It is a strange thing this Camino. We get up before sunrise to start walking and finish our journey around lunchtime and rest for the afternoon and evening. Then we pack, sleep and do it all again the next day. Why? Well the answer is different for everyone and for the past month it became our ‘job’. My answer varies continously and today I was thinking about how unconventional my life has been.
From coming from a large female dominated family immigrating to a far off land in the early 70’s to working in a male dominated world of TV, I thought just how unlikely my life has been. I have been fortunate to have been raised by excellent parents with the support of protective siblings which made me feel safe in the world. While living a life my mum could never have had- by finishing school, traveling and choosing not to have children with a husband that never wanted me to be conventional, today I was reflecting on the timing of my life. I am aware of how different my generation has been and the freedom in choices from my mum’s generation. I was thinking about how she would brag about my escapades to the bowling ladies and how she never seemed to comment to me directly. I would hear via my friends about her bragging and often with some exaggeration and I would laugh.
Today I know she would be proud of my choices even if she would shake her head like my dad does as he tries to wrap his mindset around what my life looks like. I am thankful for my family that support me even if they don’t understand me either. Some things are not really meant to be understood but simply explored and I am no clearer to understanding myself.
Today was a blessings day and for 6 more days I can explore my thoughts while walking my way to a city that has never really had any relevance to my life before now. I am looking forward to it!
It seems like I have been Camino bashing so today while walking, I was thinking about all the things I have learned on this journey.
I have to start with the different interesting people I have spent moments or meals with. It started with a pilgrim meal, moments after getting off my first train from Paris. We were mostly female with two token men at the gathering where our Hospitelero (host) told us that the previous evening the balance had been majority male. I met Danes, Swedes, Australians, ministers and atheists as well as some experienced pilgrims returning with their family to start the journey. This little group became a bit like family on seeing some of them later on my journey except names were forgotten. (Wait- that is like our family too!)
On subsequent meals I met a cardiac surgeon from a famous clinic in the States and a History Professor from another American University. Both men were originally from the UK. I learned a lot from both. There was a group of 6 from the UK that were walking a stage, all of whom were over 70. Two of them had met as mature students recently on an Art history degree. They fascinated me and the one lady was extremely witty. I met a Hungarian who worked with models on some interesting shows and he wanted to start up a coaching agency for women over 30 to get them dating. My walking partner has a fascinating story and she renovated her RV ( campervan to us Saffa’s) all by herself.
The history professor probably taught me the most about the Camino. He told me that as a Catholic, if one was to die while on the Camino, purgatory would be by-passed. He shared how most early pilgrims never made it to Santiago as crime was rampant and most would be mugged, robbed and harmed. Women in the small towns would ‘aid’ male pilgrims in various ways in order to make a living. He explained about the Spanish agriculture and we had huge discussions about how the Catholic Church needed an urgent Renaissance. Well, I didn’t really discuss, I asked the questions. He was a fascinating man and I am still mulling over much of which he told me and that was almost a week ago.
There will be many more stories and memories that will no doubt surface over the course of my life and it helps me to write them down. For now, I am looking forward to the last stage of the journey now that we have broken the 200km left mark and I must admit that I am looking forward to finishing.
So as I hear the rooster mark the end of his day and my bed squeaks as I turn slightly, I settle down to a hot night in a very strange hostel, in a town almost forgotten by the world and remember the magic that is constantly happening in my life.
27 days. That is how long I have been on the Camino. We have 9 walking days left to go and in so many ways I want this to be done. Don’t get me wrong, I am having a great time but in many ways it feels done. There are many things that I am extremely mindful and grateful for yet I find myself longing for many different things.
There is beauty everywhere and lovely glorious sunshine. The Spanish countryside is nothing like I imagined. Mind you, I don’t think I imagined anything. I had spent two quick days in an industrial part of Madrid in the year 2000 and all I remember is that it looked so much like home. What I have been gifted with, is extremely difficult to put words to. I have found that I am really really interested in buildings and architecture so I may look into this in more detail in my future. I think I may be suffering from visual stimulation overload. There are lovely images just waiting to be forever captured yet I don’t take out my camera. This is a familiar feeling. On a family trip of the UK we suffered from castle overload. So here I pass on by the visual image that may have caused a future gasp.
