Final, Semi-final? Camino thoughts
This likely to be a somewhat disjointed post today as I look back on the last couple of weeks and try and put them in some sort of perspective.
Wednesday April 6 - My fellow walkers stayed at a different hotel than I did, my choice, as their hotel is one recommended by the company that organized the lodgings for our walk, while I'm staying at a wonderful little hotel behind the cathedral where I stayed when I came to Santiago a couple of years ago to welcome Diana after her Camino. I walked to their hotel to see them the morning after our arrival, breakfasted with them and then the 5 of us wandered Santiago for a couple of hours before they left to take a taxi to their next hotel. They are walking to Finisterre, about 92K over 5 days. I had been to Finisterre with Diana a couple of years previously and my purpose on this trip was to walk to Santiago, so I had not made arrangements to join them. They too were really feeling weary and in need of a day of rest so we had decided to walk around Santiago, a wonderful city for walking, and then they would take a taxi to their first hotel on their Finisterre walk. Lots of hugs when we separated, a very sad farewell.
Back to my hotel to do a last laundry in the bathroom sink and get ready to return home. A very disjointed day and evening, on my own and the very tight focus of the last couple of weeks no longer there. Have not really paid much attention to news or events since I left home, all my attention really has been focused on the walk and I almost don't want to go back to daily routine and worrying about Donald Trump, and whether the UK votes to leave the EU and all of the enormous issues just waiting to gather momentum in our own Canadian political environment not to speak of all of the never-ending things that need to be taken care of on the home front. Pretty privileged I know to be able to step back and leave the job to others for a while, but there really was a great sense of release in simply focusing in a very narrow physical way on a task and letting it take over.
One of our walkers, Elaine from Newfoundland, was one of the members of the first group of women trained to be officers in the Canadian military. She served in Germany in the 70's and was an Air Traffic Controller at one of our bases in Germany, lots of fascinating stories. She had great difficulties with an allergic reaction on her lower legs, cause never really established, but which caused the lower parts of her legs to swell and break out in angry red welts and rashes. Very painful and friction from her boots, socks and tights was a continuing painful irritant on her walk. She told me that when she started to feel in a bad way she put herself in military march mode and that helped her to keep going. I asked the obvious question and she said she repeated the mantra that she was taught to march by and it helped straighten out her walk, her cadence and her mind. Some of you reading this might know this, but it was new to me; she repeated to herself "You had a good home but ya left, ya left" with the left foot coming down on the word and this with arms moving in time really pulled your pace and rhythm together. I used this and it really did help the walking and had the added benefit of moving you into an almost zen-like space, the rhythm ticking away in the background and your mind roaming free.
Thursday April 7 - Packed up and left my hotel this morning and off to the bus station for the bus to Porto and so home on a very early flight on Friday morning. Weather was cool and cloudy but as we started to leave Santiago and drive south the sun broke through, the clouds disappeared and it was a beautiful, sunny spring day. As we drove through Spain and down into Portugal with the bright sun shining, the highway passed all the towns and villages that we had plodded through in the rain. I thought how different they now seemed in the sun and how strange it felt to speed by them after the labour that we spent to win our arrival on foot.
Very mixed feelings but the one thing about which I'm absolutely certain, I can't stop here. This has been such a fully engaging endeavour that I would hate to lose all of the joy and sense of accomplishment in overcoming that the last couple of weeks have provided. Not sure what it will look like but there will be more to come.
I've had some emails and questions about why the Camino and what's the difference between the Camino and a 260K hike and what's a Compostela anyway, so a couple of words on the topics.
Why the Camino and why not just hike 260K anywhere? Thought about this a lot, in fact more about this than anything else. I'll start by saying that I'm not Catholic, raised an Anglican, and have not been in any sense religious for most of my adult life. I strongly believe in living an ethical life but do not find it necessary to frame that ethical construct in a religion. Enough said, personal beliefs are by definition personal. I do however want to make clear that this was in no sense a religious quest. But one of the, dare I say few, attractive components of a religion are the forms and formalities that can still be enormously powerful. Liturgical music, plainsong, religious architecture, and more than anything else the sense of shared, fervent commitment that has inspired and created so many many selfless acts. When I came to Santiago a couple of years ago to welcome Diana after her Camino I was struck and moved by the power of the emotions that had driven so many people for over 800 years to put themselves through significant discomfort and some risk to get in touch with something that they felt was much bigger than they, themselves. I felt that this was something that I also wanted to do. For me it was very much about the 800 years of shared history, shared testing and shared accomplishment. And for me it needed to end at St. James Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. I may now be much more open to a 260K hike through Patagonia or Bhutan but this was a very important thing for me to have done. Haven't come anywhere close to answering the question, but the best I can do.
What's the Compostela? The Cathedral of St James in Santiago has for a very long time issued a document written in Latin that states that the person named therein has come out of a pious motivation to the Cathedral in Santiago to revere the remains of St. James. That’s essentially its entirety. In order to receive your Compostela you must get a pilgrim's passport from the cathedral or other issuing source at the beginning of your Camino and you must have it stamped in each town or church that you pass through along your way. In reality you try and get two stamps in your passport each day from cafes, restaurants, churches or hotels as you go. The places that stamp your passport are usually pretty good about making sure that they enter the date that they stamped it and they usually sign the stamp as well. The Pilgrim office checks passports to see if they are properly stamped to validate that the owner has done the Camino and has in fact been on the road during the time that you state on your form.