We did some walking and…..

 The last few days, from the moment I stepped out of the albergue in Arca toward Santiago, have passed with a serge of emotions I cannot explain. So I wanted to wait awhile so I could gather my thoughts. Our hearts were beating fast in anticipation of our arrival in Santiago, our destination for this journey. We passed a town called Lavacolla where ancient pilgrims stopped and washed themselves in the river to purify their bodies before entering Santiago. Today an array of modern housing developments have reduced the river into a small stream and of course, any kind of washing is prohibited. Nonetheless, J and I paused a few moments on a street and prayed…..Asperges me; wash us O Lord; pure and white like snow and gentle and loving like your heart.
We contined onward through the frosted fields of Lavacolla and found ourselves climbing  Monte Gozo, the Mountain of Joy where ancient pilgrims caught the first sight of the Cathedral of Santiago. I thought for sure I wiould cry when we reached the cathedral. I thought for sure that my emotions would serge after walking 34 days but I was actually as calm as a placid ocean. Or, should I say I was numb, unable to express how I was feeling. I watched J kneeling down front of the cathedral; I watched many of pilgrims shouting for joy, exchanging hugs and congratulating each other but I was unable to say or do anything at all. I quickly climbed up the stairs and into the cathedral, found a pew and knelt down and stayed there for a very long time. The next three days passed by, doing some planning on how we should go about the next leg of our journey. J and I talked about our need to walk on further to Finisterre and Muxia. The only reason I could find to justify the trip was that I just did not feel that this jouney would be completed until we reached Finisterre, the end of the earth.
When we set out for Negreira on January 24th, our first stop on the Camino Fisterre, I felt I was picking up a cold, and by the next day, during a 36K walk to Olveiroa, I was under its grip. Nevertheless, we pushed on and reached Finisterre on the 27th. On our way up to the Faro, the light house at Finisterre, another 3.5K hike up a hill, J stopped for a few pictures but I did not. Tears were streaming down on my face, a sense of happiness mixed with a sense of helplessness overcame me. Now what, Lord? I traveled over so many hills and valleys to feel closer to You. I am here now. What do I need to do and where do I need to go? In that feeling of chaos, I thought about the many miles we walked and the many people we have encountered during this Camino. “We begin this Camino as walkers but return home as pilgrims”; “I am definitely not doing this for religious reasons but I would like myself to be changed somehow, at the end of this Camino”; “I was doing what people wanted me to do for last 27 years. I want to find myself and that is the reason I am here”; “Me! I am working on me and that is the best thing I have ever done in my whole life!”; “Camino provides. Don´t worry but just start walking”. These are some of the words I heard from my fellow pilgrims on the road. I also thought about what would the pilgrims of old, from many centries ago would say to me. I stood on a rock, at the end of the earth, looking at the far horizon while bracing against the gusty wind, I thought for sure I heard them say, “be still”, “you are the result of our longing”. I felt a smile spreading across my face. Perhaps, I now know. But then Lord, will I have ears to hear You?

Flying the botafumeiro at the Cathedral in Santiago

We were lucky enough to witness the botafumeiro in action on our arrival date, January 21, 2011. This was captured on my iPhone so the quality of the video is not the best but here it is. We left Santiago for Finisterre / Muxia on January 24th and returned again on the 29th and stayed until February 5th. This was the only time we were able to watch the botafumeiro in action. Just one footnote, as some might be wondering how this unique censor fits into the celebration of the mass. The catholic mass has long history of incorporating incense as a form of blessing and purification. The botafumeiro would certainly have been used in this context however it also served a more practical purpose. In times long ago (some might also say today as well) pilgrims, arriving in the Cathedral, were a bit fragrant (a little too much eau de camino). The incense in the botafumeiro was a way to help cope with that problem as well. 

A few observations from our camino

Robin and I finally returned home on Feb 8th. We are still very much in the processing mode from our camino but a few things come to mind that some might find helpful or at least interesting.

The weather (Dec-Jan) was milder than I expected with temps averaging 30-55 F and sometimes hitting the 60’s. It was also much drier than expected. We wore ponchos (all day) only a couple of times and probably broke them out maybe 5-6 times during the entire camino.

We took the valley route up from St. Jean and stayed the night in Valcarlos. This was a very wise move. We had been traveling for 33 hours when we arrived in St. Jean and although we probably could have made it to the top, why? The jet lag, fatigue etc, made stopping in Valcarlos a great choice. I would recommend this to whoever has to to travel a great distance to get to the Camino. The Route Napoleon was not recommended when we departed but I found the valley route to very scenic and a beautiful climb.

No bedbugs while we were on the Camino.

A light pack makes for happy feet and a happy pilgrim. A pack should never exceed 20 pounds and hopefully it weighs a bit less. Remember, there might be times when a jacket and things you always think you will be wearing will wind up in the pack (more added weight). Plan and pack accordingly.

Spend money on good boots, a good pack and perhaps a good sleeping bag ( a light one).

Don’t take more than two of anything.

A buff was essential.

Take a headlamp. There will be days when an early start is necessary and you can easily get lost (on some parts of the Camino) in that half hour or so of pre-dawn darkness. Either that or just plan on waiting for daylight.

A little red LED light (from REI) on a coiled elastic key chain worn around my wrist at night was perfect for those late night trips to the bathroom in the albergues.

The municipal albergue system is great. The services and accommodations were more than I expected, and in some cases much more. I think of the one at O’Cebreiro (brand new with a spectacular view). The one by the Cathedral in Burgos was also terrific. There were many others as well.

Bring ear plugs for the albergues. Even with just a few people they can help ensure a good night’s sleep.

Be kind to people and they will be kind to you. We found the Spanish people we encountered to be very kind and helpful (even though we don’t speak their language).

Don’t be selfish. The Camino provides as long as pilgrims are willing to help one another (and most do).

The Camino is not a race to Santiago. Pace yourself so that you can enjoy the experience. You might only get this one chance. Be the experience.

The Camino experience is unique in that it frees your mind from all the usual distractions of work and perhaps even family. Be ready for that feeling of openness and the delight at what might fill that space.

Be a good listener. You will learn things that just might change your life.

And finally express your joy for this incredible opportunity. You are blessed and your happiness will be contagious.

Peace and buen camino,

John