I may start feeling differently as we move into single figures of walking days because my hubby has left home to go work on the Olympics in Rio. He was very diligent in sending me pictures of my dogs and they made my heart melt and my longing for home increase. Sleeping on a cramped bunk-bed seemed ok until I saw my four legged furries stretch out on my king sized bed. But then he would tell me how cold it was and that the wind was blowing a gale and I felt huge gratitude to be missing the worst of winter.
This trip has indeed taught me how to be grateful for the small things in life. My own shower, hair conditioner, quiet in the morning, two pillows, my couch, a MUG of tea, peanut butter sandwich, clean cutlery on a second course of food, driving my car instead of walking everywhere, constant cell phone contact, different clothes, and blow drying my hair.
I am looking forward to appreciating my life back home but in the meantime it’s ‘Beun Camino’ . Onwards and upwards
I only had my mum for the first half of my life. I had just celebrated a significant birthday having turned 25 on the 25th. A childhood challenge that amused me. Today marks the 25th anniversary of her passing and I thought about her a lot. I walked a pleasant 20km early morning from one small Spanish village to another as part of the Camino and I had plenty of time to think.
It is strange thinking about my mum because it feels so long ago that I actually talked to her. A lifetime ago really. So much has happened since then, 4 more grandkids and two great grandkids. So much life and death and everything in between. Tomorrow we pass a significant place on the Camino. A place where people leave tributes to loved ones
I am going to place this heart shaped stone I picked up in Johannesburg and dedicate it to all my loved ones in spirit. In a way I am happy that I am doing this. Yet sad that I have so many loved ones no longer here.
We only borrow people and have them for a short time. Much like this journey on the Camino. Some people we have more time with, others we only greet and wish a ‘Beun Camino’. I am glad for the people I shared with both here and in my life and even though my time with mum was brief I would change it for the world
My Camino journey continues to surprise me. I am still enjoying it and at the same time wishing I was home snuggling with my dogs.
Before I came here, I read books, researched, and chatted with my good friend who has walked the camino herself. One of her expressions stuck with me unknowingly but came up in my mind on my journey. She remarked that she found the ornate golden altars, art and statues in the many churches disgusting when the areas surrounding the church filled with poverty and despair. I almost defended the ideology being a (very) lapsed Catholic. True to that thought I went into the first big Cathedral and her words rushed to my mind. I held the thought for a moment and then forgot about it.
Today I met an extremely interesting History Professor who was filled with stories not only about Camino history but Catholic history. I picked his brain and engaged in deep philosophical chats about everything and nothing. He is a devout Catholic and was remarking that so far (half way) he had only come across one other Pilgrim who admitted to walking the way for religious reasons. Being in academics he is used to people questioning him so he enjoyed the banter. Plus he is Irish and lives in America so he is used to debates. He proposed quite radical reform for his church and getting females into clergy wouldn’t be the answer. He used the idiom his American wife had proposed that ‘the church needs to have a garage sale of everything’. He explained that priests had become real estate managers and only had 10% of their time to devote to ecumenical matters. The spiritual gap that modern life dwellers felt, is not being addressed by the church and that an overhaul is needed. The discussions went on and the information is still sinking into my psyche and he later left to go to Mass. I asked him to say a prayer for us and he added that he would light candles for us. He walks early and far daily and I doubt our paths will meet again but tonight I am grateful for these ‘chance’ encounters that I am having which helps me flex my brain and ideology.
Tomorrow sees me take another train to the chocolate capital of Spain. Sadly the planning is a little bit off on this part as it is ‘Domingo’ which means everything is closed so I am not sure I will be able to taste this capital!
Around 250km into the Camino Frances there is a rather testing area which is known as the Mesata. It is flat and rather dull after having traversed through mountains, dells, vineyards and lush green landscapes. A strange thing happens to Pelegrinas here and add to this, the effect of a full moon and female hormones are pushed to full tilt. We get cranky, bored and miserable. Okay maybe I should not talk about all women, but I know this one was pretty out there.
