be mailed home. These are items we could not carry on the plane and we didn’t want to check our backpacks. It was a gray and drizzly morning so we decided to go early into the cathedral to pray and wait for the pilgrims mass at noon where we hoped to see the Botafumeiro in action! 

The Botafumeiro.

Ed walking down the side aisle.

One of the side altars.

The main altar. You can see all the scaffolding above the altar that is being used for the church restoration.

We arrived early enough to get seats in the first pew in one of the transepts, the direction that the Botafumeiro would swing. Ed and I both completed Morning prayer and the Office of Readings, and then we each individually chanted  (ever so softly!) the names of all who had supported us or had asked for our prayers. It was incredibly heartwarming to be sitting in the place we had walked so far to reach and then bring to mind each of you and remember you in this sacred space.

By noon the church was standing room only and we sat through Mass still not knowing if we would see the giant censcer in action, until just after communion we saw the men wearing the traditional robes enter the sanctuary and knew that we would not be disappointed. It was a most fitting end to a long journey.

Later that evening we had a nice dinner and went back to our room to pack the backpacks for the train to Madrid in the morning. We will soon be headed home!

From O Pedrouso to Santiago

Day 36 on to Santiago.

It was with a fair bit of sadness that we started our daily routine in the dark with our headlamps, backpacks and walking poles for what would be the last walk of the camino. In spite of some very long and tiring days and some foot, back and hip pain, we were going to miss the very simple life of the pilgrim where everything you need is carried on your back.

Another of the bucolic hamlets that we have seen over and over across Spain. Some have the feeling of being ghost towns while others show signs of new life.

Ed, roaring and ready to go on this last hike.

The church of San Roque in Lavacolla just 10 kilometers to the Cathedral in Santiago.

We arrive in Santiago to find a very modern and busy city. Where are the cobbled streets and ancient buildings we were anticipating? We had to walk a fair distance to reach the old part of town where the Cathedral is located.

Finally we arrive in the old quarter and find our hotel directly across the square from the cathedral. The picture below is not the cathedral but our hotel! The Hospideria San Martin Pinario, also the location of the major seminary for this area. The hotel is an upscale hotel that we would never have afforded to stay in if it were not for an Irish pilgrim named Mike. He had been in Santiago several times and told us that the hotel has a section of rooms that they reserve just for pilgrims. They are not advertised, you just have to know they are available. You need to email and let them know you are a pilgrim walking the Camino and if there are still rooms available they let you reserve one for 20Euros per person. It is an incredible deal and you are right in the middle of historic Santiago.

The rooms are former seminarian rooms on the top floor. They are quite small but each has a private bathroom and shower.

Part of the hotel gardens.

Looking from the entryway toward the reception area.

Finally we get to the Plaza in front of the cathedral, the endpoint of all the various stages of the camino and the home of the remains of Saint James the Apostle.

Unfortunately the main entrance will be closed of a number of years as there is a major cleaning and restoration underway with a projected completion date of Spring 2021. But even with all the scaffolding in place this is a very impressive building.  Tomorrow we will attend the mass for pilgrims at noon and hope that we will get to see the swinging of the Botafumeiro, a large thurible that swings from the ceiling.

In the crypt of the cathedral, the silver sarcophagus that supposedly hold the remains of Saint James.

We will save visiting the main body of the church until tomorrow. By mid afternoon we had collected our compostelas,  the official document in latin that you have completed the pulgrimage. And we were tired.

Ed’s compostela.

After resting for a while we wandered around until we found a delightful old world looking restaurant that served dinner all day long and not only after 8PM as so many Spanish restaurants do and sat down to a wonderful celebratory dinner with awesome gin & tonics!

Then on the way back to our room we ran into our friend Betina and her daughter Clara who invited us to go out with them for a glass of wine. So off we went in search of a bar for a bit of wine and munchies. On the way we stopped and listened to a harpist playing on the side of the street. All in all it was a very long but eventful day and I was glad to finally meet my pillow.

Ribadiso to O Pedrouso

Day 35 and One day left to Santiago.

Not too much to say on this penultimate day on the. Camino. The walk today was quite ordinary and fairly tiring. 

Not much on the way of spectacular  scenery, churches or bridges. The sole excitement for the village was the passing of the cows along the path next to the café where we stopped for breakfast.

Here I am at the beginning of a forest of eucalyptus trees getting ready to enter O’Pedruso. Leslie and Karl Stallknecht are friends we met early in our pilgrimage before we went to the Cistercian monastery of Iranzu and now we met them again here in O’Pedruso.