Some rest days in the larger city of Burgos started me off thinking that I should just get on a plane out of here. I put it down to not walking during that time. So we walked 32km after leaving the town and I seemed to hit a physical wobbly when we were finished. I felt nauseous and lump. One of my running friends likened it to ‘hitting the wall’ in a race. That settled me a bit. My toe blisters had healed and I was looking forward to walking some more. Then I got my credit card summary on my phone and I went into a bit of a financial panic. My funds had been spent way quicker than I had anticipated and I wasn’t really surprised when I ended up getting a blister on my heel. The ‘seat’ of financial worries according to some.
In two days we covered 62km so I was feeling quite good apart from the new worry. We booked into a hostel and into a huge room which slept around 30 of us. Now I know that antihistamine helps me sleep so I took my tablet, donned my eye pads (a Camino necessity for me) and earplugs and promptly dozed off. I felt the bed shake a bit when the top bunk sleeper climbed on and luckily ignored the ruckus happening all around me. I found out the next morning that a young couple opposite me could not hold back their yearnings and had some public action. This was at the same time as the young 12 year old, was trying to climb onto his bunk above me. I was mortified when I heard and understood why my Camino mate could not get to sleep afterwards after seeing the amorous couple. Some things are just very unusual on the Camino or is it just me that is not Europe wise?
Our shorter walk today proved nice and cool for the first 25 kilometres as we left the hostel not long after 5am. We saw the police doing patrol in the middle of the farmland under a beautiful full moon and I listened while my companion growled her way out of town. After our pace settled I listened to some music and realised that I am doing fine. Tomorrow we are catching a bus 20km down the road to the next stop over and I am looking forward to it. The journey is a personal one for everyone and sometimes realising that we have many choices and we don’t need to take all of them is incredibly freeing.
I have less than a month left and the yearning for home has shifted as I knew it would. As the kilometres get clocked so does the life experience and it ain’t always pretty but it is life and I am loving it.
I have a month left before I get home. Today I feel like going to the end, getting on a plane and saying ‘adios’. It’s not that this trip is awful, quite the contrary. It’s just that I miss home. I miss my hubby, dogs, bed, bath, mugs of tea and the familiarity that comes with all of it. Traveling can be tough. I want to experience different things and see different places yet I yearn for the similar.
Being away from home for four weeks breaks through the exciting barrier. Nine years ago I spent 4 months with my sister in Scotland and I went through the same after the first month. Then a shift happens and familiar takes on a new look. I imagine this time will be no different. My rucksack and limited wardrobe feels at the same time both restrictive and comforting.
The slow travel cuts me off from the speed of ‘normal’ life. Walking from town to town gives me a feeling of accomplishment and frustration. It seems to be talking so long to get places as we log around 5km an hour- mountains permitting. I run faster than this yet I know this is not a race. The beauty begins to numb my brain and it becomes a hassle to take out my camera. I sound restless and ungrateful but I know that this is part of my process.
Small things take on a new importance. A chair has never felt so welcomed. Ice in a fizzy coldrink fills me with delight. Bottom bunks become exciting and no bunks feel like a huge gift. A bath tub is like a four leaved clover and a hair dryer has become a new sense of excitement. I have been asked if my experiences are anything like I expected. I can honestly say ‘no’. However I am not sure what I expected. In a way I expected it to be more spiritual but so far it is not. The methodical rhythm of walking has not really led me to any spiritual answers. It has not made me fall on bended knee at the endless supply of quaint churches and tears have not yet spilled from the dark abyss of grief which I know is locked down somewhere inside.
I have felt light and delight at the beauty of the Heidi houses, the valleys and fields. I have wondered about the young people living in tiny towns that seem so quiet and deserted. I have been fascinated by the siesta way of life. I am impressed by the peace in the people that look impatient and prove me wrong. I am thankful that so many people live on the camino route to help so many of us with our journey. I have listened to fellow travelers gush about their journey. I overheard a man lament his soul mate who returned early to South Africa, another who was confused by the feelings he was having for a beautiful pilgrim and yet another who was pondering his purpose. Many of us come to the Camino to heal, yet many of us (ok I) wonder what I am doing here. But on a thankful, rest day, it is easy to get contemplative, with the luxury of rest, so I am not concerned with my erratic thoughts. I am simply writing them down to remember.
Onwards to Leon (tomorrow)
As I reach the end of my second week of walking, the landscape has changed rather dramatically. The Pyrenees are far behind me with the Heidi houses, cowbells and lush green slopes and it seems so long ago that I saw it. Now winelands with golden barley (I think) weave the less dramatic but still beautiful, horizon. I am thankful that the extreme slopes have lessened although I may be getting walking fit as I am needing to stop less on the uphills.
Postcard villages still insist on my taking endless snaps although I must admit to getting ‘pretty view fatigue ‘. I am finding a new ‘routine ‘ and I am still enjoying the walking. There was a day when I was considering getting close to Spanish public transport but eventually decided to only send my rucksack on ahead to the next stop over point. What an instant mood booster. Every morning I feel such glee at leaving behind my ‘burden’ of baggage and get out into the fresh air with a renewed enthusiasm. There are the critics who say that it is ‘cheating ‘ and is not the way of the pilgrim but I thought about it and I realised that the medieval pilgrim would not have been carrying everything that I was carrying. Plus they would not be walking in hi-tech shoes nor carrying plastic bottles. This is 2016 and we have the modern facilities as well as WiFi so I am making the most of my situation.
I am still so impressed with Spain and its people. Everyone greets us with a ‘Beun Camino ‘ and are very welcoming in an un-English way. I have had conversations with me nodding yet I still manage to follow the gist of what they have said. As the routine begins to settle and the kilometres get ticked off, I remain grateful for this amazing experience and am looking forward to each stage.
Today was a hard day. My feet throbbed and I started to feel a bit feverish. I wasn’t sure if it was from my icky chest or the pain from my feet spreading through my body.
The day started cooler than yesterday and I was grateful that I had put it in ‘cool’ towel that was being used now to keep my neck warm. I mistakenly put my walking stick in my backpack that was being driven to the next stop over point and there were some mean uphills in the early stage of the day. Thankfully Grace loaned me one of hers which helped tremendously from further scrunching my delicate toes.
I started planning my next days as rest days when we stopped in a town for a drink. I took the plasters off my grateful toes and saw that a plaster fold had started to rub. After an airing and a gentle massage, I felt good to go.
We approached the town of Logroño and saw big buildings and I wondering how far my hotel was. We walked along the motorway on a path for a long time so I got out my music to deafen the traffic noise. It helped lift my spirit a bit and on reaching the city I saw that my hotel was close to the walking route and made my way over. After getting a little bit lost, I figured it out and to my dismay I realised that I had a 3 hour wait before I could check in. I Visited the cathedral and marvelled at all the gold displayed and then I sat a local cafe on the square and just accepted the fact that I am still lucky to be here. As they say in Afrikaans ‘more is nog ‘n dag’. Tomorrow is another day!
It seems surreal I am sitting across on a couch in my hostel with the Tour de France on the Spanish telly. Locals and their dogs are out for a drink at the bar and heat is blaring down while my washing dries in the Spanish sun. I have walked from France (okay, it was the very bottom of France but still) to this tiny dorp which measures roughly 100km in distance from the start.
To sum it all up is the surreal situation. I have gone through physical discomfort and challenges to emotional roller-coaster in a few short days. It may be the same for everyone as we learn to live without our physical comforts (and support) from home. Every day a new town, shower, bed and sleeping mates as Pilgrims from around the world try to find a new routine. Some people are up very early to make headway before the Spanish heat. Some have to be pried from bed and growl at the plastic rustlers in the low light. I am both amazed and sometimes irritated by all of it.
It is said that we face our ‘demons- or dark selves’ on the slow pilgrimage to Santiago. I have already seen glimpses of mine. My first issue was my light sleeping and noise sensitivity. Tested to the maximum by being roused from slumber by snorers. If I get up early for something I am cheery however I don’t take kindly to being woken for nothing. Eventually I had to face the issue and so far I have booked a private room and when that option isn’t available, I took a fellow pilgrim’s antihistamine. Both worked a treat and I had two full nights sleep. I am slowly understanding that it is okay to have an opinion or not and that it is important to get the best bed available. I have learned a new kind of selfishness that isn’t really selfish but it is very unusual for me to put myself first in very basic ways. (It might not seem like it if you talk to my husband though. ?)
I am living, learning and loving it. All of it.