From Palas de Rei to Ribadiso 

Day 34 and 2 days to Santiago. A day of churches and bridges.

Our time is drawing to a close as we will be in Santiago on Monday. I’m sure both Ed and I will have some reflections on the Camino as a whole once we get to Santiago or once we are home but at the moment I’m feeling a sense of loss for what is coming to an end. This has been the longest walking meditation I have ever done and I have been keenly aware of every footstep. Some have been light and filled with energy and some were just ordinary everyday steps and some were heavy with exhaustion and the pain of arthritis. But none were as painful as what Ed suffered until we finally ditched his original boots and bought him new ones. But I am getting ahead of myself for the end had not yet come.

Today was the longest walk of the Camino at just over 27 1/2 kilometers. Most of the day was slightly overcast which while not the best for scenic viewing did keep the sun from beating down on us. And if there are 2 things we have learned along the way,  they are don’t trust mileage signs or elevation charts. When you see a sign that says 3Km to the next village,  you don’t know if it was measured by GPS “as the crowd flies”, or along the pilgrim paths or via the road. Those three can vary wildly! And elevation charts aren’t much better. Today’s charts showed some minor ups and downs and so none of us was prepared for a couple of really stressful ascents. However all that said, it was a beautiful walk today going through some beautiful small hamlets with some wonderful old churches (all locked 😣) and several wonderful medieval bridges.

Church of San Xulian in the village of San Xulian do Camino.

This next church was a real surprise. It is the church of Santa Maria (as are half of the churches in Spain) dating from the 13th century, and what is quite remarkable is the carving of the Virgin and Child in the tympanum over the door. It is really rare for such a tiny village church to have such a carving.

I have also fallen in love with all of the wonderful medieval stone bridges that we have crossed and even though they all begin to look alike, I can’t help myself from photographing them.

As we approached the Magdalena Bridge a young German pilgrim asked if we would like a picture taken of both of us together. We gladly accepted his offer.

The combination of purple and yellow was too much to pass by without a picture.

This is the second bridge of the day, the Ponte Velha, crossing the river Furelos into the village of the same name.

And finally the bridge crossing the river Iso into the village of Ribadiso where we will spend the night.

Ribadiso consists of about 6 buildings.

Our albergue, Los Caminantes.

The small cottage where our beds are located.

From Portomarin to Palas de Rei

Day 33. Countdown continues – 3 days to Santiago. 

We are starting today’s blog from our breakfast stop in Gonzar. This place is hopping busy. It’s about 8 kilometers from where we started and it has been a long and relatively fatiguing  walk in a grey overcast morning with most of the Camino following alongside a busy highway. And this was the first stop of any kind and so just about every pilgrim passing by has dropped in for breakfast.

One of the few inspiring spots in the morning walk.

Our second rest just around lunch time for a small refreshing beer!


At the second rest stop there were about 6 or 7 chickens going from table to table hoping someone would drop a morsel.


In 26.5 kilometers this was the only church we came across and it was locked.


…we have finally arrived at our albergue for the night in Palas de Rei. I have to say this was one of the longest and least inspiring days we have had to date. And this town has nothing about it that would make you think about a palace for the king. 

Town hall.

On the right at the end of the alley is the Cafe Castro.


Pension Palas de Rei.


However, it does have its redeeming points. We love the albergue and we found, after considerable searching, a wonderful small café, The Cafe Castro, that served up probably the best meal we have had in Spain thus far. It was cod in an incredible cream sauce topped with a large crayfish. Even the potato chips served with the dinner were freshly made. But before the main course we split an appetizer of grilled mussels which were also superb. Ed and I have been trying to cut back on bread which gets served with just about everything you order, but tonight we polished off the entire basket sopping up the extra sauce that was served with the mussels.
And now we are both exhausted and will get to bed early to rest up for another long walk tomorrow. 

And thanks to all of you who have been keeping up with us as we walk. It is a blessing knowing that we have so much support back home.

Triacastella  to Portomarin

Day 31  Official countdown begins: 5 Days to Santiago.

As usual we left in the dark and immediately found that we were going uphill and at times on an uneven path. At first I thought there was a fine rain falling but quickly realized we were walking through a heavy mist as both of our headlamps tried to show us the way. After half an hour the path joined with a paved road where we found this way marker. By now I realized that the Spanish use commas where we would use periods in showing decimal places and often carry the decimal to three places, so I knew we were 128.495 kilometers from Santiago. I saw this for the first time when I went to an ATM machine to withdraw 250 Euros and the screen showed 250,000! I quickly cancelled the transaction and started over. Eventually I learned.

When the sky began to lighten we realized that we had been walking through a cloud and now had come out above them. The view down into the valley was spectacular and some of the lower peaks appeared to be floating on the clouds.

We had seen a lot of animals so far, but these were the first white cows we had encountered.

By 10:30 the sun had burned off most of the fog and the rest of the walk was as beautiful as so many other days. How lucky we are to have had such incredible weather.

The day’s journey according to the guides should have ended in Sarria but we had heard from several sources that the number of pilgrims walking increased dramatically from Sarria to Santiago and that finding a bed could be tough. So instead we continued on for 4 more kilometres to Barbadelo.

One of the churches we passed in Sarria.

Another church less than half a kilometer away from the last one.

Leaving Sarria we passed over the Ponte Aspera where Ed took a brief respite.

The path for the rest of the way to Barbadelo took us through what we might call in the US old growth forests. The trees appeared to be ancient with one in particular which had an enormous trunk.

Garden outside of Casa de Carmen.

I loved the contrast in colors between the plant and the flowers.

Casa de Carmen.

Across the road from the albergue was this old but restored chapel dedicated to San Silvestre. It was locked when we arrived but later the caretaker opened it for us.

Ed and I both loved seeing this tree in the middle of the road.

Day 32. Countdown continues: 4 Days to Santiago. (Author’s note: somehow all of the text I had written for these 2 days vanished as I was saving it. I’ve rewritten some of Day 31 but it’s getting late and I’ll just caption some of these pictures)

Breakfast stop in Morgade.

Ed, enjoying the Spanish version of Gatorade.

This was a marker I had been waiting for – 100 kilometers to Santiago.

A cowherd moving his cattle to a new pasture.

The picture doesn’t do justice to the difficulty of this descent. The young Italian pilgrim in the photo said it was the most difficult part of the Camino so far.

Portomarin our destination for the night.

Climbing the stairway was the entrance to the city.

Not even out of breath!

12th century church of San Nicolas and I have to say one of the ugliest churches we have seen in Spain. I can’t say what the inside was like as it was locked.

The albergue Ultreia Portomarin our home for the night.

O’Cebreiro to Triacastella

Day 30. How we spent our 32nd anniversary.

We left O’Cebreiro just before sunrise and slowly found our way along the Camino path. Going was a bit tricky for 30 minutes or so until the sky began to brighten just before sunrise.

Our first rest stop came at the pilgrim monument at Alto San Roque.  The statue did not photograph well since the sun was rising just behind. I took some close ups to give some idea of the detail.

We stopped for breakfast in Hospital de la Condesa at a tiny little bar that was very warm and friendly.  A lot of other pilgrims also liked the place and we were lucky to find a table in the back corner. 

The town also has what the guide books describe as a pre romanesque church built in the 11th century. Unfortunately it was not open so we could not get a glimpse inside.

From here we had a long and very steep ascent to Alto do Poio , the high point for today’s walk. From there it was a long but not too strenuous descent into Triacastela. Again,  like yesterday, the entire route was incredibly beautiful and the pictures as I look at them now at the end of the day don’t give a fair impression of the real beauty of the Gallician countryside. 

And finally arriving in Triacastela of course I had to peek inside the church. I know our friend Edmund wouldn’t rest if we couldn’t tell him what each church looked like! And this one reminded me of some of the mission churches in the American Southwest (at least on the inside).

Our albergue, Complexo Xacobeo, was on the main road and so easy to find. We checked in and then had an early supper and celebrated our anniversary with gin and tonics and a good red wine.

For most people hiking 22km over 6 1/2 hours might not be a particularly romantic way to spend an anniversary. However Ed and I feel so blessed and grateful for the gift of each other and are quite happy to be here amidst such beauty and tranquility, even with the physical pains that the pilgrimage brings forth. The contemplative nature of The Way brought to mind a quote we had read from a daily Facebook post we get of the writings of Thomas Merton which pretty much sums up how we have spent the last 32 years.

“I cannot find myself in myself, but only in another. My true meaning and worth are shown to me not in my estimate of myself, but in the eyes of the one who loves me; and that one must love me as I am, with my faults and limitations, revealing to me the truth that these faults and limitations cannot destroy my worth in their eyes; and that I am therefore valuable as a person, in spite of my shortcomings, in spite of the imperfections of my exterior ‘package’.”  —THOMAS MERTON, “LOVE AND LIVING”